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House Talk

No. 7 - February, 2003

Selling a House in London
A talk with Andrea McGlashan, London

Judith Glass of the Glass/Sabine team recently met with Andrea McGlashan, a London “estate agent” (as realtors are called in England) to learn how one would go about buying or selling a home in London.  In comparing the practices of real estate between California and England, the similarities are few and the differences are many!  In her first interview with Andrea, conducted over afternoon tea in the light-filled atrium of the Wallace Collection in Manchester Square, Judith focused on English real estate from the selling side. 

JG       Andrea, your name is very well known within the Central London expatriate community, as you have assisted many Americans in finding a place to rent.   However, what I think will interest our readers is the process of buying and selling.  Let’s start with selling.  A dapper Englishman appears in your office on Marylebone Lane, and tells you he want to sell his home.  What happens next?

AM       Well obviously, the first thing we do is go and have a look at the property in order to  give the seller a ball park figure of what he realistically could achieve.  Following that, we do our research with other agents.

JG        When you say “research with other agents,” what do you mean?

AM       Right.  Well, we wouldn’t bring other agents into the property itself, we would ring them and describe the property.  We would say “we have a ground and lower ground flat (an apartment with the entrance on the main floor and the bedrooms below) in Upper Montagu Street with three beds, two baths, two receptions (living rooms) and have you sold anything similar to that in Upper Montagu in the last six months?”  They might say, “Right, we sold #12 Upper Montagu for one million pounds.” Then we can go back to the seller with that information.

JG        Herein lies is a huge and striking difference!  In the Bay Area, we have the Multiple Listing Service (MLS.)  As a realtor, I can quickly check the computer for recent sales prices; almost every sale is recorded, and is a matter of public record.

AM       In London, there is absolutely no public record whatsoever to tell you what each property has sold for.  You have to rely on other estate agents, and you must rely on good relationships with your fellow agents; an agent you don’t know or haven’t worked with in the past may not be prepared to disclose what their client sold a house for.  It could simply be a matter of privacy on behalf of the client.

JG        Back in my real estate world, my partner and I work very closely with sellers to prepare their homes to look their best before showing them to the general public. Do you offer such a service?

AM       If it’s an owner’s home, and they are living in it, it’s a very delicate situation.  We can make recommendations, but we’re definitely not up to par like you are in the States. I am aware that you and your real estate partner provide your sellers with complimentary staging services down to the last detail including fresh flowers.  Here, our sellers don’t even make their beds!  If you saw how some English people show their homes, you would never believe they are actually the sellers!  They may tell us that “the cleaners come on Wednesday, so try to organize your showing appointments then!”

JG        Along with our MLS, we use a secure lockbox system providing licensed agents easy access to show the property.  Do you get a key to the properties?

AM       We have nothing like a lockbox system and I cannot tell you how much time we waste collecting keys – and then returning them within the hour!  It’s a scheduling nightmare!

JG        What do you offer your sellers in terms of advertising?

AM       The London Property News is the nearest thing England has to a Multiple Listing.  It comes out on a monthly basis.  We also use the Sunday Times, and I find it is an excellent vehicle. 

JG        Who pays for the advertising?

AM       On our case, our agency pays, but that is not the norm.  

JG        In California, one of the strongest exposures we provide for our sellers are the Sunday Open Houses.  I haven’t noticed many of those here in London.

AM       Our agency is one of the few that has Sunday Open Houses – I recommend to a seller that we put an advert in the Sunday Times, suggesting “Sunday Open - View Today” and a lot of people do come to take a look.  However, this is not a common practice here, and in fact most agents do not work on weekends or in the evening.

JG        As you know, this is a huge difference between England and the States.  Most of us hard-working U.S. agents work seven days a week! 

AM       (Laughs)  That is definitely a big difference!

JG        What happens when properties don’t sell?

AM       Here, I think the scenario is similar to the States.  Sellers have to either lower the price, or take the property off the market, or (and this is a difference) the property can be offered at auction.  Auctions are held all over London on a monthly basis and a lot of investors buy at auction.  Occasionally, a seller will be happily surprised; two or more bidders will bid a property up to a price higher than the original marketing price!

JG        In our earlier discussions, we’ve identified several other differences.  In England, anyone can sell real estate; in California, we as agents have to pass a real estate exam and keep our licenses current – our fingerprints are even on file!  English estate agents have nothing like professional indemnity insurance; in California, every agent must carry an Errors and Omissions insurance policy.  And regarding the disclosure duties of sellers – in England, there’s no requirement; in California, our sellers must disclose everything from a leaky faucet to a squeaky door!

AM       And we understand you have real estate conventions in the U.S. which is unheard of in England.

JG        Andrea McGlashan, it is great to talk with you.  When next we meet, we’re going to discuss the details of buying property in London and unravel the wonderful world of “gazumping.”

AM       I look forward to that!

Moving to London?  McGLASHANS can help.  From the U.S., phone 011 44 207 486 6711 or email info@mcglashans.co.uk.

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