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The Alex Goldstein Property Show (Part 16)

July 2017

In The Alex Goldstein Property Show, Alex speaks to Alan Waxman, one of the most sought-after designers and property developers in London, nicknamed ‘The Mole’ for his expertise in transforming basement spaces. He also gets top tips from architect Joel Smith, reflects on how the result of the general election has affected the property market, and shares his advice on choosing between estate agents.

The Alex Goldstein Property Show (Part 16)

Full transcript below:

Alex: Welcome again to the Alex Goldstein Property Show, the number one property show on Stray FM. We aim to demystify the property sector and all things property related to help you make the right decision when it comes to your property experience. My social media accounts are exploding and thank you so much to everyone who’s been helping me spread the word. You’re really making sure that those that need a bit of extra insight into the world of buying and selling homes are getting the vital information they need. Now, sure you don’t need reminding but just in case, follow me on Twitter at #AlexOGoldstein or on Facebook or LinkedIn at Alex Goldstein Property Consultants. A truly exceptional show this month, we have property royalty Alan Waxman from Landmass in London, who’s regularly in the press for creating spectacular basement conversions across London. We’ve also highly regarded Harrogate architect Joel Smith from SSA, an excellent question in the property hospital, the latest news and advice to help you with your property dreams. A huge amount to fit in as always so we’re straight on with it.

In the property news we’re talking about the general election, the media and the property market. Now the outcome of the general election has left many with different opinions. Theresa May has lost the overall majority. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party gained an extra 30 seats, taking them up to 262, while the Tories lost 13 seats and that took them down to 313. The press and the spin doctors have seized the moment claiming that Labour won. But hold on unless my calculations are completely out, in my opinion I say that Labour lost, they’ve got 51 fewer seats than the Tories albeit the Tories lost that overall majority ruling. Now according to the media this unprecedented result has led to many people adopting a wait and see approach to buying and selling their homes. Apparently, the recent political events have led to a shortage of supply coming onto the market and this has led into some people going into a bit of a blind panic. Now yes don’t get me wrong there’s certainly been a bit of turbulence, but we always knew this was going to happen with the Brexit negotiations starting. But hold on we knew that Brexit was coming almost exactly a year ago and we’ve been building up to this point. So, from my travels across Yorkshire and London I see that the supply and demand balance has just shifted recently. Demand remains very high for properties priced correctly, supply is slightly down, which means that if you put your home on the market you’ve got less competing properties, are likely to get great response because demand is so strong and surely this is good news. So, if you’re thinking of selling, my advice is to get the top 3 tips right, right price, right agent, right presentation. Get these spot on you really are away. So, when you come to buy you are in an excellent position and can negotiate from a position of strength, that’s what it’s about, and I should know as I’ve recently done this myself having bought and sold a property within the last few weeks. Now if I’m doing this with my years of experience perhaps the media are stirring up issues to sell newspapers. They wouldn’t do that, would they?

We’re honoured indeed to have property royalty here in the studio over the phone. This is Alan Waxman from Landmass in London. Just to give people an understanding Alan is one of London’s most high-profile property designers and developers and actually has been credited with transforming the lower ground floors of prime central London, especially in Belgravia and Knightsbridge and dare I say you’ve even been nicknamed the mole as well. Alan, great to have you on. On the back of this how has Landmass come into being, what’s your background and why this sort of angle, what you’ve been known for more recently in terms of the low ground floor side of things?

Alan: Good morning Alex and thank you very much for the very kind introduction. I think when anybody starts any career they never really know how its going to end up and the same with my journey through property because when I started my only ambition was to buy a few rental properties starting in Fulham then Woolwich and Brixton, Clapham etc. and had nothing to do with actually doing anything about design or indeed building any basements. But what happened was I started as I said to build up this portfolio and I couldn’t get the rental incomes I wanted on one or two of them so I thought well maybe I can sell them for a profit, managed to do that having just give them a little lick of paint and a clean up and then I thought well why not buy something in order to redevelop and see if I can do that as well, and I bought a couple of floors above an off licence in Fulham on a very busy road called Wandsworth Bridge Road and during the design process because I wasn’t sure how it would pan out I actually moved the kitchen three times which obviously cost me a lot of money with the builder but the end result was the flow was good and I got it checked by a feng shui lady too because I was curious to see what you know professionals would think and she liked it and it was the first time I got a higher than expected price from the agents because of what we did. Then following on from that I bought a couple of flats in Notting Hill which were existing two bed flats and most developers would have perhaps tried to convert them into three bed flats, but I really had a big look at the space and I really thought that once again how we use the space is so important and decided to make them into one bed flats.

