Get Your House in Order
Get your house in order
Don’t let problems delay – or even derail – your sale. Get rid of the problems in advance. This is mainly about paperwork. But sales are mainly about paperwork.
Where are your title deeds – particularly your lease? These are the usual places.
- Lenders. They could be with your lenders if you still have a mortgage.
- You. Many lenders no longer hold title deeds, so perhaps they were sent to you by your solicitors when you bought. Or they could have been sent to you by your lenders if you paid off your mortgage.
- Your former solicitors. Perhaps they are still holding them.
- Your bank. Did you send them to your bank for safe-keeping?
Consent for alterations
Has the flat ever been altered? Have you done any alterations? Did a previous owner alter anything? In all these cases, you need to have the necessary consents.
These are the types of consent which may be needed.
- Landlord’s consent for alterations. This means consent in writing from the Barbican Estate Office. Nearly any change to a flat, other than redecorating or repairing, requires their consent.
- Garchey removal. You need a letter from the Barbican Estate Office confirming it was done to their satisfaction, because it can affect the whole system if done wrongly.
- Building Regulation completion certificate. If any of the alterations involved making connections to the building’s ventilation, water or drainage systems, then Building Regulation approval was needed. For example, changing a sink and making a new connection inside the flat, doesn’t require it. But if you put in a new shower and the plumber has to connect to the drain in the central core, that does require it.
- Certificate for electrical work. If you have had any electrical work done, since 1st January 2005, a certificate by an authorised electrician is required. (This is a form of building regulation consent.)
- Listed building consent. The Barbican Estate became a listed building on 5th September 2001. Listed building consent should have been obtained for certain types of alterations carried out after listing came into effect. It’s a bit complicated. Changing the tiles in the bathroom doesn’t need listed building consent; but changing the skirting board does. Even changing the window boxes does! The Listed Building Guide for Barbican Residents is on the City’s website.
If you haven’t got any of these consents, there are solutions. You can apply to the Barbican Estate Office for retrospective approval of alterations, and you can apply to the City for retrospective listed building consent or building regulation consent. (I had to do all three for my flat!)
Alternatively, you can negotiate with your buyer to accept an indemnity policy. So don’t despair, even if your paperwork isn’t 100% in order!
Make your Flat More Saleable
If you can make enough extra money to pay for a few years’ lavish foreign holidays, just by taking a few simple steps, surely it’s worth it?
My main message is this: Buyers have no imagination. You can’t expect buyers to see past stained carpets, bad smells, and cluttered bedrooms. They just won’t. You have to make the flat beautiful and desirable, so that they fall in love with it, and agree your price.
(I am copying this more less word for word from my book on selling flats in the Barbican Estate. Sorry for taking the easy route.)
Some of the essential things to do aren’t even costly, or all that disruptive. You’ll laugh when I say this, but the estate agents tell me with complete seriousness that having vases of fresh cut flowers improves your chances of selling. I’m talking here about expert Barbican estate agents who make their money out of getting sales through, so they are definitely very tuned in to what works and what doesn’t work. So you don’t really have to anticipate huge costs and massive building works in order to maximise your price.
Psychologically, what buyers see first when they step through the front door is often very important in making their decision. It seems that it takes very little to switch a viewer from open-mindedness to ‘definitely not’. It should seem as spacious and light and airy as possible. Barbican corridors can seem very cramped. So anything you normally park there (especially a bicycle) should be removed. Put a brighter than usual light bulb in the hall light and replace the lampshade with an attractive new one. Consider putting up a mirror to make the corridor seem wider than it is.
The whole point is to convince people that they are getting a lot of property for their money. So they have to feel that rooms are large and spacious. Doors must open fully. If potential buyers open a door and it only opens three-quarters of the way because there is a settee squeezed in behind it, they get the impression that the flat is pokey. Make sure no one has to walk round the back of a large chair to get into a room. Get rid of any furniture you can do without. Tie back curtains and take down blinds to make rooms brighter. In most homes, good advice is: put a large mirror over the fireplace. In the Barbican, the best advice would be: get rid of the fake fireplace. What were you thinking?
