I have often been accused of over-complicating matters.
My thought processes are indeed labyrinthine, principally because thinking about things in simple terms doesn’t seem to deliver results either.
Without results, the time available for more complicated rationalisations is infinitely extended.
As a case in point, I have been trying to explain to myself why it is that I have not been able to sell my house for two years and three months, despite having appointed now a total of five local agents whose speciality is, one supposed, selling houses.
So, I have shared the problem with quite a few people, all of whom have responded by asking nicely if perhaps I might be asking too high a price?
That is what one might call the over-simplified approach (I hate people using ‘simplistic’, the word has no connection with the meaning of ‘simple’ as in ‘uncomplicated’ – ‘simplist’ being an old word for a practitioner of natural medicine. Now read on…)
My reply to the point is also quite complicated, price being one of those parameters in the complex equation of selling that could equally be at the heart of a buyer objection, or totally irrelevant, depending on such considerations as local supply, buyer need, availability, desirability, perceived uniqueness and so on.
In other words, some buyers might be willing and able to pay a higher price to get something they want, while others might be constrained by their financial circumstances, the willingness of some lenders to lend more generously than others; or indeed, by the availability or otherwise of lower priced properties in the area.
In my case, I have taken as my starting point the price I myself paid for the property three years and six months ago. Given that there has been some house price inflation nationally in the interim, I feel I would be dunning myself if I accepted a lower price now than I paid then, especially as I negotiated a substantial discount off the asking price at the time.
This is what I call the ‘Why should I? I’m not fuckin’ Santa Claus!’ argument. Of course, I accept that my position is somewhat hypocritical, but the vendor was happy with the money so why beat me up over it?
Add to that, the extra investment I made in having the leisure room extension built, in which I am now sitting typing this. In other words, there is new added value in the property, for which I feel I deserve some recompense in the form of a higher price. I simply do not recognise the objection some prospective buyers have raised, that they didn’t ask me to build another room, so what would the price be if they knocked it down again?
Finally, in answer to those who wonder mildly if I might be asking too much, I would point to the existence of far worse properties in town whose owners and agents are asking maybe twenty thousand more; unmodernised properties in rundown former industrial zones that also have no private parking, traffic noise, drunken students having sex in the gutter, no front garden to separate them from the street, shitty concrete backyards with no green view…. And all because they have an upstairs view over the concrete-embanked river to a hutment of corrugated sheds.
Price is, of course, always at the bottom of any buyer-seller relationship. It is what ultimately determines the value of all goods. It is perhaps worth remarking how odd it is, that a buyer of items in a supermarket or a clothing store or an electrical goods emporium will pay without question the price stated on the ticket, while a buyer in a car showroom will invariably ask how much discount the salesman can offer, and a buyer sitting in your kitchen will tell you: if that’s the price I’m offering, then that’s all your house is worth, you tosser, so lump it.
So far, I’ve lumped it.
When I was trying to sell my guitars last year, the first question anyone would ask was always: What is the least you will accept for it?, and I would point out that a) that is an extraordinarily rude question, given that they have not yet even seen the item, b) the price stated in the advertisement is, as far as I am concerned, the price: fair, carefully calculated and competitive with similar quality items elsewhere, so c) if they can’t afford it, fuck off and buy whatever auld crap they can afford.
My attitude could explain why it took two years to sell them all, but I did eventually.
It’s the same with my house. I’ve spent endless hours carefully calculating a fair price based on local market conditions and what least I can afford to take. And, you know what? My agents have tried advertising it at several different prices, some higher, some lower, and I have advertised it privately myself at various discount points, with cash-back, or an interest-free loan, and it has made not a blind bit of difference. In fact, the most enthusuasm has been generated at the higher prices than at the lower. Since we reduced it last year, there has been no interest at all.
And so my complicated brain has gone into overdrive to try to explain this confusing lack of enquiries after what, everyone I know seems to agree, is a perfectly nice little house, if not an absolute bargain-basement offering (and why should it be? It’s not my money, I can’t afford to give it away). Because I can understand someone who has seen it not buying it, but no-one even wants to look at it, let alone knock the price down.
Firstly, there will ever be only a limited number of buyers wanting to live in the place where I live. I call these buyers ‘the pool’. The pool is made up of people who want to live here, and those who by virtue of their employment or whatever have to live here. It isn’t like London, where there is intense competition to live closest to the centre, where the most and the best-paid work is. There isn’t a lot of regular work here, and what there is is not well paid.
Both groups are also divided between those who can or can’t afford to buy a house in the first place. This not being a high-wage economy, but one that demands a limited supply of young professionals, it will be the case that the majority are in the latter group and they will be forced to rent, rather than buy, owing to the tougher mortgage lending criteria being enforced by the banks, and the relatively high prices (which look laughable, compared with the southeast of England.)
There are other houses for sale here, and it will always be the case that some people will prefer to buy one of those, for whatever inexplicable psychological reason, rather than mine. Buying a house is a highly subjective process. So the ‘pool’ of buyers for my house in particular is a tiny minority of the total, however many people might have looked at it wistfully on the internet (it has had over four thousand hits!).
While, across the road from me, a developer has recently built a small estate of houses and flats, some on the local ‘affordable homes’ scheme, and after a year they are still not all sold. So my assumption is that a large part of the local pool has been soaked-up by these new-build properties; younger professional people preferring to buy new than to live with the ghosts of past owners.
Then there is the Chinese Puzzle. This is a university town, I work from time to time at the university, and I have noted that in the past year there are many fewer Chinese students. Why? And what difference does it make? Students don’t buy houses!
No, but ‘buy-to-let’ landlords do. And when there are fewer students to accommodate there is a glut of empty student lets in town. Everywhere you look, unlike in past years, there are ‘Rooms to Let’ signs. Clearly, with less pressure in the lettings market there will be less pressure in the buy-to-let market. And we see that what might be classed as potential student accommodation, shabby three- and four-bedroomed houses in town, are for sale and not being snapped-up.
Why are there fewer Chinese students? Complicated answer: the Chinese government is less willing to pay for them to come here, a) because the Chinese economy is tanking somewhat, b) because higher tuition fees have made it very expensive, c) the new Chinese administration is rowing back on the spread of Western values, but also because d) the Tory UK government, terrified of the anti-immigration vote, has made it harder to get student visas abroad.
Of course, it’s not just the Chinese. There seem to be fewer overseas students, period. My local university used to have two or three world-class faculties, the new administration in its zeal to dumb-down and popularise and cut staffing costs and attack the pension rights of support staff at the expense of painting yellow no-parking lines everywhere and replacing the books in the libraries with beanbags and coffee machines has virtually destroyed its academic reputation, so fewer top students are enrolling here when they can get a better class of degree in another country.
Lastly, I have to say, the small coterie of local estate agents is grown fat and lazy. They don’t compete with one another, their marketing skills are pretty abysmal, they make few attempts to promote the area to the outside world, they deliver the minimum possible service to their vendors, and they all admit they make more money from property speculation and lettings than from selling people’s houses.
And that, in a series of ever-unfolding nutshells, is why no-one is even looking at my house, at any price.