Category Archives: General

Signing Up with the “Parasites”

So we’ve finally gone and done it, we’ve signed up with an agent to put our house on the market. It’s almost exactly three years since we pulled out of our last experience with the joys of the property market, so hopefully this time around will be less frustrating. We’ve had one hiccup so far which is that our local solicitor who spotted the issue over the parking at the Bewley Homes development last time has now retired so we’re scouting around for a new solicitor, however at this point we’ve been running the gauntlet of the local estate agents.

Talking to those who have moved recently we haven’t come across any ringing endorsements of any of the local agents, most people seem to regard dealing with them as a necessary evil. So we’re starting from a pretty blank sheet of paper.

My thoughts coming to selling the house have been that online exposure is paramount, so any local agent that is not putting properties on both the major property portals – Rightmove and Zoopla – is instantly off the list. Rightmove is the bigger of the two portals, however I’ve always much preferred the Zoopla site, in particular the level of detail you can get on a potential property, and the area.

I’ve also been taking a look at how each of the agents promote the houses on their books. So do they get the basic facts right? I can show you several examples of local agents who can’t get the basic information on Rightmove correct which means the properties they’re selling get categorised in the wrong place – four bedroom properties listed as three bedroom for example. Next what are the pictures of the property like – are they good pictures or do they look like quick snaps somebody has taken on their phone? Another local agent pads their adverts out with a whole load of pictures of the local area rather than the property they’re supposed to be selling. Also what is the floor plan like? There is quite some variation amongst the agents with pretty good quality plans from some, whilst another local agent has a number of properties where the measurements don’t add up and there are rooms with doors missing altogether, for example a bedroom that has no door at all, just walls. Then finally there is the wording on the advert, does it tell you about the property? Some agents do a traditional room by room tour, others a straightforward bullet point list, whilst another you get a little essay that doesn’t really tell you that much about the house. Even then are there basic factual errors in the text – I can show you several examples of local agents who get basic local details wrong, stating the house is in a different estate from where it actually is being a big one I’ve seen before.

Having gone through all of those we’ve had a couple of local agents out to value the house with a view to putting it on the market. Both valuations were around the same sort of ballpark, and both agents seem to be offering a similar service and both of them were looking to charge around the same sort of percentage commission which would work out as about £4000 to sell the house. The contracts are littered with the usual lock-ins, and clauses that result in the agents getting paid their commission if you trade your house in for a new build property as we’ve looked to doing before, plus the usual sole agent stuff.

However do you really need to spend £4000 to sell a house, or is the money partly going to pay for flashy cars painted in the estate agents colours, or a chain of high street offices that in some cases look like wine bars? Given that the primary way of looking for property these days seems to be online, do you really need to be funding a chain of high street offices anyway? I’ve been aware of eMoov, the biggest of the online estate agents for a while. They have a few houses up for sale locally, and I’ve actually had online chats with them on Twitter several times over the past few years. There was a good introduction to the company and how it was founded published last year in the Telegraph. More recently they have also done a more general overview of the online options, complete with a video with a traditional and an online estate agent discussing the relative merits of the two routes. The bottom line though is that the cheapest package eMoov offer is ten times less than the local agents were proposing to charge – is what they are offering seriously worth ten times more than going online, or is this another industry where online is shaking things up?

I did a bit more digging and there really isn’t any tangible evidence that the local agents can justify a tenfold price difference. Certainly with some of the online options you’re paying in advance, but if you’re serious about selling that doesn’t matter. If you’re not a serious seller then eMoov have a traditional pricing option too, but even that is a quarter of what the local agents were proposing. Indeed if you look at how the traditional estate agents are reacting, they’re basically name calling – in this article they refer to the online agents as parasites. They also seem to be reacting by setting up a protectionist market, as of the end of January they are launching their own property portal which has banned the online agents from posting, banned their own members from promoting on both Rightmove and Zoopla (participating agents have to pick one), and are encouraging their members to only post to the new portal first, holding back posting the new instructions to the better known portals like Rightmove and Zoopla. Essentially unable to compete with the online options they are trying to close them out of the market and giving their customers a worse service in the process.

Where does that leave us then? I have to say I was always leaning towards selling online – I bank online, buy groceries online, do pretty well everything else online, and I can find no overwhelming evidence that the local agents are doing anything to justify charging ten times as much as their online competition. The real clincher though was that the local agents are resorting to setting up a protectionist market and calling the online sellers “parasites” rather than stepping up and actually competing, so last night we set the process in motion, and had confirmation via e-mail first thing this morning. I’ll post more as we work through the process.

Alarm Bells

So despite the pretty dodgy forecasts all week it’s a lovely afternoon out, and whilst I could have been out walking around Wellington Country Park with Lucy, instead I’m writing threatening letters to a bunch of cowboys in Borehamwood writing letters to Beth about proposed litigation unless we pay them over £400.

The story goes right back to when we bought this house. During the build we specified a security system, nothing fancy, just to give peace of mind. That was fitted by the contractors chosen supplier, a company in Bristol. Roll forward ten years to 2010 and the system starts playing up and we phone the number on the front of the box and get put through to a company in London trading as Pro-Sec who it seems had bought the customer list and goodwill from the firm in Bristol when that company had closed down. They agreed to come out and take a look at the problem, do a maintenance check as one hadn’t been done for ten years, and said they would provide maintenance cover for the next year all in the one price.

