Property Blog: Keeping up Appearances

In days when you can’t escape TV property programmes even if you want to, you’d think that every vendor would know how to style their home to look like it belongs to the architectural pages of Country Life. After all, we all know the importance of first impressions, right?

Wrong. For every spotless kitchen with an immaculate copy of the latest River Café cookbook strategically open on the Risotto con Asparagi e Prosciutto page?a subtle hint that even the most hopeless cooks can work culinary wonders in that house?there are six that have damp patches the size of the Atlantic on the ceiling.

Over the many years that I have been writing about property, I have heard estate agents complain about houses where you’d have to wipe your feet on the way out, dining rooms scented with the unmistakable fragrance of yesterday’s meal and gardens so overgrown and muddy that buyers twisted their ankles wading through them. And in case you are thinking this only happens in dingy bedsits in unsavoury parts of London, think again.

A few weeks ago, I went to see a very expensive and splendidly located maisonette. It was all a profusion of recessed lighting, power showers and mosaic splashbacks.

‘Shame the carpet is so ruined,’ I said, pointing at what looked like several burned patches on the living room floor.

‘Erm…it isn’t,’ said the (slightly embarrassed) estate agent. She then proceeded to kick the patches, which erupted in clouds of dust and mud. ‘It’s just dirty.’

Hmm. From a philosophical viewpoint, I understand and appreciate the vendor’s attitude, really. It’s a quiet revolution against the diktats of style over substance, an assertion of the ‘here I am, take me or leave it’ principle, a brave example of original thinking in the era of herd, pressured-to-conform behaviour. All of which is commendable. But it still puts me off buying the place. Me and a zillion other people, because it is proven that first impressions really do matter to buyers. This is not just estate agents’ or TV bumpf. At the very least, a tidy, welcoming house encourages offers. It usually shortens the sale process. And in some cases it can even clinch the sale there and then.

Of course, vendors who make their house pretty to entice prospective buyers must then play it honest and clarify exactly what they will take with them when they move and what they plan to leave behind. And judging from a Bank of Scotland study ?which discovered that moving owners take anything from building plaques to towel rails, toilet roll holders and even their favourite garden plants?a lot of people misbehave and leave their house peppered with gaping holes.

Still, I’d always take long-fingered vendors over the ones that, as an estate agent once told me, left behind a surprise package for the buyers. It included a vast range of crumbling fixtures, fittings, assorted debris?and an elderly lady who lived in the garden shed.