You have to bear in mind that when a potential buyer stands in your living room doorway, he or she is thinking ‘Could I live here?’ Most people are not imaginative interior designers, so your task is to make it as easy as possible for the unimaginative majority to see themselves happily living in your home. That means playing the percentages and making the flat look as appealing as possible to the large middle ground of buyers – which you may personally feel is boring and awful, but it’s what is most likely to sell your flat.
The Barbican’s floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, sliding windows are a huge selling point. The first thing your potential buyers will want to do when they reach the living room is to go out onto the balcony, whether it’s winter or summer. The balconies can definitely look barren and uninviting without something in the window boxes. So you should definitely have flowers out there, or greenery, to break up the look of the concrete. There’s usually someone who makes a business from planting window boxes on the estate, who would probably do one-off plantings. At the very least, you could put in some ivy – it’s almost impossible to kill (which would be great for me, the balcony plant murderer).
You must have free access to the sliding door. People often leave TV stands and plants in the way. This makes it difficult for the visitor. You must make sure they can slide all the way back.
Bedrooms should seem as large as possible. A teenager’s bedroom painted black or dark red should be repainted white. Furniture crammed into rooms so that they look impossibly small should be removed. The important thing is to avoid a room looking like a box room; it must convince as a bedroom. Buyers can figure out what to do about their storage when they move in.
Unless you are selling to a bachelor market, a more feminine style to a bedroom will be most appealing to most buyers. If you want a bedroom to look chic, merely investing in a co-ordinated set of bed linen can do the trick.
People seem to get by with some bulbs not working, particularly in the bathrooms. You should replace all burnt-out bulbs.
Original kitchens appeal most to buyers of flats in the Barbican. Possibly 70% of the kitchens in the Barbican estate are still original. Even if it is damaged or a mess, don’t go to the expense of putting in a replica. It won’t make enough difference in price to be worth it. Just concentrate on maximising what you have. Totally clean it. Units and surfaces are quite easy to upgrade. You can replace broken items from the Salvage Store. Tradesmen on the estate can re-balance drawers and cupboards. Viakal is good for cleaning stainless steel and getting rid of lime scale.
The kitchen is the one area in the flat where a bit of clutter can be a good thing. A few attractive jars, and cooking paraphernalia will make it look like a friendly, inviting kitchen, not just an empty room.
One of the worst things about the traditional bathroom, after 40 years, is that the grout between the tiles and particularly around the basin may have become very dirty and stained. There are tradesmen working on the estate who can re-grout areas for you. This is definitely a very worthwhile thing to do and it won’t cost very much. The difference between a gleaming white Barbican bathroom which is and one which is white overlaid with a gray graph pattern is quite dramatic. You should also replace the plastic seal around the basin and the bath because that can look as old as it is.
All the standard Barbican baths get stained where the taps are and round the overflow. The estate agents can give you the name of someone who polishes baths. A bath can come up like new. In worse cases, you can have the bath re-enamelled completely. Repaint the ceiling if the paint is peeling due to years of moisture.
Putting a mirror on one wall can have a dramatically enlarging effect. Some pundits say you should put some new white fluffy towels in the bathroom before a viewing.
You will, when you think about it, realize that you are putting up with a number of little defects in your home which you have become accustomed to – the toilet cistern which needs a special knack to flush, kitchen drawers which don’t quite shut, a dripping tap perhaps. These are all things you must put right. Anyone coming round the flat won’t be doing a detailed survey for major defects, but they will open and shut most cupboard doors and drawers, possibly flush the loo, and if they don’t work properly they will think the flat hasn’t been maintained properly and that there must be much more serious problems they haven’t spotted. So everything should work perfectly.
You are selling a period property, and your buyers probably particularly value the 1970s look. But they want it to be as if they had taken a time machine back to the 1970s. Repainting your flat before you put it on the market is a relatively cheap way of making your flat look as close to new as possible.
Another reason for redecorating – sorry to say – is to get rid of your personal tastes! It’s not because your personal tastes are bad, it’s simply that most buyers lack imagination. Buyers need to imagine themselves and their furniture in your flat. If everything looks clean, white, and generally neutral in tone, they can probably do that. If you have heavily patterned wallpaper or bedrooms with dark red walls and stars on the ceiling, your buyers may step back in shock instead of seeing the potential for their own equally individual scheme.
