When Trying to Sell Ya Hoose

When w’put wa hoose up for sale, w’got loads of nosey parkers
Who would caall around at aawkward times, when you’re in the bath and starkers
Y’knew they didn’t want to buy, they would aalways mek an excuse
Oh the trials and tribulations when tryin’ to sell ya hoose

Y’d get these funny people who didn’t keep their appointment
After y’d rushed and tidied up, wey it was a disappointment
Then y’d get the bargain hunters, expecting ya’d reduce
Oh the trials and tribulations when tryin’ to sell ya hoose

W’ got this couple of pensioners, so owld the’ could hardly waalk
But the’ made up for it in other ways, cos mind how the’ could taalk
W’ showed them aal four bedrooms, too many for them y’d deduce
Oh the trials and tribulations when tryin’ to sell ya hoose

The stairs took both their breath away, gannin’ up and comin’ doon
What a way to pass the time on a Sat’day afternoon
And the’d traveled from many miles away, by bus, from Seaton Sluice
Oh the trials and tribulations when tryin’ to sell ya hoos

The’ said that they would give us a ring later on to let us know
We thawt they would be better off buying a bungalow
But they kept their word and rang to say “It’s too small for our use”
Oh the trials and tribulations when tryin’ to sell ya hoose

Words & music by Wilf Mitford

Geordie translations;
starkers = nude / naked
mek = make
wey = well
gannin = going

Credits : Recorded and produced at the Red Nose Studio, Newcastle upon Tyne in April 1991.  Wilf Mitford, Lead Vocals & Guitar; Julia Mitford, flute

Once again Wilf has taken a nugget of a true story and woven it into a witty song with a relatable punchline.  I suspect this was written at a time when he & Mum were considering moving house – Dad can’t quite remember the circumstances other than trying to sell was always a hassle. You may notice the lyrics above say ‘trials and tribulations’, however Wilf sings the ‘joys and tribulations’. This could have been nerves on the day or a desire to make the song more lively. Wilf often changes lyrics or tunes to fit a new idea he has.

For a short while when I was studying, I worked as an estate agent.  Not a very good estate agent I may add.  This song makes me laugh thinking of all sorts of similar scenarios showing houses that for some reason or other just weren’t quite right, or taking someone to view a house when the owner hadn’t even attempted to clean up. Some people think of viewing houses as a bit of a weekend pastime – I think Mum and Dad went through a phase of this with new builds.  I have vivid memories of popping on those blue shoe covers to wander through a beautifully styles home. Some people like to see how the other half live, get inspiration for rennovations, or feed their dreams of a life they can’t afford.  Some just have unrealistic ideas about what you get for your money!

The trials and tribulations of trying to sell my house
This song has also got me thinking about my own recent difficulties with the UK property market, so please indulge me whilst I use this as an opportunity to bring up the topic of leaseholds in the UK.   I have a flat in Cramlington and find myself in the thick of all of the difficulties you may have seen covered in the news.  It started back in 2010 when was ready to sell the flat after deciding to stay in Australia for a while. 

To sell I needed a lease extension but had no savings to cover the enormous sum required, so I opted for a free extension.  The downside to the free extension was a significant increase in the annual ground rent fee.  “Nee bother”, I thought.  I’ll sell the property – they were very saleable – and won’t have to worry about it.

Photo by Mike Rogerson Estate Agents

Unfortunately just as I listed the property the global financial crisis (GGC) hit.  The impact on the property market was dramatic, particularly for flats in Cramlington.  Where once lenders were giving 110% mortgages, now you were required to put a 20% deposit down.  First-time buyers would now have to spend a year or two saving a deposit, which meant the only buyers left for flats were investors looking for a bargain, which I could not afford to offer. I recall that in the lead up to the worst part of the GFC the Northern Rock Bank got into difficulties and there was a run on the bank, that is to say hundreds of people were queuing up to withdraw their money for fear of losing it if the bank went under. This was a scenario I thought, up until now, was only the work of fiction in Mary Poppins!  

So we decided to weather the storm, and we kept my flat and rented it out.  Sometimes we had tenants and covered our costs and sometimes we didn’t.  Simarc, the leasehold management company for many of the properties in Cramlington, continued to see the money roll in as they charge each time a new lease contract is signed (and minimum of once a year).  Talk about money for nothing!!  We kept the flat in good condition over the years, replacing the porch, windows, front door and garage roof, painting it regularly, and last year replacing the carpets and flooring throughout. 

Being a landlord requires time and money, particularly in the North of England markets.  It’s not like Sydney where you earn a good income and pay an agent to take care of everything for you.  There you are rarely making enough money to justify the cost of the agent, and honestly the agent services we used at first were terrible.  I just don’t think there’s enough money in it for them to even attempt to do a half decent job. 

We had an agent pay an emergency plumber a call out fee on a Sunday to fix a broken toilet seat!!  When we first tried to sell, which we knew would take months, our agent told our tenants they should move straight away rather than wait for a sale to be agreed, to avoid the disruption of viewings.  Conveniently they had just the right property for them and laughed all of the way to the bank, whilst we ended up with a flat that didn’t sell and wasn’t earning money for nearly a year. Those tenants also left the flat filthy, something the agents didn’t address at the checkout inspection, nor mention to us at any time when we asked why we couldn’t seem to find a tenant again.  It took a visit to the UK to figure out that this was the problem.  We spent our holiday giving the place a deep clean and within days we had tenants again. 

So we managed the admin ourselves, organising repairs and requests from the tenants, organising contracts for new tenancies, handing over of utlitilies between tenants, getting trusted friends and family to do check in and check out inspections and maintenance tasks, as well as doing our usual admin of tax returns & insurances etc.  At times on top of a full time job and parenting this was a lot of work.

