How to get the best house price and beat your neighbour to a sale

“Anyone who has rested a property over the winter, hoping to relaunch it in
the spring, should be doing it right now,” says Guy Lashmar of Hamptons
International.

“And they should adjust the price. This is partly because Londoners early last
year were selling at record prices and coming out of the capital with big
budgets. Now London prices
have softened, and the spring market is going to be competitive,”

So we might find that people who were hanging on to their houses in Wandsworth
or Fulham are now willing to sell and make the move.

This shows up in figures from country offices.

Despite news from Rightmove that it is took longer to sell a home in December,
Strutt Parker in Canterbury, had a 5pc increase in buyers in the
middle week of January compared with the same week last year, and 12pc more
invitations to value houses. Maybe the market is on the move.

Neil and Nikki Churchill are convinced a price drop will work for them. They
are selling The Manor House, a former coach house near Uckfield in East
Sussex, which Neil himself transformed into a seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom
mansion.

“Everything in it is new,” he says. “It is full of new technology and
expensive stone from all over the world.” His love of hi-tech extends into
the bathrooms, where you only have to stroke the baths to control the lights
or music.

They hope to move to Kent
and buy an old farm
,
so they put their house on the market last year
at £1.995m but have decided now to cut the price by £200,000 with Hamptons
International (01444 316795, Hamptons).

“We are going with a big hit at the beginning of the year, a sizeable drop to
get tongues wagging. There is nothing else out there like it,” says Neil.

The Churchills are giving a price drop a go (Philip Hollis)

Question your estate agent

Examine the fine grain of your sales strategy.

“You need to look at how long the property has been for sale, how many
viewings it has had, and find out from your agents what people say and don’t
say about it,” says Ed Church of Strutt Parker.

Analysis of how much time people spend looking at your property online is
revealing. “If you get lots of hits online but no viewings, it could mean
that the location is popular and the type of house is desirable, but if they
don’t seek more detailed information it means the property is probably too
expensive,” says Church. “Or that all the rooms are painted pink and they
don’t like it.”

Technology sometimes doesn’t help. “The Google-effect can be a problem because
people check maps online and think there is a motorway too close, when in
fact it is half a mile away and there is a hill in between. It is like
falling in love with a person. You need to meet them, not just look at their
Facebook page.”

Seize the moment

If you get an offer, don’t hang about. There tends to be a surge in property
hunters at the beginning of the year as people act out their New Year
resolutions.

In Fulham, January has been hyperactive compared with December when people
spent their time partying and shopping.

“In December we could make 30 calls and not get a single answer,” says Mark
O’Neill of Knight Frank. “In January the number of buyers looking for new
houses often increases by 50pc or more.”

On cue, a house in Whittingstall Road has just gone under offer. It originally
went on the market with another agent in the summer, priced at £2.75m.

By September the sellers had changed agents to Knight Frank and in November
the price went down from £2.5m to £2.4m. There were nine viewings in
November and three in December.

But in the second week of January there were 13 in a week and a good offer
arrived on the table. “Now is the time to sell because there are lots of new
buyers and we have very few new properties coming to the market,” says
O’Neill. But buyers, he says, are no longer prepared to pay record-breaking
prices, so sellers must be pragmatic.

Mind the election

The general election on May 7 just happens to be in one of the most important
weeks in the property market calendar.

More houses are launched then than at any other time of year.

So it will not only be a lost weekend but possibly a lost month for sellers.

Previous elections show that the market slows down around six weeks
beforehand.

How important is it? “Property has shot up the agenda and become more
politicised since the credit crunch,” says Lucian Cook, head of residential
research at Savills.

“While stamp duty changes will boost demand in the mainstream market, at the
upper end the changes will combine with the threat of mansion tax to make
buyers at £2m very cautious. Sellers have to make a call on whether to sell
before the election with that threat in the air, or take a punt and sell
afterwards.”

Take it off the market

Sellers often feel their properties go stale after a few months sitting in
estate agents’ windows, but Lindsay Cuthill, head of country houses at
Savills, thinks they should persevere.

“I would remind them that if you are a buyer looking for the first time, then
it is all new and fresh and you want to see as much as you can. The first
question people ask is not how long has it been on the market. By the time
they ask that, they are usually a little bit hooked.”

If a property lingers, buyers can start to suspect there is something wrong
with it. “It may mean that there is an opportunity to make an offer as the
seller could be flexible on price,” says Cuthill. “At least we can get a
conversation going to see what is possible. I’m afraid that if your house
has been on the market for six months, then you are joining the club. You
are not alone.”

Catch a commuter

The London ripple effect will continue to propel people out of the city into
the country this year. “The half-hour
to one-hour commuter zones have been one of the best-performing markets
,

says Johnny Morris, head of research at Hamptons International.

His research shows that in 2014, some 58,000 Londoners bought homes outside
the capital, spending £21 billion – twice what they spent in 2013.

“Over the downturn many Londoners delayed life-stage moves, restricting the
natural flow of families out of the capital and building a pent-up demand,”
he says. Around 80pc of those who made the move have chosen the commuter
belt.

The commuter belt’s increasingly popular (Radharc Images / Alamy)

Ignore the forecasters

The pundits talk of price increases but this can be distracting. The country
is made up of many micro markets, all of which behave differently. Analysts
at JLL predict average national price rises this year of 4pc, with prime
central London going up by 1.5pc, Greater London 5.5pc and the South East
5pc.

“House price predictions neglect to look at the number of transactions, which
is really the best indicator of how the market is working,” says Hamptons’
Johnny Morris. “It tells you how liquid the market is. The more transactions
there are, the better it is for the economy.”

Price levels matter hugely to people buying their first property and those
ending their housing journey. To those moving within it, higher prices are
simply carried forward to the next property. “If your two-bedroom flat is
going up,” says Morris, “then so is the three-bedroom house you want to buy,
and when you make the move your mortgage debt steadily increases.”

Change agents

In a market like this, sellers are vulnerable to sharp-eyed agents offering to
revalue their homes and slap higher prices on them.

The truthful agent, albeit a high street agent, or an online agent, is likely
to tell you that making a sale this year will be harder than last.

Rightmove counted 10pc more page-views in the first half of January than the
same time last year, and predicts that election jitters and restrictions on
lending will make this the year of “the selective mover”.

Last year, Glenda Cormack and her partner Mike Acklom tried to sell a Grade
II*-listed house called The Old Manor at Dunster in Somerset, full of Tudor
beams and flagstone floors. It came with a four-bedroom Edwardian pavilion;
the whole package was valued at £1.5m.

Now they have decided to split the property and sell The Old Manor at £750,000
through Strutt Parker (01392 215631; Strutt
Parker
) and Stags (01823 256625; Stags).

The pavilion is being sold separately at £475,000 through Webbers (01823
322666; Webbers)
in Taunton. “Webbers taps into the local market and has completely different
buyers to the others, who tend to attract people from outside the area,”
says Glenda.

The idea to split the property came from Ollie Custance Baker at Strutt
Parker, who thought they needed a fresh approach. Glenda is suffering from
buyer fatigue. “The trouble is the buyers. They think they would love a
manor but they have never heard of Henry V, their high heels aren’t suited
to the house and they know nothing about running a place of this size,”
she says.

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