Friday, 11 April 2014

The Doer-Upper Gossip Column......April

Further bite size chunks from the life of a small-time renovator in prime central. Not so much gossip as outpourings of ill-informed nonsense.

48 Hours in Barcelona

Many, many years ago I lived in Barcelona for a while.

I worked as an untrained and rather hopeless private English tutor (the untrained and hopeless bit seems to have been a common element in all my jobs) and met some interesting people.

There was the very wealthy couple I had conversation classes with each week who once took me to the city's most fashionable restaurant. The occasion was only spoilt by my extremely bad Spanish which resulted in me ordering, rather loudly, a roast prostitute!

One of my other students was an old school fascist and the Franco appointed boss of the City's port. His vast wood panelled office contained little sign of work but several large and elaborately framed photos of himself and the dictator. I always felt lucky to leave his office without being arrested for impersonating a teacher.

But, forgive me, this is a property blog. Not a history lesson. Where are the insights into the local market?

Well, I don't have many. Just one. I popped back recently for 48 hours to see an old friend, and it looks to me as though Barcelona is a busted flush.

Even this, the most prosperous of Spain's cities, is now a sad and disheartened casualty of the country's very painful recession.

The beggars look as though they used to be bankers and lawyers. The airport feels eerily quiet. The car parks are half empty. Trains carry almost as many buskers and hawkers as they do passengers. The people still working look far less well dressed than they did back in Franco's day. And everyone complains of rampant corruption in the government.

The nail in its coffin, for me, was the number of dreadful stag parties roaming the Ramblas and taking advantage of the cheap booze.

Of course, this probably means it's the perfect time to pick up a bargain at the estate agents. But only, I think, if you're prepared to stay in for the long haul. And I'm not.

Wood you credit it?

My wife gets immensely frustrated when we visit the Saatchi Gallery because my eyes are usually fixed on the floors rather than the walls.

I think Charles Saatchi's use of Dinesen Douglas Fir wide board flooring throughout his gallery is truly inspired. And I genuinely go just to drool over these majestic planks. (The art I am not so sure about.)

I have always wanted to install these amazing boards in one of our properties. But until now I've had neither the right property nor, I thought, a big enough budget.

This floor would be perfect in our W8 'wreck'. And much to my surprise it turns out my fellow ex-ad man is not the fool with his money that many seem to think.

At around £90m2, it may not exactly be a snip. But compared to the other floor I've always lusted after (which has the daft name of Lunar Larch), it's a veritable bargain. The Larch, you see, is an astonishing £163m2.

I once turned down the chance to work for Mr Saatchi, and I've always slightly regretted that decision.

I don't think I'll regret copying his choice of floor.

Merde! They said 'yes'.

In my previous blog piece, Le Bargain Hunter, I talked about a little place near St Tropez. Well, I eventually talked myself into making an offer (along with my old business partner, Murray).

And, after some negotiating about the conditions, it's been accepted.

In France this means the property is pretty much ours. Having signed a proposition d'achat, the sellers cannot consider another offer and we have until the end of April to sign proper contracts.

Given that our offer is a good 20% less than the property's original asking price, that's a result.

We've also managed to make it a condition of completion that we first get planning approval to redevelop and expand the property.

All sounds too good to be true....and I'm sure it is. This is France and ' le stuff ' happens. Watch this space.

Under Offer. And over the top?

On April 9th the BBC started broadcasting a fly-on-the-wall series about estate agents called Under Offer.

If you'd seen the trailers, you might have anticipated a bit of a roasting for the agents involved.

The excerpts shown didn't exactly seem to paint the profession in the most flattering light.

The programme itself turned out to be somewhat kinder than expected and a couple of the agents came out of it pretty well - especially the bright spark from Exeter called Lewis. (The guy from Birmingham was the only particularly unpleasant character.)

What's surprising is that Ed Mead, the much admired head honcho at Douglas & Gordon, agreed to be involved. I know this to my cost as he asked me to take part in a bit of filming.

The trailer for next week's episode showed our doer-upper in Egerton Gardens....where I had been filmed discussing how one room could be worth £1m.

Ed is one of the main, featured agents in the series and I do hope he comes out of this looking the genuine, intelligent, honest broker that he is.

For myself, of course, I just hope I don't appear at all.

Box Sash Rip-Off

We had a quote the other day to replace a few windows at the 'Wreck'. It's a small house. Not many windows. Three box sash, two or three very small French windows and a couple of tiny ordinary ones. £16,000 the quote said. Plus VAT.

Now, I don't know whether these idiots live in some kind of La La Land populated only with Oligarchs, Bankers and Premier League footballers...but this price came close to giving me coronary event of terminal proportions.

Frankly I'd rather spend several weeks renovating the existing windows myself than hand this bunch one single penny.

They may make brilliant windows, they may offer an unrivalled service, they may even offer me a thousand year guarantee...but even I can see when someone is taking the p***.

We want your business. But only if you'll wait 15 weeks.

Talking of windows, we had hoped to install a huge,very stylish, steel framed assembly to the back of the house as a refreshing change from the predictable 'sliding-folding whatsits'.

The trouble is there are really only two companies who make these (Clements and Crittall), so they're about as keen as whatever the opposite of mustard is. They don't need the business.

We were quoted up to 15 weeks delivery time.

That's a joke. These things are manufactured out of steel on a machine, not carved out of solid stone by artists. So why the hell don't they hire some more people, put on a night shift or invest in more kit and cut delivery times to something reasonable.

That's what they'd do in China or India or even the USA. But no, here in the UK, they can't be bothered.

Well, guys, I can't be bothered to wait. Someone else will be getting our business.

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