Tuesday, 15 January 2013

New Year, Old Problems.

I like to enter a new year with at least a modicum of optimism.

Maybe peace on earth will break out, maybe politicians will stop fiddling their expenses, maybe The Daily Mail will be worth reading.

And, maybe I will find it an easy and happy experience doing-up property.

I'm not banking on any of it though. Least of all, the property bit.

Old Problem #1: Managing Agents.

We completed on our first investment on December 1st.

This is what part of it looked like then:

And this is what it looks like now, almost 6 weeks later:

As you can see, not much has happened. In fact absolutely nothing has happened.

Why's that? You might well ask.

I'll volunteer myself to take a hefty portion of blame. I was slow to realise that getting approval from the freeholders to do anything (and I mean A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G.) is a snail-like process that makes council-run planning services seem efficient.

I have paid a not inconsiderable sum to designers who perhaps should have alerted me to and prepared me for the hell that is dealing with managing agents.

We submitted plans for the renovation in early December. By 6 January, they still hadn't looked at them! They didn't return calls. They didn't respond to emails. They clearly didn't give a s..t.

Finally they contacted us to say it costs £1200 (plus VAT, so actually £1440) to get them to pass their rose wine glazed eyes over our application.

On top of this, we were warned, we may well get charged for the freeholder's solicitor, his surveyor, his structural engineer....even his office cleaner, for all I know.

Our apartment (flat, to you and I) isn't part of one of the grand old estates such as Codogan, Grosvenor, Stanhope or de Walden. I'd expect a somewhat uppity attitude from them.

No, our freeholder is a 'charity'. Wonderful people no doubt, doing wonderful good works.

Perhaps, one day, they'll even deign to let us get on with our 'works'.

Old Problem #2: Builders

I used to think it was pretty difficult managing a building project 800 miles away in St Tropez, dealing with people who didn't speak my language and who thought working more than 3 hours a day was close to slavery.

Frankly that was a doddle compared with trying to get a project off the ground just round the corner here in London.

What I need is a good, simple, honest builder with access to all the basic trades.

Week 1 strip out the old flat.

Week 2 build small, new stud wall and erect new steel for mezzanine.

Week 3 build floor for small mezzanine and simple stairs up to it.

Week 4 cable new electrics, build cupboards and start plumbing fit out.

etc etc.

It's only 400-500 square feet (including the mezzanine), it's not a Candy & Candy spec, it's dead easy. You'd think.

But I can't even get a quote, let alone a builder.

I've got designers, project managers, architects and other expensive add ons coming out of my ears...but nobody who actually gets their hands dirty.

Everyone's on a percentage. It's more like the bloody film industry.

And, if you could hear my language as I sit tearing out the very few hairs I have left, it would certainly have an X certificate.

Old Problem #3: Me

The truth is that the biggest and oldest problem of all is myself.

I am very, very impatient. If I want something, I want it now. Or not at all.

It stems from the years I worked in advertising with this incredibly fast and ridiculously clever boss.

If we hadn't knocked out a multi-million pound campaign before lunch, my life wasn't worth living.

And if I wanted to go home before 7.30 in the evening (or not work on Saturday) he gave me a look that suggested my P45 was the next thing he'd be art directing!

Since then, I've begun to expect the same level of commitment and speed from everyone else. And that's a huge mistake. Because most people just don't work at my kind of speed.

The building world has only two speeds - slow and stop.

The only thing it actually does quickly is take your cash!

And on that (£50) note, I must go and meet someone who might just, if I'm very very lucky, give me a building quote.