Even the New York authorities, whom one might expect to be less shockable than most, were pretty taken aback to come across a tiger and alligator cohabiting in a Harlem flat last week. But what seemed even more amazing was the tolerance of the neighbours - one had even been living with tiger urine leaking through her ceiling. The five-foot alligator had kept a lower profile, possibly happier with its accommodation than the one rescued by the RSPCA in Chesterfield which had been living in a pond liner in the bedroom.
Although exotic pets, even the legal, benign kind, are an acquired taste, it is one shared by more people than you would think. Many go to great lengths to adapt their homes for the benefit of their pets because they have a genuine interest in them. Apparently, cupboards under the stairs make ideal vivariums while others create rainforests in their sitting rooms.
In one country house, the owner partially replaced one of the back walls with glass so that he could see into his monkeys' enclosure, with its waterfalls and a tunnel. At Biosystems in Surrey, they see enthusiasts spending thousands of pounds on replicating the natural environment of reptiles. These are not the sort of house-owners who move much but when they do it is heaven for the buyer with iguanas rather than a family.
Rather less heavenly is a physical encounter with a pet, and estate agents have great problems persuading vendors of this fact. Even when owners can see that their salivating, bounding dogs send purchasers fleeing, they are reluctant to lock them away. Scarlett Dyer runs the sales service department at John D Wood, and often acts as troubleshooter in times of dire need. While some sales need only a gentle nudge, others require stronger medicine. One Battersea flat that was occupied by a parrot which made free use of every surface as well as having a repertoire of foul language took two years to sell. Only when the owner and his bird were moved into a rented flat could it be made saleable.
Dyer believes the pet factor is one that we discount at our peril. "The new owners of a Kensington house, costing about £5m, went to have a look at it once it was empty and were horrified to find the furniture had been covering dog mess." Her task of mollifying a tearful purchaser by sending in a taskforce of cleaners is by no means unusual.
But perhaps it is time we accepted that animals are a permanent part of many households. Countryside Properties recently built a dog room into a £3m house and since then have tried to include them in smaller houses where possible. "It makes sense to give people somewhere to put the dog's bed and wash it down after a walk," says Chris Crook, managing director of North Thames division. Why not offer cat-flaps in new homes? "I'm sure plenty of people savage their beautiful new doors by putting in cat flaps but it might mess up the thermal efficiency if we put them in. It could happen though."
* I don't suppose reptiles feature prominently at Quintessentially, an exclusive concierge service and luxury goods club. It aims to get members into celebrity parties and the kind of restaurants that are booked solid as well as being able to rustle up a private jet and sort out the dry cleaning. This is usually done for the likes of Jade Jagger and Puff Daddy (who shouldn't need much help on the party front) but is now being extended, free for 12 months, to some of the residents at Crest Nicholson's revamped MI5 building on Westminster Bridge Road. Since Quintessentially has at least one young royal on its well-connected team, this seems to be old money using its clout to smooth the path of the new.Reuse content