How I used the Royal Wedding to buy my first home, says guest blogger Jack Swain

This is a legacy post from the blog which is now maintained as an archive within the Zoopla blog. Links have been preserved.

While the rest of the world gazed adoringly at Kate and Wills, I was falling head over heels for the flat I’d spent a year searching for.

At a time when the market is slow, the story of how I bought my first flat shows you can still get a bargain, if you’re prepared to look for it hard – especially at a time when other people aren’t.

First-time buyer Jack Swain outside his new West London home

As a first-time buyer looking for a two-bed flat in central London between £350,000 and £400,000, there were precious few properties matching my search. Every time a hopeful prospect appeared in my inbox, it had been snapped up by the time I phoned the agent.

Not that my agents, desperate to sell, made things any easier. One helpfully suggested I could turn a cupboard under the stairs into a “roomy” bedroom. I suspect even Harry Potter would have turned his nose up at this.

Several demoralizing months into the process, I thought I would have to compromise. A born and bred central Londoner, I was reluctant to move out to Zone 3, but it looked like a real possibility. It was that, or give up on my dream of renting out the second bedroom.

And then the Royal Wedding arrived. While people took the week off work to string up their bunting, I sat alone checking my property searches. And lo and behold: a flat just off Ladbroke Grove, not five minutes from Portobello Road, with two good-sized double bedrooms and a balcony overlooking a canal, popped up on my screen. It had previously been on the market at £425,000 – out of my price range – but was now reduced to £400,000.

As I picked up the phone, that familiar sinking feeling set in; no way was this still on the market. It turns out my agent was the only one still in the office that weekend – everyone else had taken a holiday. He was clearly relieved to take my call, and delighted to announce that no one else had even noticed the price reduction.

Corny as it sounds, it was love at first sight. Not unlike meeting that special someone, it just felt right. My offer of £388,000, based on comparables in the same block of flats, was accepted immediately. Two months later I had the keys to the flat.

My advice: stay ahead of the curve by making sure you’re always first in line, and if you can, do it when everyone else is looking the other way. You’d go the extra mile to find your perfect partner, so why not do the same for your perfect property?

July 20, 2011 at 3:43 PM 1 comment

Lottery millionaires already winning the property game

This is a legacy post from the blog which is now maintained as an archive within the Zoopla blog. Links have been preserved.

Colin and Christine Weir were catapulted into the media spotlight last week when the Ayrshire couple won £161 million on the Euro millions lottery – the largest win in UK history.

But while the newspapers are keen to portray them as a ‘modest’ couple who live in a cul-de-sac home, can reveal that the couple live in one of the more upmarket postcodes in their town.

They own their house – a detached one – with off road parking, a garage and garden and Mr Weir has said they will be keeping their “nice wee house” as their main home.

The couple live in a three bedroom detached house in the seaside town of Largs on the West Coast of Scotland, 33 miles from Glasgow. Their home (pictured below) is near a golf course and backs on to hills.

The network of streets they live in are both pretty and evidently prosperous; several sports cars are parked outside homes and there is a sense of colour, well kept gardens and flowers to each address. These cul-de-sac detached homes are attractive and worth more than the local average which is, according to the House Price and Affordability Index, £122,868.


So, how much did they pay for it? And what is it worth now? We’ve done some digging and there are a lot of Weirs living in the area. In particular a Mr Colin Weir who lives in another cul-de-sac in Largs and who could soon see people camping outside his £380,000 house wanting charity. But they would be disappointed because it’s not the Euro millions Colin Weir.

He lives somewhere else and whilst there aren’t any records of what they paid for the house, it is now estimated to be worth £218,300, according to our partner website, – that’s 78 per cent more than the local average.

So what did the lucky couple do to afford an above-average home before their big win? Mr and Mrs Weir, 64 and 55, are now retired, but he was a cameraman and she was a psychiatric nurse. But  according to neighbour David Simpson, the Lottery isn’t the only game they have played well: “They own several properties that they let out on the isle. I think these are flats in tenements and it gave them a good income. Maybe they will go into the property game again,” said Simpson.

Luxury homes are top of the lottery wish list for most winners but they can usually only afford to buy the most expensive house in their area. But the Weirs’ winnings are so vast they can buy dozens of luxury homes and still have money to live off.

For example, the priciest home in Largs is a four bed detached home for just £799,000 but if they want more luxury, they could move to the other side of Scotland and buy an East Lothian mansion, currently on the market for £3.2 million. But if they venture further afield and south to Surrey, they could rescue £70 million Updown Court (pictured above) and relieve its owner who is struggling to sell the 23 bedroom, 22 bathroom home and has recently defaulted on the mortgage.


July 19, 2011 at 6:18 PM 3 comments

Whether you’re selling or buying – here’s a show to help you

This is a legacy post from the blog which is now maintained as an archive within the Zoopla blog. Links have been preserved.

