Tuesday, 26 March 2013

I bet it's not like this over at Candy & Candy.

On returning from India, our first project, the cute little flat in one of SW3's smartest enclaves, was looking bigger, brighter, better.

I couldn't believe how fast the builders had transformed it, or what a clever chappie I'd been to buy it.

I should have known not to expect the self congratulation to last. Not when there are builders involved.

Since that short-lived moment of pleasure when all looked to be going to plan, things have gone just a little pear-shaped.

I am now over budget, over-wrought and definitely over the honeymoon period when it comes to property.

The builders somehow managed to construct a bathroom smaller than on the plans, and now want a silly amount to correct their own mistake.

The services for the kitchen are all in the wrong place because our kitchen design has changed. (Hands up, that's my fault, no question.)

The windows turn out to be a hugely complex old design that means they require not just a light sanding, but completely rebuilding - God alone knows how much that will cost.

And the wall of wardrobes I thought were included in the builders quote turn out to be extra. A big extra, because they're being made offsite by bloody 'craftsmen' and spray painted by artists armed with gallons of Farrow & Ball Pavilion Grey.

I could go on. And on. But I think you get the picture.

It's not pretty. Especially when you look at the budget. We're already looking at going £30k over.

While this may be little more than the price of a few titanium taps to the chaps down the road at One Hyde Park, to me that's a large chunk of any potential profit. (If there's any profit it all, that is.)

With this in mind, I've turned my attention to how we're going to 'dress' the flat for sale, who we're eventually going to market it to and, more importantly perhaps, how we're going to value it.

All these questions are, of course, interlinked. And I don't have the answer to any of them.

Like everybody I've ever met, I see myself as a bit of an interior designer. How foolish is that.

Any properties we've done up in the past have been been for us. Our taste. I didn't have to think about appealing to anyone else.

Now that I'm faced with 'dressing' a flat for sale, however, I simply don't know where to start.

The research I've done seems to point to this postcode having two extremes. At one end there's the Candy & Candy school of interiors - a glossy, glitzy, hotel-like world where taste seems to be less important than expense. At the other end there's the Bland & Bland school - so neutral, so generic, so characterless it's almost invisible.

Frankly, neither is really me.

The trouble is there's only two or three places in the world that I want a 'home' to look like.

One is the bleached driftwood, pale blue table cloths and plump white outdoor sofas of Le Club 55 in Saint Tropez. Another is the wonderful Colombe d'Or hotel in Saint Paul with its Picassos, Calders, old stone walls and dark tiled pool. And finally there's J&J's extraordinary houses in Holland Park and France, which I won't try to describe because I simply don't have enough superlatives.

Suffice to say, none of these inspirations quite suit a very small red-brick mansion flat just off the Brompton Road. I suspect, more relevantly perhaps, that they wouldn't suit potential buyers either.

But who is the target buyer for this smaller than it looks one (mezzanine) bedroom flat?

I suppose it could be a senior executive tired of staying in hotel rooms on his/her frequent London visits.

Or, as with the buyer of our old flat in Paris, a rather naughty and wealthy provincial man wanting a discreet place in town to bed his misstress.

Or a young city type more interested in location than square footage.

Or a retired couple wanting a base in town for cultural visits (whatever they are).

Or.......well, anyone who wants to live in one of SW3's most exclusive streets without paying top dollar.

Which, rather neatly, brings me to valuing the place. I've spent hours on Zoopla looking at recently completed sales and current offerings in what's officially called The South Kensington Estate (my parents would rather innocently have assumed that signified a council estate).

Leaving aside those properties on the Lower Ground Floor (or basement, to you and I), there's still a wide price spectrum. It goes from little more than £1500 a square foot right up to well over £3000. Across the road, houses can fetch a staggering £4400 a square foot.

The idea, therefore, that London prices are now increasingly priced by their size doesn't actually hold too much water (if you see what I mean).