Alex: Wow so you went completely in the other direction of most people?

Alan: Absolutely yes, and then Sienna Miller the actress bought one of them, somebody else bought the other and again we beat the market expectations because I started to understand that the people really appreciated good space, good planning and I got a feeling of a thing called emotional purchase where people walk in and go yep I like that.

Alex: Yeah and they fall in love with it and I mean you’re very much renowned for transforming in particular lower ground floors and going down I think a number of stories going underground. How do you go about transforming what is effectively what is a windowless lower ground floor dark basement into something that actually sets the property apart and make it excel and obviously get that end result and that end buyer?

Alan: Well the interesting thing about the lower ground is if you just look at the floor plate, what’s interesting you only have the steps going down, you don’t have any obviously steps going further down because they don’t exist so as against the other floors of the staircase takes up less room and so that in turn gives you a much bigger space to work with and also greater opportunity for having the whole space open plan, so that’s just talking about the floor plate. The second thing is crucial to these types of floors is ceiling height and we’ve done anything from 2.75 in my latest project in Notting Hill to 3.4, and interestingly in Notting Hill because we’ve done the plans some time ago I didn’t realise during the construction phase that the ceiling heights were only two and a half metres, and so we actually had to go back to planning to get that extra 25cm and also that meant another parting wall and it also obviously meant digging down further and costing more, taking more time but that extra 25cm the floor actually made a massive difference and I’m a great believer in turning the negatives to a positive. The next thing obviously is how you can introduce natural light. In one project where it was a mews house and it just had windows at the front and so really who looked at it thought well how dark and dingy it was because it had houses on the other three sides. But what I did is I took out one of the back corners of the property, put in the glass retractable roof and then a 10 metre copper waterfall going all the way down into a Zen garden and again that transformed a negative to a positive, people walked in and thought wow I wasn’t expecting to see that and then amongst the space in the lower ground floor we also had additional voids so in essence double height ceilings to create that special atmosphere. I don’t know if that gives you a flavour. In another property I put up a floor to ceiling copper fireplace in the lower ground floor. So, you know lots of things you can do so when people go down they think wow I wasn’t expecting to see that and different ways to turn a negative into a positive.

Alex: And as you said just coming in from a completely different angle and as you said doing something that is unexpected I think that’s what really propels your property expertise into another level, I think that’s a fair comment. And what are people having in these lower ground floors and what is the space normally or is it if you can think of it you can put it down or design it all or not?

Alan: Obviously, every property is different and in when I did in Belgravia where we won best interior design in the country, we had a bedroom suite which had a steam room on it, we had a TV area, we had the Zen garden and then we had sort of a laundry and a wine cellar. In another one I did in Belgravia it was just open plan kitchen dining and a bit of a snug with a TV. The one which I’ve just done in Notting Hill on the lower ground floor what I done is I dropped the patio garden from ground to lower ground, so you could walk straight out from the kitchen dining snug out onto the terrace so if you wanted to have al fresco dining it was easy to sort out and then the floor below in the basement we had a TV room, we had 2 bedrooms, both with en suites, both looking out onto the patio and we had a laundry room.

Alex: So, a huge range of things. Now I suppose you’re an extremely experienced chap and I mean when you look to develop a property, what would you say are your top tips in terms of just an insight on that angle.

