Archive | July, 2011

When is a property TOO small?

29 Jul

Today I tried to buy a great little studio flat in South East London just on the fringes of zone 1. It’s an area I know and love – close to transport connections, walking distance to local amenities and the buzz of central London on your doorstep.

I loved the flat as while it was close to all the action it was located down a quiet tree lined street, in a period building and next a lovely green park.

Although, I have to be honest, the flat I wanted to buy had no views of the park (it was located at the rear of the building) and it was next to a pub


…although when you want to live this centrally you have to make some compromises.

But this is where things become a bit tricky…when you want to live so centrally how many compromises are you willing to make and at what price?

So the flat is a split level studio – currently you have the kitchen and bathroom on the 1st floor of the building:

And the bedroom/ lounge on the second floor:

The total floor area including every cubby hole (including the immersion tank cupboard, the hallway and every crevice I could measure)  was less than 29 sq metres.  I looked how we might be able to extend – including going up into the attic.


There was very little space which meant we would have to try and raise the pitch of the roof to try and get any form of extension in…and that can be very difficult and expensive when the property is leasehold and in a conservation area!

And so, I had to plan on what I could do with the current floorplan rather than hoping I may get permission to extend. I devised a way to try and get the most out of the space and I came up with a plan which could work. It would be compact – but I decided I could make it swish. It was to be a “bells & whistles” bachelor crash pad!

But then I found out with it being so small, most mortgage lenders would not lend on the property, which meant the majority of my target market would not be able to borrow to buy it – and so it would most probably sell to a cash buyer.  That is fine if the area is good enough to carry it…but this is still South East London – this isn’t Chelsea where the rich buyers are and where if you have cash on tap you’re going to buy a fancy crash pad. But, I decided to work with the figures and bid accordingly.

The best end value I could arrive at was 200k, and set a against a a guide of 140k I knew things would be tight – but I was hoping that the petite size would put most potential buyers off.


It didn’t.

It sold for 185k!

How To Make Use Of A Redundant Chapel?

22 Jul

Today I went to see one of those unusual auction lots I love – a chapel!

Located in a sought after village in Hertfordshire, my immediate dreams were about the wonderful home I could make of this now redundant former place of worship.

Surrounded by the rolling green hills of Hertfordshire and just a few miles to the mainline train station into London, this is commuter heaven – and what better after a hard day working in the City to come home to this unique property in such a fab location.

The Chapel, built some 150 years ago is in good structural condition and is a handsome building


The slight fly in the ointment is the graveyard which surrounds it…and which you own on a 999 year lease and have to maintain.


And while these gravestones may look fairly old – there are some recent ones which shows this has been a fairly active graveyard until recently:

Inside the building benefits from great proportions as you would expect – high vaulted ceilings – and gorgeous original features which could be incorporated into a new design scheme.

Just imagine these beautiful windows with stained glass in them – these are the sort of architectural details you just don’t find nowadays:

However, while the chapel benefits from such modern day conveniences as electricity, it does not appear to have mains water, sewerage or gas – as evidenced by just this chemical toilet.

The building benefits from class D1 usage which applies to Non-residential Institutions and can be used for:

  • The provision of any medical or health services
  • A creche, day nursery or day centre
  • The provision of education
  • The display of works of art (otherwise than for sale or hire)
  • As a museum
  • As a public library or public reading room
  • As a public hall or exhibition hall
  • For, or in connection with public worship or religious instruction

Given the active graveyard situation, I quickly knocked all ideas of residential conversion on the head. While chapels can make fabulous homes – I think the market is rather niche for those who are also looking to live in a graveyard!

And so my thoughts turned to the commercial uses, and those which the property already benefits from. Initially, I thought what a great doctor’s surgery it would make…until I realised how ironic that would be. You go to the doctors to be made to feel better – if you go to a doctor’s at a chapel with a graveyard, that is a timely reminder of your own mortality!

I then thought about a vets – and then realised that is the same as a doctors – although this time it’s an animal doctors – and again I realised that perhaps people would not want to be reminded that death is around the corner.

Then I thought about an antiques shop – until I learnt that most places are closing down…which also applied to all my other ideas surrounding libraries, community centres and the like

And so I started asking friends for ideas – they suggested everything from a recording studio (not a bad idea, but not sure on demand in this location), to a nursery (not much play space for the children and it feels wrong to think of the kids playing amongst the graves), to a restaurant (do people really want to eat with views over what faces them in the future) to a bar (village is too traditional for this type of establishment).

And so I have drawn a blank. The auction is next week and I have yet to come up with a great business idea for this chapel. I would love to hear any ideas you may have for this – no matter how crazy!  As a pointer, I better tell you now – it has no parking, it is a small village with some 5,000 people…but it is well connected, in a salubrious part of the country and definitely has potential!

Anybody who has any ideas with what can be done with the chapel will be rewarded if I manage to secure it!




