Magazine article The Spectator

Subject to Non-Availability

Magazine article The Spectator

Subject to Non-Availability

Article excerpt

THE latest issue, weighing in at one pound, was delivered through my door on Monday and had as many pages as the telephone directory for the Taunton and Bridgwater area. With a cover price (`where sold') of a hefty but notional 22 and a glossy coat, it could have come from Nicholas Coleridge's stable at Vogue House. It was, in fact, the monthly edition of Foxtons Magazine, and the cover story was about the agency's website, which had details, apparently, of 4,000-plus houses, maisonettes, lofts and flats.

As it thudded on to the mat, it disturbed my unthumbed copy of Leslie Marsh and Co.'s Lifestylers publication, issue 12. This month's cover girl is the cutting-edge Westbourne Grove jeweller, Solange Azagury Partridge, who looks out at us stormily from beneath raven locks, while showing off an enamelled, knuckleduster ring.

I chuck out the rest as soon as they arrive, as well as the tear-stained, handdelivered letters we also sometimes get (and also sometimes write): `Dear Mr and Mrs Smug Owners, We have been renting in the Posh Leafy area for many years, and are now looking to buy a house of our own. Our children attend local schools, we are churchgoing pillars of the community and, frankly, it would be most unchristian of you were you to refuse to sell us your house; at a discount, seeing as we have taken the trouble to write this heartbreaking letter.'

I am sure that I have seen stacks of similar glossy publications from Winkworth, Savills, Marsh & Parsons, Knight Frank they are all doing it. Estate agents are marketing as never before.

So why is it, I wonder, that as other magazines are shrinking or even folding during the worst advertising recession for 20 years, estate agents' pagination is at an all-time high? Which leads us to the much bigger question; let's call it the millionpound question, as everyone agrees that this is the minimum sum required to buy the meanest of hovels in a popular residential area. Given the thousands of pages of advertising puffing the thousands upon thousands of properties, why is it always the case that when the desperate househunter calls to inquire about a property, that particular one is never, um, available?

My mother Charlotte has been looking for a flat since last summer. She is a painter and her requirements are, admittedly, quite exacting. She wants a two-bedroom flat with a large studio room and plenty of light, in a portered block, and she doesn't want to move too far away from her sprinkling of grandchildren in west London.

`It's always the same,' she says. `Savills, Foxtons, Winkworth. I see a flat that I like the look of. I call the day I see the details. I reach an agent who invariably says, "That one's already sold." Then they try to engage me in a discussion of what I'm looking for. It's quite unscrupulous. It's a way of getting people on their books.'

After hearing this, I rang at random three estate agents in different parts of London and inquired about properties in their magazines. Two times out of three I was asked simply to leave voicemail messages, and on the third, the property had already been sold.

Angela Heritage, of estate agents Mountgrange Heritage, says that there are several things going on here. The first is that it's a very hot market again, so, given that the magazines take three weeks to produce, it's not surprising that a high proportion of the properties featured in them are already out of play by the time the magazines hit your doormat. …

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