Alan: I think the thing people forget when they do the numbers on the property is at the end of the day the numbers only work if the end product is tip top, and my company Landmass has sort of made a point of making sure that each and every property that we bring to the market, for where it is and what it is, ticks all the boxes because if it doesn’t, the initial financial appraisal you do, you might as well put it in the bin. It’s very binary in the higher end of the market because if people don’t like it they don’t then negotiate on the price they just say you know thanks but not for us and it’s a little like in Little Britain where they go into the travel agents and they want to go away somewhere and the person behind the desk says sorry computer says no, it’s as simple as that. So, you’ve got to get the product right and on that there is nothing to do with the finishes it’s all to do with how you create the space. But the three main things on your appraisal are obviously your sales price, working out what your deed can sell it for, secondly is your construction and professional fees which will obviously vary from project to project and to get realistic numbers for that the contingency is always a red herring because it’s always used so up so you may want to add a little bit on top of that and then of course the timeline because obviously each projects different and timeline obviously affects the financials in so far as the interest costs. Once you determine those you then work out what your profit margin wants to be because you know everybody has their own formula for that and if it’s all cash then that’s all straight forward, if you can use bank debt put those numbers in and then what that in turn does it then spits out what you can afford to pay for it.

Alex: Yeah quite, so it’s a lot more methodical and calculated?

Alan: Yeah exactly, say in essence what you’re doing is working backwards from the end price, you cast your timeline, and your financial cost, put in your margin and then work out what you can afford to pay for it.

Alex: All makes sense on paper of course doesn’t it? Yeah, I guess in the real world it may be sometimes slightly different in you just need to make a very precise judgement call. I think you’re very good indeed on the interior design side of things and I think very often when you talk about these sort of things, about the light wells and the Zen gardens, it’s very much of interior design led, and the final touch and the feel of it.

Alan: If it’s done properly, especially complemented with the same flooring throughout, it does give that feeling of space. Now it’s not as easy as it sounds because the way we go about it depending on the property each one has different light, will look at different shades of white, different times of the day, different rooms in the house and then different textures of paint. So, what we then can come up with is some of what works best for the property in that location.

Alex: What do you feel currently defines luxury in homes at the moment? There’s sort of a lot of specialist in inverted commas out there, but what is it you’re at the forefront of it but what actually defines it? Is it that sort of bespoke touch to everything?

Alan: I think the main thing is if you’re doing a ploy to sell is as a developer when I look at my role it’s like being a conductor of the orchestra and the challenge is putting the team together and different designers have different egos and different views and different architects the same, and so the skill of the developer is having the vision and then getting the team to follow that vision and in every case I’ve always had discussions, disagreements with the design team about what they want to do and what I want to have, and sometimes I’ve gone along with their ideas and sometimes they’ve come along with my ideas. So it’s something which you’ve got to lead from the front and this really comes from either having the right eye or having the right eye and also experience but I don’t think there’s a secret formula, it’s just some people either have it or they don’t and the main thing is that the dog wags the tail not the tail wags the dog so you have to you know sometimes designers will come up with ideas which you know they’re super passionate about but you have to say well I don’t think that’s what the clients going to want or the buyers going to want.

Alex: No absolutely.

Alan: In essence all we’re doing is we’re creating a widget to sell, and it happens to be a super luxury product but if people walk in and don’t like it then they’ll just walk out the door.

Alex: What are the actual rules I suppose? Do you have any rules dare I say in your role when it actually comes to the interior and the actual finish of a particular project or property that you handle?

Alan: Yeah, I mean Alex, at Landmass we do follow a very strict process and that is if we’re doing work for a client obviously step one is to take the brief, understand what they want to achieve out of it. Then the second part is then coming up with design, layout solutions, architectural design which will hopefully give them things which they had never thought about and looking at a property in a way which they didn’t think was.

Alex: Now I’ve got to say there is some fantastic tips and insights into your world, really fascinating stuff. If anyone wanted to sort of see a bit more, I know you briefly mentioned the website and to get in touch with you what are the best ways?

Alan: The easiest ways through the website which is landmass.co.uk If they want to email me directly alan@landmass.co.uk

Alex: Fantastic. Can’t thank you enough again Alan, really appreciate your time.

The property hospital is all about me answering your property concerns and putting you back in control. Now this week I’m answering a question from Tom who’s got this question to ask.

Tom: Hi Alex, I’m about to put my house onto the market. I’ve seen three agents, but I don’t know which one to appoint. Do you have any insider tips please?

Alex: Tom, a useful question and one often asked by many homeowners. The points that regularly come up revolve around price, fees or professionalism. Now most vendors think they’re doing the logical thing by choosing a mixture of these points however they’re all completely wrong. What you need to look at is each agents’ front of house team. These are the people sat in the estate agents’ office each day, meeting and greeting walk in enquiries, taking incoming phone calls and they’re the ones actually noted by a database, these are the people who will actually sell your home and not the estate agents sat in your kitchen. Now you want to check out the front of house team before you see the agents at your home, go into each estate agents’ office and see how knowledgeable and helpful the front of house team are, mystery shop them in effect. You will know instantly which agent to go with. If you’re treated well as a perspective purchaser, then you’re more likely to find the right answer when you come to sell.

