Friday, 10 August 2012

A game of patience anyone?

With both the negotiating and conveyancing stages of residential transactions increasing exponentially, the tendency is for agents and their clients to become frustrated as a potential agreed sale, let alone exchange of contracts, appear to be well beyond the horizon.

With the right approach however, sales are being agreed, exchanging and completing but the entire process requires a greater degree of patience.

For the majority of properties, certainly in the Bath area, the days of quick-fire negotiating and rapid agreements on price are a thing of the past. This is currently due to both buyers and sellers rather than one party or the other.

The best opportunities for sellers to achieve the best price is within the first four weeks of marketing, but even if you inform your client of this from the outset they are usually opposed to agreeing a sale, taking the view that they may get a better offer if they are patient.

Buyers are taking a similar standpoint but naturally for opposing reasons. They are taking the view that there are fewer quality buyers in the market (and they are correct) and that they are more likely to get the property on their terms if they leave an offer on the table for the owners to consider over a longer period of time rather than hastily over-pay. 

In times gone by agents would be forgiven for thinking that a sale wouldn’t materialise out of these circumstances, usually because the buyer loses interest or finds something more suitable. That trend has changed though. Maintaining contact with your client, providing regular market feedback, as well as consistent and frequent updates to your buyer can be rewarding for all parties concerned. Over the course of the last six months properties from terraced town-houses to small country cottages and even larger country houses with land have benefited from this patient if somewhat protracted approach with negotiations ranging from one month to four months but significantly ending with happy sellers and purchasers alike. 

Unfortunately for everyone involved further reserves of patience are required to see us through the seemingly never ending conveyancing process. Between scrupulous solicitors, anxious surveyors and inefficient lenders, the timescale between exchange and completion is becoming cavernous, regardless of how often you are talking to all parties concerned.

Of the last eight properties to be sold by the Bath office this financial year only two have managed to exchange contracts within three months and nine of the properties under offer have already exceeded at least two months.

It is a trend that I believe will last as long as the market remains depressed. Buyers and their solicitors will remain nervous. Most surveys lead to a number of specialist reports with damp, timber, electrics and wiring being the most common. With lending criteria so stringent and the sheer amount of time that it is taking to process applications and book valuations those purchases requiring a loan will no doubt continue to take considerably longer than those that do not. 

It is imperative that sellers remain calm and patient, as we agents must do too and we must manage are clients expectations from the outset and throughout the process as a whole. Neither buyers nor their advisors will be rushed, and trying to force the process will only have a negative impact. Just recently the owners of a building plot became exasperated with their purchaser and the length of time everything was taking. Against our advice they enforced a deadline upon their buyers and the buyers promptly walked away and our clients are now back at square one, in fact it is now far more likely that the plot will sell for a lower figure next time round. The important thing to remember is that it is better for everyone concerned if a sale proceeds to completion and not when.

Patrick Brady

Residential, Bath

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Park Life

It might be the summer festival season but in considering the great outdoors Will Mooney, Carter Jonas partner and joint head of its commercial agency and professional services in the eastern region, goes urban so no wellies required.

The Queen Elizabeth II Fields Challenge is a Jubilee initiative where, a charitable trust will enshrine 2,012 spaces, in perpetuity, for public recreation. Yet, by June there were still more than 700 spaces being sought and the Fields in Trust chief executive expressed her disappointment with lack of progress.

The week after the Jubilee Pageant saw Granary Square, King’s Cross open as London’s newest public space, built on the former site of the station’s sidings and goods yards. This occasion saw one broadsheet newspaper initiate debate about ownership of public spaces.

It’s a debate worth having.

As a nation, we’re living an increasingly urbanised existence and so, on a daily basis, the bulk of our population’s encounter with the great outdoors is open spaces in cities or towns.

A seam of this debate is consideration of just who owns public space and what is meant by ‘public space’ in our times. In certain quarters, there’s discomfort about these spaces being owned by private interests and the fact that the owners specify what can and can’t be done in these newly created spaces.

However, the counterpoint is that while this model of private ownership might be new, bylaws and protection of public spaces to make them clean, safe and useable is not.

As cities expand, public spaces have to be created as part of wider development. Granary Square is a new space created by the modernisation of the King’s Cross complex which, before its recent development and that of St Pancras next door, was a neglected and dingy part of a main London gateway.

Now it’s a showpiece.

Just west, along Marylebone Road, is Regent’s Park. Developed to a masterplan incorporating open spaces and surrounding houses in the early 19th century, the freehold of the Park is owned by The Crown Estate and it’s managed by a government agency, The Royal Parks. The Park is gated, activities within it are regulated and public access is restricted at night.

But which Londoner or visitor would say it’s not a public space?

Holland Park is a similar case. It was a rural part of London until 19th century development, along a similar model as that of Regent’s Park. The Park itself has byelaws and is gated yet it is a district and public park managed by a local authority – albeit the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

While these parks are funded and managed either directly or indirectly through the public purse, to create, develop and maintain new sites for public open space in densely populated areas, we need to see that Granary Square is more the model now in a time when private interests fund what the public purse can’t or won’t afford.

It’s not just in the crowded south east where private investment is being offered in order to ensure the perpetuity of public open space. Aberdeen City Council is considering the need for a £50 million gift from a local businessman for redevelopment of its famous Union Terrace Gardens, as part of a wider £140 million scheme for an arts complex. Although the proposed development will re-shape the gardens, they will still be public.

The Gardens were once the site where Aberdonians laid out washing to dry.

What we want from our public spaces has always evolved.

We are happy to shop or enjoy leisure pursuits in safe, clean, cool, modern shopping malls – owned and managed by private interests – so why does that attitude change when it comes to public open space, just because there’s no roof?

Will Mooney MRICS

Commercial, Cambridge