Property: A price on the head of the valuer

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The Independent Online
FIRST, everyone loathed estate agents, then they blamed reluctant buyers. Now, it appears, valuers have become the hate figures of the property business.

The recurring story of the year has been the seller who eventually finds a buyer only to see the deal collapse because the surveyor refuses to accept that the property is worth the amount agreed. This has become so commonplace that some agents are suggesting buyers falsely claim they have agreed a higher purchase price so that any downgrading in the valuation will still bring in the size of mortgage they need.

Down-valuations have been plaguing the market for a couple of years, but have become much more severe since the financial crisis in September, says Tom Trudgian of Stern Studios. Mortgage valuations on the small flats he sells have averaged 82 per cent of prices agreed between sellers and buyers over the past three months.

This means buyers must find bigger deposits to push through deals. First-time buyers who offer pounds 50,000 could expect to put pounds 5,000 into a flat with a 90 per cent loan. But if the valuer says the property is worth only pounds 41,000 (82 per cent), they will get a mortgage of only pounds 36,900, leaving them pounds 13,100 short.

Sellers are often unable to drop the price this far because the value of their home is then less than their mortgage. Mr Trudgian says this situation is forcing a high percentage of sellers with his agency to pull out of deals. Many of the remainder are sitting tight because they expect prices to rise in 1993.

WHILE the first-time buyers may be disappearing, Stern has managed to sell more property this year than in either of the past two years because of the emergence of a new kind of buyer. Almost 60 per cent of its property is going to men who need a new place to live because their marriages have broken down. In the past the family home would have been sold,

but falling values and the

cost of divorce have blocked that exit.

In turn, these men are often buying from a new type of seller - companies or business people who can no longer justify the expense of a town flat.

ANYONE looking to pick up a historic home at a knock-down price and fix it up with the help of grants should take note of Oliver and Caroline Colthurst's experience. They were forced to sell Pitchford Hall in Shropshire, which had been in the family for centuries but had become too expensive to maintain. Not only did English Heritage refuse to buy the 14th-century manor, it is now chasing the couple for more than pounds 200,000 in repair grants made over the past 10 years.

The Colthursts should be able to find the money out of the pounds 850,000 received from a foreign buyer and almost pounds 1.4m raised by auctioning the contents. Buyers of more modest homes, however, would be more hard- pressed. They face the same threat that if they were forced to sell, any grants made in the previous 10 years would have to be repaid. That could lock them into a home that is not only losing value, but also demanding more money each year to prevent it crumbling around their ears.

The lesson is to avoid a historic bargain unless you are very sure you have a secure future.

HOMEBUYERS are tough little cookies. They turn up on the doorstep bubbling over with enthusiasm about your wonderful home and you think you have a sale in the bag. Half an hour later they offer a price just less than you were hoping to get for the old lawnmower.

It may be comforting to hear they treat builders even more harshly. All the free fittings and special discounts splashed over advertisements mean nothing to these penny-pinchers. More than two-thirds of those questioned by the Woolwich Build

ing Society said they would demand cuts in the asking price of a new home. Londoners have

the meanest streak. Eight out of ten would demand price cuts, which knocks stereotypes about mean Scots into a cocked hat. Fewer than half those north of the border intend haggling. That could be because prices are more realistic, but it is more likely that people feel less powerful where builders are not suffering the same pain seen in England and Wales.

Of course, everyone should emulate Londoners and go for cuts if they can manage it. Tot up the value of free goodies such as cheap mortgages and fitted carpets, then ask for that to be taken off the asking price instead. When you come to sell, the kitchens and carpets will be secondhand, and no incentive to a new set of tough buyers. But a lower price now will mean a better chance of making a profit to plough into a new home.

HOMES are like bread: sell quickly or they get stale, and then you can hardly give them away. If no offers come within six weeks, you must start considering price cuts of up to 20 per cent. Even then buyers are put off by the fact that no one thinks the place is worth seeing.

This has spawned a trend in secret selling - no pictures in agents' windows, just a few private calls to hand-picked buyers. Michael Hobbs in Bath says he has several secret deals on the go. Clive Hopkins of Knight, Frank & Rutley says more than half its country homes and estates have been sold this way in the past year.

This approach only works when buyers are lined up, as they are now for high-priced homes in ideal locations. 'As we walk through the front door, we probably have two or three possible buyers in mind,' Mr Hopkins says. Prospective buyers enjoy the feeling of getting something that is considered not generally available.