Voiceover: The Property Hot Seat.
Name?

Joel: Joel Smith

Voiceover: Business?

Joel: SSA Architects

Voiceover: Time in property?

Joel: I’ve been operating as an architect in Harrogate and London for the last 10 years.

Alex: We are honoured indeed to have Joel Smith here in the studio today just to talk through architects, both on the residential side and indeed the commercial side and just to demystify what these actually do. Now Joel, it’s a big hot topic at the moment, you’ve very much got Grand Designs, dare I say Small Spaces and good old George Clarke in there and they’re making extending and building look mighty easy. How do you rate these programmes? Do they have a point at all?

Joel: Yes Alex, simple answer is I do rate these programmes and actually I think they’re really valid. One, they’re enjoyable and informative, but two I think they help elevate the role of the designer and how we can affect the spaces that we live in. I think the consideration for any extension for instance should always be how can I improve the space that I dwell in? Certainly, Kevin McCloud has championed that to such a high degree that he’s really helped the industry. I’m not 100% sure that they make the process look easy though, in fact in many cases they focus on the pitfalls, the challenges and in a sense of course they have to increase the drama which often leaves me voicing my opinion should we say at the TV. But as I say Kevin McCloud specifically has done an incredible amount to raise awareness.

Alex: It’s helped you in terms of an architects practice because people are saying I’ve seen a this on TV, I’ve got this idea that I want to do to my home and can we involve you and it’s working more along those line.

Joel: Yeah absolutely, and as I say they do champion a role of architect within that and yes certainly once you see people who’ve been and got a little bit of ambition, a little bit of desire to improve their space that helps no end. And from an architect’s point of view it’s great to see what contemporaries are up to.

Alex: No absolutely and I mean these programmes often talk about the phrase or the term permitted development and a lot of people think this may be more serialised on television but permitted development makes it sound very easy to get that grand extension and off you go. That’s what these programmes tend to suggest, how does that actually work in real life terms? What is permitted development?

Joel: Right yeah, fair question Alex, and you’re right it’s certainly a hot topic and it’s a great thing actually. A permitted development rights are essentially a national grant of planning permission. They allow building work to be carried out without having to make an application for planning, however, you still need to be aware of certain aspects, you still of course need to notify your local authority and as always ensure building regulations compliance. Permitted development is as I say in principal a great idea and I believe that it has the intention of aiding a really important aspect of our economy, you know the smaller builders, the tradesmen, the designers. You know we in the UK have a very interesting approach to our homes, I find this really interesting, we have the smallest space standards in Europe, yet our homes are our castle and it turns out they’re not the biggest by comparison. But as I say you still need to contact the local authority and make them aware of your intentions. Permitted development rights are quite prescriptive so I would urge anybody considering a mid-development or any extension to look at the planning portal, speak with your local authority if you need to, obviously as I would always say speak with the designer, they have to be aware of things like designated areas where specifically in Harrogate area for instance, your conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty, in some instances where you’ve extended before you may need to speak to your local authority before and there’s things to be aware of and you do need to do a little bit of research here Alex, because you’ve got existing curtilage of your site, principal elevations to your property, what’s the size of the proposed extension, what’s the height, how close are you to your boundary?

Alex: So good old George Clarke it’s not quite as straightforward as going oh we’re going to put on this lovely little extension and let’s just build it tomorrow afternoon. There’s a bit more of a process, it’s not as simple as possibly they make out.

Joel: Well I can’t comment on George Clarke because he is a fellow contemporary of course but then you always need to take some appropriate advice I would always ensure that.

Alex: Ok and in terms of I suppose, the larger extensions, just going I suppose beyond the permitted development and again this is from the private individual’s perspective, what do you actually need to be mindful of when you want to undertake such a project? I’m thinking sort of the timeframes and what’s actually involved in the planning process there?