If your life is on hold because you can’t sell your home or you’re still looking for your dream place, then perhaps you should apply to take part in a new Channel Four TV show.

Let the property expert from Channel Four's new TV show help you

The producers of Secret Agent are on the hunt for buyers and sellers. They claim their property expert (they annoyingly won’t tell us who it is at the moment) will take away all of the frustrations of the buying and selling process for you.

As a seller, the ‘expert’ promises to get the microscope out and investigate why your home’s not selling and give pointers on how you can change that.

At the other end of the property game are those looking to buy and if you can’t find the right place, their expert thinks they can help you. We can only imagine that it’s going to be a bit like Phil and Kirstie, without the flirting, where the unnamed expert hunts down what you’ve been looking for all along and helps you seal the deal on your dream pad.

As long as you’re happy to be on the telly – everyone likes five minutes of fame don’t they? – this is a great opportunity to get some help from the expert, whoever it may be.

July 15, 2011 at 4:20 PM 2 comments

Rental blog: Sometimes renting is a full time job, says Jeannie

This is a legacy post from the blog which is now maintained as an archive within the Zoopla blog. Links have been preserved.

This is the first time I’ve rented a home managed by agents. Most of my previous landlords were hands-on or had a handy man who’d come to the rescue  – bless Gordon and his useful box of tools who stepped in when an ex-flatmate and I, newly moved out of home, had maintenance problems. Poor man even changed our light bulbs.

For the most part, I think our letting agents and our house had quite a good relationship. There’d been no unexpected visits (cue turn down the music and hide the empty wine bottles) or need to spam them with messages just to get a washer replaced. We needed a new lawnmower, they obliged. We requested they take a look at securing and glazing our windows, they sent someone round to get a quote. They even sent us a Christmas card!

But it was after I received yet another phone call at work , that a hint of irritation began to creep into my attitude towards them. Who had to go, buy and assemble the lawnmower? Me. Who had to let the window company in and wake at my housemates early on Saturday morning? Me. I even had irate Andy phone me one morning requesting I be at the house to let him in to do a gas and fire safety check. When I explained I was at work, like most people on a weekday, he got in a strop and said I’d wasted his time.

Thing is, I had never made the arrangement nor given him my number, but somehow the letting agents, who are getting paid to manage the property, seemed to have selected me as site co-ordinator. Perhaps I should ask for a cut or a decrease in my share of the rent?

But then I have to stop and remind myself of the mysterious case of the missing toilet handle: at a house I once rented, landlord-appointed odd-job man Majek came to fix a toilet. After staring at it for five minutes, he unscrewed the handle, walked out the door and was never seen again.

So sometimes while it might be a bit of hassle to organise repairs for our rented house it at  least gives me a never ending stream of odd stories (thanks to Majek and co.) with which to entertain my friends!

July 15, 2011 at 3:51 PM Leave a comment

First-time buyer blog:Get your poker face ready, says Emma

This is a legacy post from the blog which is now maintained as an archive within the Zoopla blog. Links have been preserved.

By now we’ve got a good understanding of the rules of being a first-time buyer. We have our poker face finely tuned, done the research and are holding our cards close to our chest. The opponents are also ready and waiting.

As first-time buyers we are being constantly reminded that we are in the driving seat, and in a good position. According to Phil Spencer, we are the “darlings of the property market”. But do our fellow players – the estate agent and the seller feel the same? And who is really at an advantage here? The estate agent, surely?

Our property search started by asking friends and relatives for advice. Two pieces in particular have stuck with me. The first, from my dad, who told me that as much as we fall in love with a house, we must always be prepared to walk away. The second, from a work colleague, who told me to remember the estate agent is working on behalf of the seller only.

Estate agents have already been given a stereotype – they’re often mentioned in the same category as parking police and tax men. However, I must admit I’ve developed a bit of admiration for this profession.  They’re  a group of people who start on the back foot in any relationship because of our preconceptions about them, but they use the smartest tactics to win us round, and, ultimately, sell a house. They have to be salespeople without appearing to be, and at the same time must do what it takes to close a sale. It’s impressive, I’ll give them that.

We’ve been advised to be friendly to our estate agent – if something new comes on the property market we want to be the couple they call first. TV property experts Kirsty and Phil have even recommended buying them a coffee. I see their point, but I’m also a first-time buyer in a struggling property market with a 25% deposit to find.

I read an article from a journalist a while ago who had done some training with an estate agent in London. Apparently one of the agents had said first-time buyers were an east touch. What happened to us being at an advantage? I guess this is where our tactics must come in, and despite the emotion running all the way through we must remain strong and focussed.

Who knew this was going to be such a financial and psychological game of endurance?

Bring it on.

July 15, 2011 at 3:32 PM 2 comments

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