A Property Auction Surprise

21 Jul

You never know what you’re going to see in an auction catalogue.

But this auction lot in the Highgate Borders of the London Borough of Islington really will be a surprise to the new owners – it’s even been specially wrapped up like a present 🙂


How To Make Property Personal – And Profitable

12 Jul

Today I am throwing out the developers rule book.  I am going to share with you a fabulous learning which breaks all the rules.  You know that cardinal rule which states “don’t make a property personal”? Well forget it! You know why Sarah Beeny say’s it? She doesn’t want us in on the secret of how you can make MORE money by making property personal!

So what do I mean when I say this? Well, let’s take my place in Poole for example. I never intended to rent it or sell it.  It was my crash pad by the sea. That’s it. It’s nothing special – it’s a 1 bed flat in a 1930s block. But it is in Poole which is a lovely area.

I loved the flat because it had a huge living room (22ft) and dual aspect triple windows. I ignored the fact that actually I wanted a 2 bed – the lounge did it for me.

This is what it looked like before (it was a repossession) – it doesn’t photograph so well – but trust me it was a lovely room.

I was in love. And after a bidding war with another buyer, I ended up paying 12k more for the flat than what I intended to. So my budget for refurbishing the flat was blown…and so I decided to do it on the cheap.

This was the day I moved in – no sofa, just a couple of deck chairs and a retro 1960s table I had found at the junk shop…and so the retro theme started

I couldn’t even afford carpets for the lounge – so I hired a sander and sanded the boards

I decided to stick to the retro theme as I could find original pieces at reasonable prices and I loved hunting in the junk shops and auction houses.

I got these original curtains – these are defo love or hate – but I LOVE them!

Original lights:

Yes – these are the sort of things which ordinarily you would look at in a house and shout “OOOH disgusting, old, rip it out” – Me I liked them.

This is how my lounge looks currently:

Now I agree it’s very personal, it’s very retro, it’s not to everyone’s taste.

However, here’s my learning for you: I have now reached a stage of “busyness” where I am hardly able to get to Poole and so most of the time my lovely flat is sat vacant. That’s a shame. And so last week I took the big decision that I should rent it out for a bit until I have more time to start visiting again.

I looked at what one beds rent for and I decided mine was better. Mine was unique. Mine was going on the market for £150 pcm MORE than any other one bed. My one bed flat was more expensive than a two bed, hell it’s even more expensive than a place with sea views.

No local agent would have accepted the price I put in on for – they would have been nervous that it would just sit on their books. But that’s the joy of owning your own agency – it’s my agency and it’s my property.

And so I put the flat on the market and within hours we had people clamouring to see it. The flat let to the first person who viewed it, who begged me to take all the money now as he did not want me to show anyone else.  Why? Because you will not find another rental property like this in Poole. It is my personal retro style.

What I have done is what I wanted to do in this flat. It’s personal to me and to my property. And you know what – it’s also very profitable. So forget the rulebook – property can be personal and it can be profitable!

Death Of The High Street or Revival Of The Fittest?

6 Jul

We hear all this talk from politicians about the “Death of the High Street”, we see empty shops all around our town centres. Every day we hear about a business going bust – in fact, all of us probably know first hand or a friend of a friend someone who has lost their business in the past 2 years.



But here in Stoke On Trent, a deprived city at the best of times, we are bucking the trend. Literally, we have got businesses fighting over empty commercial space!

Last night was a prime example – it all kicked off at 5pm when I informed the business who had put in an offer for the commercial space earlier that day, that his offer had been exceeded. He went crazy. Literally mental down the phone at me. He was going to pay more, he was going to pay 12 months rent now, he was going to give double the deposit. He was having that commercial space. He was determined. He was adamant. And he demanded I remain at the office, while he gave me a huge amount of money and completed the paperwork on a 15 year lease!  And that’s not the first time in the past few weeks that that’s happened!

In the past few weeks we’ve let commercial space which will be used for a variety of different businesses from a trophy shop to a barbers, a vintage crockery shop, an off-licence to a bridal/ prom dress shop. Admittedly, before we took over the marketing and management of these commercial units they had been empty for years. Why is it different now? Well to be honest, the landlords are now with an agent who cares. An agency who believes that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking and who helps businesses to open their first, second, third premise and who actually tries to help.

And so personally, I blame the agents for all the empty commercial space on our high streets. Most commercial properties are looked after by the big corporates, the chartered surveying firms – and it languishes on their books.  The corporate commercial agencies don’t have the entrepreneurial flair that we have – they don’t need to have – they are already the big players.  My belief is that you need to think about the whole food chain – not just the top end.

So next time you’re down the high street and you see an empty commercial property don’t just think about the business failure that was there – think about what could be, what what be – if only they had a decent agency.

And if I haven’t harped on enough about our success –here\’s us in the local paper this week with a lovely article for a business we helped move into an empty commercial premise.