You are probably saying to yourself, ‘The buyers will repaint anyway, so what’s the point?’ The point is that you must get them to sign the contract first, and that is usually achieved by presenting them with an attractive but blank canvas.
The ventilation system can leave black marks on the ceiling or even cause the paint to flake. So it’s definitely worth spending half an hour to rub or wash it down. If the buyers see a stained or flaking ceiling, they will assume something worse behind it. The ventilation grilles always get full of fluff and dust. You probably never give them a second glance, but buyers will get right up close and have a look at them, so it’s worth hoovering them to get rid of any dirt, and polishing them.
Clean the windows throughout. The most important time for selling a flat is the first four weeks. So it may not be when the City come round to do it. You should keep the windows cleaned during that period.
The windows and the huge amount of glazing in Barbican flats is a major selling point. So take down any net curtains. They make rooms seem claustrophobic. Clean the curtains if necessary.
All the precious things that make your flat your home – mementos from a holiday, presents from your aunt, your collection of tea pots – these are what estate agents call ‘clutter’. The same considerations apply as with painting and decorating: you need potential buyers to see past your presence to how they would live in the flat. You mustn’t totally depersonalise the place or it won’t seem inviting at all, but you should look at it from an outsider’s point of view, and get everything which would detract from a sale out of the way.
Bedrooms should be cleared of rubbish. You would be amazed how many people leave buyers to clamber over the exercise bicycle and the T-shirts hanging off the clothes horse. All they see is an ugly box room. There is no need to do any major works in the bedrooms. But … this is so obvious that I’m almost embarrassed to say … but you should make the bed.
Large furniture makes rooms seems smaller than they are. If you have shoe-horned a double bed into a small bedroom, put the double bed into store and replace it with a single bed which makes the bedroom seem much better proportioned. If there’s a huge dark wood wardrobe, treasured by your grand mother, put that into storage as well.
It is worthwhile cleaning all cupboards. Buyers open cupboards and drawers. It’s human nature. If someone opens the cupboard and lots of brushes and rubbish fall out, it gives a bad impression. Viewings are all about impression.
Nothing is more likely to put prospective buyers off your home than bad smells. The worst possible smell is the stink of a Garchey. Even skunks have been know to faint. Buyers may walk straight back out of the front door again without looking round, if there’s a smelly Garchey. If you have a Garchey, you definitely want to keep cleaning it regularly. I took my Garchey out years ago, but I still occasionally got smells from somewhere else in the system. But the Barbican Estate Office told me that I could have it solved by having a valve fitted. They did that for me several years ago and I’ve never had a whiff of a smell since. I definitely recommend you do the same if you suffer any such problems.
If bad smells put buyers off, good smells are going to encourage them to think well of your flat. There are lots of suggestions traditionally put forward for enticing buyers with attractive smells: fresh bread or fresh coffee, for instance. But it’s a little difficult always to be producing fresh bread in the oven whenever a potential buyer arrives, and it looks a little contrived. Coffee is a bit more practical. Flowers are probably the best bet for an understated effect which doesn’t look like it’s been done purely for the purpose of the viewing. Obviously, you have to keep on replacing them. Vases of dead flowers aren’t going to improve your chances. You definitely shouldn’t use any of the commercial plug-in ‘scents’ always being promoted on the television. I can only imagine people use them because their homes are smelly and poorly ventilated, and I would expect any buyer to think the same thing.
If you have got carpeted floors, it is definitely worth getting them steam cleaned. It totally lifts the flat. If the buyers see a tired messy carpet, they can’t distinguish it from the flat itself in their minds. Usually it is not worthwhile re-carpeting a flat, because it’s a huge expense. If the carpet looks so awful that it seriously detracts from the property, you might consider putting down some cheap carpeting in a neutral colour. The difference between cheap and expensive carpeting is how long it will last, but since you only need it to look fabulous for the viewing period, cheap should do fine.
Remove any additional heaters. Extra heaters suggest the under-floor heating system isn’t adequate.
It is a good idea to tidy wires and remove extension sockets. A forest of connections just draws attention to the unfortunate lack of sockets in Barbican flats.
Make sure there is a good clean flow. Some taps in baths, if not turned on for a while, can run brown initially, which is off-putting to buyers.