Why homes on the internet are not always what they seem
I ENJOYED Tim Waring’s article recently about the power of the internet, and its power to mislead.
It struck a chord with me. I have just sold a village house near York for a figure in the region of £700,000 – but it nearly did not happen.
After initial interest from a number of parties, I had a telephone call from one. It went like this: “Mr Blenkin, we were going to make a second appointment to look at that house, but there is a sewage farm right behind it; either that or a silo, so they must be keeping pigs or hens next door. I’m afraid that rules it out for us.”
And who could blame that prospective buyer? Except...I was completely baffled that a quiet central village location could harbour anything as noxious as a treatment plant, and, had there been a pig or battery chicken unit so adjacent, I like to think I would have noticed it.
So I went to prospect for myself, and boldly parked at the rear of the next door house, whose land did, indeed, match with that of the house we had for sale. And what did I find? A horse-walker.
It had been photographed for Google Earth from a few miles up, and so it showed up on that website as a round and suspicious blob. I can see how it could be easily mistaken for any of the alarming and unattractive items my wary buyer had identified.
Fortunately, while that buyer had indeed taken fright, another was soon found and the deal went through. We shall never know how many viewings do not take place because of misleading photographs putting people off.
On the other hand, I do not need to elaborate on the merits of websites and our ability to harness their power to market property.
Why, last week, the first enquiry for a house we marketed came within hours from Saudi Arabia, and two of our sales this year went to buyers from Singapore, both of whom found their house online.
There are two things I resent, however. One is the anonymity. Every month, the property portal Rightmove tells me that nearly a million people have seen houses marketed by Blenkin & Co on their website and yet I probably get to talk to no more than 50 of them.
In the bad old days, preinternet, buyers who were serious made themselves known to the agents who might sell the kind of property they were seeking. Then a relationship of sorts was formed and deals were done.
“I’ll be on your doorstep every Tuesday morning when I come into York until you find me a house,” said one. She was, and we did.
Mind you, she would not bother anyway now because driving into or close to York’s historic centre is not an option thanks to road closures.
My second worry is just as serious. Every house marketed has only fifteen seconds to make an impression. Put “four beds, garden. £400-500,000, York area” into a site and what do you get? Probably upwards of 200 houses. You scroll down the page, and if the picture, summary of accommodation, and price do not turn your head, you go right past.
Now tell me that pricing is not important. Over-egg it and your first and arguably most effective marketing tool is nullified. The reason a house takes a long time to sell isn’t “the market”. It’s the agent. So when you choose the man or woman to sell your house, consider asking the question “and what is your average sale time per house?”
The ones who overprice – and we all know who they are – have between them slowed the market over the past five years, and we are only now seeing sales at a level we should all want.
“It’s on with so-and-so, I expect the price will come down in a few weeks” is not the reaction my vendor clients would want to hear.
Tim Blenkin is a Chartered Surveyor and Director of Blenkin & Co estate agency in York.