It sounded like a good deal, so they came out, found that the backup battery that is supposed to be changed every two years had finally given up, put in a new battery and off they went. A short while later a letter turned up with a sales invoice, Beth having previously paid by credit card over the phone. The sales invoice confirmed we had paid for the maintenance visit and one years cover and the battery, and included the maintenance contract that they asked us to sign and send back. Beth didn’t really pay much attention to it, assumed it was as agreed, signed it and stuck it in the prepay envelope and sent it back.

When a year came around in December 2011 we didn’t hear anything from them. Our simple little system had carried on working just fine, and at that point we were in the process of selling the house anyway, so we thought nothing of it. We didn’t hear anything else from them until November 2012 when a letter turned up saying the maintenance visit was due and asking for payment for a years cover. Given that we’d not heard anything from them for two years, at the very least they didn’t seem the most organised bunch, so we had a look around for alternatives and found a local alarm specialist with glowing references on Check-a-Trade who would do the same job for a lot less than Pro-Sec were proposing to charge. When Pro-Sec phoned back to arrange an appointment Beth told them we’d found another company who were a lot cheaper, and was pretty well hung up on.

A week or two later we had a letter turn up recorded delivery from Pro-Sec saying that as we had terminated the contract within the three year minimum term of the maintenance contract we were liable for paying for the full three years – both the last year when they hadn’t bothered to contact us, and the coming year.

As you do in these situations I had a read of the maintenance contract small print (and it was very small), and it did indeed state a three year minimum term in one paragraph, however it also stated a whole load of other things, like under the contract Beth had signed the company should have been visited every six months, not every year, so there should have been another three maintenance visits. I also had a dig around about the company.

Digging through the public information was quite an eye-opener. There have actually been three Pro-Sec’s, all with the same address. We were dealing with Pro-Sec (South), although neither of the Pro-Sec’s that were still operational were actually still called Pro-Sec, the company name was now Psi Fire and Security (South) Ltd and Psi Fire and Security (North) Ltd. The credit checks for both companies were pretty dreadful, -9 as neither company actually had any directors appointed. Both companies had a raft of unpaid County Court Judgements, and neither had done their required returns to Companies House for the last year. The original Pro-Sec had been declared insolvent a few years before. The current Psi Fire and Security (South) was now trading from a totally new address in Borehamwood.

At this point we called the excellent Which Legal Service and also talked to the Consumer Advice Line, both advised that Pro-Sec, Psi or whatever they were called had breached the terms of the contract by failing to do the required service visits, and also said there were issues over the verbal agreement for one years service agreement that we’d paid for before then sending us an agreement stating something different. As a result I had a number of phone conversations with their financial controller who verbally agreed to close the account, and all seemed sorted – I drafted a letter confirming the conversation.

However we came home to a phone message from the same, now rather nervous sounding financial controller saying that we had to pay everything.

As a result I re-drafted the letter saying that we would counter claim if they pursued legal action, and sent that recorded delivery to their new address. That was signed for by the company.

I added an online company monitor for the company and in January their First Gazette notice, the start of the process to dissolve the company was posted. The First Gazette notice doesn’t give any details as to whether it is the company itself or a creditor dissolving the company, but certainly given the credit report I wasn’t surprised. Oddly enough one of the former directors, the person who still owns the domain names the company website is hosted on was then re-appointed as a director.

Then this week we got another letter, claiming to be sent by recorded delivery, but definitely not, and signed by the director himself saying that since we had not responded to any of their previous communications they were passing our account to their litigation department – bear in mind that from my previous phone calls there only appeared to be about three people in the office, and the financial controller only worked part time. That leads me to the letter I was writing this afternoon, saying much the same. To me it seems the company is getting increasingly desperate, given the credit report if we tried to sue them for breach of contract whilst that might close things off, given the raft of still outstanding CCJ’s we’d not get anything back in terms of compensation or costs, so we’re left seeing if they’re desperate enough to start small claims proceedings and counterclaiming if they do.

So would we be anywhere different if Beth had read the terms and conditions in detail? Probably not as by that point she’d already paid for the service visit that she’d verbally agreed, the only difference would be that we would be having the fight two years ago. Incidentally, they’ve changed their name again, although the company is still Psi Fire and Security, they are now calling themselves UK Pro-Sec. Same company though, just avoid if you can.

Why the #Rotherham #UKIP scandal is almost certainly a load of codswallop

See on Scoop.itNews and Current Affairs
This Thursday there is a by-election in Rotherham. Rotherham is a pretty safe Labour seat, but with the previous MP forced to stand down in controversial circumstances and UKIP campaigning hard, the splashing of Rotherham’s Labour run council moving three ethnic minority children on from a couple who were known UKIP supporters seems a massive coincidence, especially breaking on a Saturday when most of the council would be off for the weekend.

This is a great post asking a few pertinent questions about whether this story is all it seems, or whether we’re being played for political gain…
See on notsobigsociety.wordpress.com