Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Diary of an estate agent: Pimlico and Westminster

It’s pitch-black when I wake up to rush in for our weekly early morning meeting. A quick cup of tea with toast and Marmite gets me going and I’m hopeful of a great 2013. We had some excellent weeks last month, with 15 properties let in one week and four coming under offer at the weekend.

We go through our figures and current listings so that everyone is filled in on what’s happening, and with 175 properties there is a lot to know. Not bad either when you think we only opened last spring.

I have five valuations booked in today. The variety of people and properties is one of the reasons I love this job. My first valuation is a stunning house on Queen Anne’s Gate and I know I have just the right tenants.

My first appointment today is a five-storey house on St James’s Park, where near neighbours include the Queen. I know that the property will almost certainly be the owners’ largest asset so the decision to instruct me is an important one for them, but I feel confident it has gone well.

My next appointment is one of the oddest I’ve ever had. Driving up to a flat on Churchill Gardens, I’m looking forward to meeting the owner, who booked the appointment. However, when I walk into the studio room I am confronted by 20 people.

It would appear that the flat is a multi-generational family investment and they all want to be involved in choosing an agent. Talk about pressure to impress!

This evening I have to speak at the short let negotiator meeting in front of the entire company. Luckily I quite enjoy public speaking, but that doesn’t mean that my living room mirror has not witnessed a quick preview. All goes well and there are no embarrassing slip-ups.

We’re not even halfway through the week and we already have six properties under offer, with two agreed over the asking price, plus we’ve just taken on another four listings from yesterday’s valuations. With more valuations booked in, today is going to be busy.

One is a lovely property our sales team sold a couple of years ago. It appears, judging by the giant Bob the Builder toy I trip over walking through the door, they now have a family and are upsizing but have decided to keep the flat as a rental investment.

My afternoon is spent with the team doing paperwork and checking that everything is in order — the list is endless.
Today is also the birthday of one of my negotiators, so cake is on the menu with our afternoon tea. Great timing as I need a sugar rush.

We have five move-ins today. My daily 8am team meeting focuses on just this: as hard as we work for our landlords, it is vital our tenants get the same high level of service.

Making sure that everything is in order, I head off to have some new sets of keys cut, then pop over to check the properties have been cleaned properly, and turn on the heating. As an office in a prime location we see a huge amount of international tenants, and among our move-ins today we have a corporate tenant relocating from Geneva, and a Greek family from Athens.

Deal day. We want to exchange everything today as it’s the last banking day of the week. We have been working on a corporate deal with a large management consultancy in the City and a landlord who lives in Australia.

By 7.30am I am already in the office on the phone to the landlord. Being so far away, her main objective is to get a high-calibre tenant, with a quick move in and a long tenancy.

The company is signing for two years and wants to move in this evening. I call our property management team and by the time the tenants arrive to collect their keys the place is clean, the inventory is complete, safety checks are done and all contracts are signed and monies paid — thank heaven for our online e-deals. It looks like this is set to be another busy month.

Monday, 27 August 2012

As Greece seeks more help, Ireland and Portugal press ahead

As Greece appeals for more time to meet conditions for international aid, the country’s political fumbling and economic failures are being judged, at least in part, against the performance of other struggling European governments.

The euro zone’s other two crisis countries, Ireland and Portugal, have adhered closely to the promises made in their rescue programs and seen flickers of life return to their economies.

In Ireland’s case that has meant a jump in employment late last year, a smidgen of new growth, and success in persuading global investors to buy several billion dollars of long-term government bonds in July. Portugal has not done as well, but its exports are growing, budget targets are being met, and growth is expected to resume next year.

That progress stands in contrast to Greece, which has negotiated two rescue programs with Europe and the International Monetary Fund in as many years and is now appealing to lenders for yet another chance to make good on promised concessions. The debate could prove critical to the survival of the euro currency union in its present form, and in a sense boils down to a comparative judgment: Are Greece’s problems so different and so much worse that it legitimately needs more time to fix itself? Or is it simply unwilling to do the heavy lifting accomplished by politicians in Ireland and Portugal?

“From a purely political dynamic, governments that are reluctant to give more money to Greece have a justification in Ireland and Portugal,” said Marie Diron, an Ernst and Young economist who follows the euro zone. Both Ireland and Portugal aim to end their three-year rescue programs on schedule and begin standing on their own again.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras opened talks Friday in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, seeking perhaps an extra two years for Greece to meet spending and other targets accepted by previous Greek leaders less than six months ago. Greece’s combative politics have delayed progress. Other European nations again confront a choice of giving Greece extra help or leaving the nation stranded without the means to pay its lenders, employees and pensioners. That could force Greece to exit the euro zone.

After nearly three years of negotiating over the country’s troubles, patience is thin.

The rescue program negotiated last spring “went to the limits of what is economically feasible,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Thursday on German radio, according to wire service reports from the country. “More time means more money.”

Greece is considered the most likely candidate to leave the currency union. Ireland, by contrast, is a study in how an open economy and effective trade strategy can help a country take advantage of the euro’s strengths. Portugal is somewhere in the middle, perhaps destined to muddle through with slow growth.

Studies have found that Greece is hobbled by extremely weak administration. The government is unable to collect taxes or enforce laws, and bringing it up to par could take years. So much of the economy is in state hands that measures meant to control public deficits have exacted a heavy toll in employment and income with little offsetting benefit. Greek exports are comparatively small and thus offer little immediate hope of driving the economy. The banking system, through little fault of its own, is broke.

Greece remains far from the point where citizens and politicians can expect a return from the sacrifices they are making.

“When you impose deflation on an economy that cannot benefit because it is not that open to world markets, you just create more deflation,” said Carlo Bastasin, an Italian economist and analyst at the Brookings Institution.

Ireland and Portugal arguably had relative strengths that have made their tasks easier — particularly Ireland. Ireland’s trade ties with the United States, for example, provided support as the U.S. economy continued growing while Europe foundered. Ireland’s exports, open investment environment and strong tech sector also have continued to attract foreign investment, particularly as wages have dropped.

But many of the same sorts of measures called for in Greece were demanded of Ireland and Portugal: spending cuts that hacked into social programs, the sale of state assets, changes to long-standing labor protections, and a host of efforts intended to push down living standards to make the country more competitive.

In both cases, political leaders followed through, largely met the goals outlined by the IMF, and kept even, at least, with the tidal forces that have pushed the euro zone toward recession.

In its most recent reviews of the Portuguese and Irish economies, the IMF said that although neither country’s success is assured, the major risks involve issues that are increasingly out of their control.

Portugal, for example, needs Spain to succeed, because its much larger neighbor accounts for more than 20 percent of its exports. Both Ireland and Portugal need the euro zone as a whole to rekindle faith that it can remain intact. Investing, lending and spending patterns won’t return to normal in the region until that is assured.