For 10 years we watched the property market for recovery, and whilst houses in Cramlington increased from £120-250,000 in 2010 to upwards of £400,000 in 2022, the flat prices did not even return to their pre-GFC value.  What did increase sadly was the ground rent.  After 10 years it increased in line with the Retail Price Index (RPI) and with the extension I’d done previously I could expect this RPI increase to continue periodically in the future. 

We also watched the fantastic campaigning by the Cramlington Leasehold Campaign and National Leasehold campaign.  I must give a huge thanks here to the work that Paul Reynolds has done in this space.  He has been a huge advocate for leasehold reform, gathering local intelligence and making strong cases for why change is needed.  I may have been less than impressed with Renown as an agent, but Paul’s dedication to the leasehold reform campaign, including his extensive local market knowledge, has made a huge difference for Cramlington residents.  

Leashold reform is coming… slowly…
Thankfully the tide is changing with leasehold schemes.  After starting a consultation process in 2017, the Government introduced legislation on 30 June 2022 to set zero ground rents for new leaseholds.  Sadly for those of us in the thick of it this may be too little too late, but it does put some limitations on what leaseholders can do going forwards, and gives a line of negotiation for those trying to solve long standing issues now. There has already been some curbing of leaseholders just plucking ‘admininstration fee’ rates out of thin air which helps to some extent, and more legislation is promised in the near future.

Prices are bouncing back 
I’m glad to say that, 14 years post-GFC, flat prices in Cramlington may finally have gotten back to at least what they were directly prior.  So, we decided it was time to get the property back on the market. We were ready to cut our financial ties with the UK at last so we could invest in our future here in Australia, and so I could at last only have to think about 1 tax return per year! Unfortunately despite a number of offers on the flat, we found that mortgage lenders did not support the lease arrangements and were not prepared to financially back buyers.  Sale after sale fell through for the same reason.  We were back at the drawing board – this time with no rental income to cover our costs.  

A tale of two cities (and two entirely different breeds of estate agents)
It was hard to know how to pitch our flat in terms of price and this is where we really saw a difference in the way estate agents (or real estate agents as we call them downunder) operate in the North of England vs Sydney.  In Sydney the market is bouyant and there’s plenty of profits in property for agents to earn commissions that make for an impressive income.  There are lots of buyers and therefore plenty of competition for property.  It is a seller’s market with agents taking an aggressive approach to getting the best price.  A good sale price means a great commission. 

In the North of England, with flats at least, there’s just very little to be made in commissions and sellers aren’t as well positioned to lead the negotiations.  Agents tend to operate as if they act either on behalf of the buyer, or are simply an intermediary to find middle ground on prices, not as someone who is being paid by the seller to get them the best possible price.   That’s not to say it’s all sunshine and roses in Australia.  Negotiations that favour the seller come with their own, very expensive problems.  They drive the pricing up.  They are always looking to get a better price than on the last property and make a higher commission.  They charm buyers into spending just that little bit more so they don’t miss out.  Whilst in Cramlington auctions are what you consider if you can’t sell, and where investors go for a bargain, in Sydney they are where you go if fancy a riskier strategy to pull in the bigger bucks.

Anyway enough market analysis from me.  Suffice to say that our agent has been showing our flat for 8 months now and will see very little income for that time period.  But then again, they haven’t so far seemed in any great rush to wrap things up quickly.  They represent most of the flats in Cramlington, so it doesn’t matter to them which flat gets sold, the business will always fall their way.

But I digress…the future is brighter
After hitting leasehold problems again we decided the only way past this was to look at lease extensions again.  A company called Leasehold Assist did a great job for us in negotiating a better deal with Simarc than was originally offered, and in providing advice about what we could expect.  It’s a big financial hit, but it will be worth it so we can cut our losses, at last, move on, and invest our energy (and cash) in continuing to pursue our dreams in Australia.

Now, we should have the most saleable flat in Cramlington.  It’s in good condition, with over 180 years on the lease, no ground rent, and no chain!  We’ve had no problem securing an offer, though not quite at the price we’d hoped for.  We have everything crossed that this sale will make it to completion, and in doing so give hope for other flat owners in Cramlington who have felt stuck for the last 14 years.  

It’s going to be sad to not have those financial ties to Cramlington, but with most of my family & friends still living there, and such wonderful memories of my childhood and young adulthood there, we’ll always be connected, and I’ll always be coming back for visits, watching it continue to grow and transform.

I decided to have a go at writing my own verses to Dad’s song. I will confess this was a 5 minute attempt but perhaps I’ll come back and finesse it one day. It has protest vibes more akin to the Jarrow Marchers than Dad’s relatable lyrics about selling, but it was cathartic to give it a go.

When we put wor hoose up for sale we found problems with the leasehold
Turns out every house in town is tied to companies that print gold
Simarc is the worst offender, taking money for your right
To live on land in Cramlington… I think it’s time to fight

So Cramlington Leasehold Campaign took on the challenge for us
They’ve taken it to parliament because the system is in crisis
We’ve got some legislation, that’s heading up our way
But it’s too late for the buyers who got in before today

So 10 years on are we, from the Global Financial Crisis
With leasehold reform on the cards, flat sales are back in business
We’ve found a buyer for the flat where so many memories were made
And we’ll wave goodbye to Simarc where the millionaires are made

Creative Commons License

When Trying to Sell Ya Hoose by Wilf Mitford, additional verses by Julia Child, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://mitfordmusic.wordpress.com/.

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