My house doesn't like you either!

If there's a property boom in London then why can't I sell my home, wails CORA MANN

Cora Mann
Sunday 14 November 1999 01:02

If I had a quid for everyone who'd said to me "Ooh, your lovely place, you won't have any problem shifting that" over the past six months, I'd have enough cash for several new pairs of shoes. But, while most of the country is bubbling with the biggest property boom for more than a decade, it just isn't happening down my road - which is actually a very pleasant one in a desirable area of north London.

We felt so confident when we started out. All the signs were good. For months, we'd been bombarded with leaflets from estate agents desperate to sell our maisonette. Other people we knew were equally frantically looking for places and finding there just wasn't anywhere half-way decent if they didn't snap it up then and there.

When we finally got round to asking for a valuation last summer, the amounts we were quoted by various agents were jaw-dropping. Of the three agents who gave us an estimate, we went for the one who was middle of the road - neither the wideboy nor the yuppie.

We'd forgotten the minor aggravations of house selling. You tidy like a maniac and, because all surfaces must be kept clutter-free at all times in case of a surprise visit, you constantly lose things. You never dare do any washing, in case potential buyers are distracted by the horrendous sight of your husband's pants hanging out to dry. You stop cooking, in order to preserve the showroom state of your kitchen. You buy tons of fruit, which no one on pain of death may eat, and when it starts to look a bit shrivelled you throw it out and buy more. Likewise flowers: is anyone really taken in by this nonsense? When I'm looking round houses the minute I see flowers, artfully arranged guavas and starfruit, and smell the coffee, I recognise a pathetically transparent selling ploy - but never mind. If buying a pound of grapes and a bunch of gerberas a week will help, we'll do it.

Our main worry at this point was that we'd sell so quickly that we'd be left temporarily homeless. Ha ha again. So we went prospecting. And, of course, we met our dream home and fell in love. Up to now we'd been fairly relaxed about the minimal trickle of people passing through our des res. We weren't in a hurry, so we'd even overlooked the fact that our "sales negotiator" was about 11, had all the charm of a sloth on Valium, and had to be phoned every so often and coaxed to disclose how many people had been in and what they'd said. Why weren't we exchanging contracts?

We upped a gear. We sacked our agents. We knocked some money we could ill afford off the price and started all over again. Nothing. We don't understand why. We're asking a fair price for a property in good condition. Taste, of course, is highly personal but as far as we can tell everything is in good order; we don't have ghastly swirly carpets or a chocolate- brown bathroom suite.

What are we doing wrong? There are more hot house-selling tips around than you can shake a stick at. Some are eminently reasonable, such as making sure your entrance hall isn't knee-deep in old bike spares. Others seem frankly bonkers. "Make sure you have four pillows on your bed - plumped up of course," advises one guru. Eh? Here are some top tips, from a survey carried out by the Abbey National, tried and tested chez moi.

Banish stale smells

Get rid of the dog, and stop smoking. Also, stop cooking, especially curries.

In case of vitamin deficiency, you could raid the fruit display set out to entice buyers. Our house is fresher than it has ever been; it is like a mountain glade. No sale.

Clean the bathroom

Buyers don't like hairy plugholes or dirty toilet seats being left up.

This is hardly a surprise. Hairy persons must be encouraged to clean the shower after every use; men forced to leave the seat down. Our sanitaryware is immaculate (as always). Zero interest.

Keep the noise down

Buyers don't like traffic or noisy neighbours.

Short of cordoning off the street there doesn't seem much to be done about this. Our street is perfectly calm; in fact we're probably the noisiest in it. Offers? Nada.

No wildlife

Buyers don't like damp or cobwebs. Salmon leaping up the stairs and tarantulas in dark corners would be a turn-off.

We don't have either. Spiders and other wildlife are banned. Queue of buyers still not forming.

No mess in the kitchen

Buyers like a clean kitchen with no dirty crocks or washing.

See (1) - no cookingmeans no washing-up. When the laundry logjam gets too great you will rediscover clothes long hidden at the back of the drawer; alternatively you will spend a fortune on tumble-drying. Our crockery cupboards are immaculate and our wardrobes in disarray. To no avail.

Import nice smells

Buyers like seductive smells, like coffee and baking bread.

Sadly my day job won't permit me to nip home to bung a part-baked ciabatta in the oven. But I simply do not believe that anyone will come in and say "Mmm! Your house smells so great! Here's a quarter of a million pounds!" Admittedly, no odours. And also, no sale.

First impressions count

Buyers like the outside of a house to look neat.

Don't we all. If only London litter louts would co-operate with the house- selling public. But we do our best to keep the situation under control: gathering up crisp packets, old takeaway boxes and nameless bits of gunge (ugh) is second nature now. Our bin overfloweth. Our bank balance does not.

Tea or coffee?

Buyers like to be greeted with an offer of refreshment.

This is absolutely not true. Eighty per cent of them make up their minds within a minute of coming through the door, and there is nothing more pathetic yet annoying than being accosted by a vendor eagerly proffering tea/coffee/wine when you've already decided you wouldn't let your dog live in their hideous hovel. No hospitality at ours. And definitely no sale.

So, what now? Well we're still playing the waiting game. I feel as upset for my poor house as a mother does when her child is snubbed in the playground. "It just takes one person to fall in love with your property," point out our agents astutely. Yeah, right: we're yet to get to the first kiss.

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