Victoria Summerley: City Life

'The sort of people who enjoy racing around in a Foxtons Mini or Golf aren't exactly in tune with the natural world'
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The Independent Online

It's almost easy to feel sorry for estate agents at the moment. After years of over-inflating the values of our homes, exaggerating the financial probity of potential buyers and generally lying through their teeth about a whole range of things, from the state of the central heating you're about to inherit to the existence of any leaks in the roof, negotiators the length and breadth of England and Wales are allegedly losing their jobs as branches close thanks to the fall-out from the credit crunch.

However, there is one accusation I could never level at any estate agent, and that is of leading me up the garden path. As far as I can make out, estate agents don't like gardens. Why is this? It's tempting to think that it's probably because the sort of people who enjoy racing around in a Foxtons Mini or a company Golf aren't exactly in tune with the natural world.

However, it's more likely to be that gardens are a bit of a nightmare for your average real-estate merchant. They're difficult to measure accurately, for a start. They're full of plants, which the average twentysomething is unlikely to be able to identify, which is probably why estate agents like boring gardens that are "laid to lawn", to use their own ghastly terminology. (Any idiot can recognise a patch of grass.) And to be fair, they're not great places to be if you're wearing a suit and/or high heels.

So, as this is the week of the Chelsea Flower Show, it would seem an appropriate moment to make a three-point plea to the estate-agent fraternity.

First, the full measurements of the garden should always be given. "Patio to rear", or even just "Garden" doesn't really cut it with potential buyers who are looking forward to cultivating their own patch. And giving only the length is irritating, too. You don't need GCSE maths to know that a 25ft garden that is 40ft wide is a very different proposition from a 25ft garden that is 10ft wide. (Estate agents wouldn't give only the length of a living room or bedroom, would they? Exactly.)

Second, state the aspect. So many agents will quite happily tell you that a garden is south-facing but remain resolutely tight-lipped if it faces in any other direction. Please, just be honest. North-facing can be good for buyers who don't like sitting in the sun and prefer a cool refuge from the heat of summer in the city. (And for all those estate agents who don't appear to know which way a garden faces, look to see where the sun is and work it out, for goodness' sake.)

Third, provide a picture. Yes, the garden might be a wreck, or there may be nothing in it except a plastic Wendy house and a broken scooter, but to some keen gardeners that can be quite exciting. It may seem off-putting to the casual observer, but to a buyer it means they can make their own mark on the garden instead of feeling guilty about getting rid of someone else's plants or koi pond or whatever. And the buyer is going to see the garden at some stage, so it's as well to be upfront about it.

I know so many people who, on the point of acquiring their very first private plot, were full of excitement at the thought of being able to grow their own veg, or a few flowers, or just sit and have a glass of wine. Surely, for them, a garden was a huge selling-point, even full of weeds or rubbish. So why not put a bit more effort into drawing buyers' attention to it?

The same goes for sellers, too. Is it really too much trouble to mow the lawn, or throw away the pots filled with dead plants, or the old kitchen cabinets someone dumped there five years ago? Would these people leave a pile of junk in the living room or bedroom the way they leave piles of junk all over the garden? Sadly, the answer is probably yes.


I received loads of emails from women readers following my account of a conversation with Optima Legal. Optima, you may recall, told me I was legally obliged to use my married name when it came to processing my new mortgage.

So many other women seem to have had similar experiences. I loved Jane Gregory's account of how one building society insisted she list herself as "housewife" rather than "self-employed". Dr Cherry Bradshaw complains that she got so tired of people insisting she was legally "Mrs Husband's-Name" that she even checked with her local registrar, no less, on the options regarding name choices for married women.

So I'm delighted to report that I have received a very handsome apology from Peter Mayor, head of client relations at Optima, who says that their response was confusing and inaccurate and "as a result of your article, additional training has been given to the individuals concerned to prevent the situation occurring again".

Perhaps Mr Mayor could also arrange for these (female) employees to be given a free copy of the works of Germaine Greer or Andrea Dworkin, or sent on a consciousness-raising weekend.