We could of course just get a few agents round to value it. But do I trust them? Do I think they've done more research than me? Not really.

By way of example, the flat next door just sold at the asking price to the first viewer on the first day it went on sale. Something tells me that agent didn't get his pricing quite right!

So, to all these questions, I've concluded there is only one answer:

There is no answer.

Instead of science and maths, therefore, we will create a flat that I'd like to live in, price it as high as I think we can get away with and market it to anyone and everyone.

Simple, really. (Well, I'll let you know on that one.)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Postcard from India: One Giant Doer-Upper Project.

I don't know what I expected as we landed in Mumbai.

Of course, I knew the city would reveal stark contrasts between rich and poor. I had seen on countless documentaries the appalling degradations in seemingly endless slums.

I was also well aware that amidst this squalor others, the new Indian, glided past in air conditioned limousines, apparently immune to the surrounding poverty as they travel from newly thriving businesses to new and ultra luxurious residential compounds.

What I didn't expect, however, was the anger I felt when I saw it for real.

Over 50% of Mumbai's inhabitants live in slums; in conditions we would consider criminally cruel even for animals. ( See http://mumbai.metblogs.com/2006/01/09/mumbai-slums/ )

The streets aren't paved with 'gold' for these immigrants from the countryside but with the excrement of the millions living in abject poverty, without sanitation and without anything we regard as worthy of the word 'living'.

The city of Mumbai is quite frankly a disgrace on every level. The infrastructure is crumbling, if existent at all. The filth and lack of civic pride is shocking and horribly sad. The utter chaos is an obvious symbol of a lack of any real overall progress. The whole is little more than one big sewer, within which a few, fat, almost Dickensian, overlords extract seemingly endless riches for themselves.

Although from a working class background, I have never been a slave to my roots. I always felt that in the UK anything was possible, that I had every opportunity to move on, move up. Nobody was ever really 'above' me. And whether by luck or hard work I have been fortunate to prove this to be true.

In Mumbai, however, the gulf between rich and poor is so extraordinarily massive, so outrageously unfair and so bitterly divisive that for perhaps the first time ever I begin to have communist tendencies.

Here is a country Mr Cameron asks us to flatter, pander to, even look up to for its 'economic miracle'. That is one very sick joke.

This country is so messed-up you have to walk through metal detectors and have bags searched just to enter hotels or very ordinary shopping centres.

In Thailand they have reduced the numbers living below the poverty line from over 40% to just 7% in a mere 20 years. India will take several lifetimes, I would guess, to get anywhere near this progress.

Basically the country seems constipated by inefficiency, slowed to virtual standstill by bureaucracy, and ruled by outdated class systems and elites.

Don't bother telling me about the success of groups such as Tata or Reliance. I don't care.

Tell me instead why the authorities don't tear down the slums and create basic housing using Portakabins or old shipping containers or prefabs like the ones that sprung up all over Britain after the war?

Tell me why some of the vast wealth supposedly being generated isn't used to build safe, modern, public transport systems that people don't have to crowd onto like animals on their way to the abatoir?

Tell me why the newspapers and magazines are full of ads for high end apartments costing more than a whole slum would cost to clear?

This is a city that is one great big vast Doer Upper project. But I'm not sure the 'project managers' are capable of achieving anything much.

The people I have met are gentle, hardworking and desperate to please. But their managers are hopelessly lost and clearly useless.

For example, a simple small cafe at the domestic airport in Mumbai made Fawlty Towers look the very model of efficiency. Eight staff couldn't serve twenty customers without making endless mistakes, arguing with eachother, shifting blame on to co-workers or wasting time just wandering aimlessly around with a big grin.

It summed up India, for me. Too many people doing not very much, not very well...but seemingly with a smile on their face.

I probably won't publish this blog until we return to the UK. And I certainly can't imagine ever wanting to return to Mumbai....or invest in the fallacy that is India's economic miracle.