Joel: Yeah fair enough, and I can appreciate in a lot on instances for people looking to extend it can come across as provisionally quite daunting and actually there’s a few things to consider before you even take pen to paper as it were. I’d always personally refer people to the RIBA website, they do a great bit of work for the profession in the background and in the forefront in fact, you know they do many useful sections, progressive design areas but also help you find the architect who can help you start the ball rolling with you and from a personal point of view there’s a good local sub group in this area called the North Yorkshire Society of Architects, again they work to promote good design and architects and the role we can play. But enough of the professional pitch, back to your questions the first consideration should surely be what are we extending for, what are my needs? In practice we would call this determining the brief. What does the design need to reflect in terms of your requirement as the owner and client? In terms of timeframes there’s actually many factors to take into account and you know the RIBA again have a great useful guide detailed plan of work which identifies key stages to be mindful of. So I refer back to identification of need, what do you want to gain out of your project, preliminary design, you know how we start to get things on paper, how’s it look, does it reflect what we’ve got in our minds, are we getting it on paper and of course we need to amend the design to reflect those needs, ultimately finalise these proposals. Of course, then you have to go for your planning permission and planning consent, you know can take between 8 and 12 weeks but bear in mid it can take longer.

Alex: When and why would it take longer? Because of the size or complexity of the job or if things fall behind?

Joel: Well all of those parts come into it but also you know is there a challenged with the design? Is there some additional legislation you need to be aware of? So again, dialogue at that point is important and you have to be slightly open-minded to that I think from my point of view. Time to discharge any pre-commencement conditions, when you’ve got that piece of paper from the planners you know hopefully it’s the piece of paper you want, and it says granted, but of course there’s often pre-commencement conditions there, which again just looks to protect you ultimately but also ensure that it fits with the planning permission granted. That can take a little bit of time, then of course you need too cost the project, obtain suitable quotes and time to actually construct the extension. I think also in the background of that, not necessarily a timeframe questions but how are you going to have that building and who’s going to build it for you. I’d always suggest requesting referrals, those are a great bit of use.

Alex: That’s the recommended builders?

Joel: Recommended yeah, you know many people, British people, like to refer, if someone’s not referring somebody what’s the reason behind that? We all like a referral. Have a look at the work they’ve done maybe, you know sure they should be proud of the work they’ve undertaken, the designs they’ve come up with and that should be a constructive dialogue and then yes certainly do that please.

Alex: I know people are often I suppose mindful, how do you actually keep the local authority, for example here, how do you keep Harrogate Borough council on side because you do hear albeit I dare say it, serialising in the media that people have run into all sorts of difficulties with their panning application, why have they gone a miss and why have they got on the wrong side of the council, how do you keep in their good books?

Joel: Well dialogue, simple as that and in simple terms and I you know personally would never recommend approaching an application with conflict on the agenda. Do things properly, the role of the architect here is to interpret your needs, provide information and help you navigate the planning process and as I say the LA shouldn’t be viewed with the barrier, it isn’t there to be bashed down, you need to approach any development with an open mind and be prepared to discuss your proposals with them. This as you’ve touched on, they do get a bit of negative press but that’s because maybe they’ll read on a isolated basis, case-by-case basis, their position in fairness is to protect the areas in which we live so the areas which will exist much longer than we will and really they’re part of a wider policy to ensure that amenity space and positive design and construction reflects where we live.

Alex: So, if you know their rues and you’re ticking their boxes where you go you’re not going to have an issue, it’s if you want to do something I’d say that’s pushing the boundaries or possibly being slightly controversial that’s when like you said in an isolated case it may not be looked upon possibly favourably.

Joel: Yeah, it’s difficult one to answer that Alex because you know the local authority isn’t there to champion good design as well you know the positive design from their point of view, they want to progress that with you and really you that maybe areas of conservation might need a slightly different approach etc. I think in the main the idea is the better design helps everyone ultimately. Yeah, I think they’re all boarded, I don’t see any negativity when it comes to positive design.

Alex: Fantastic, Joel I can’t thank you enough. Very useful and great insight there, so if anyone needs to discuss ant of there home getting extended, permitted development, the small space type of thing or the commercial side of things, what’s the best way for people to reach you?

Joel: Fabulous, well I’d be more than happy to speak to anyone who’s got any queries. My number is 01423 856999, but you’re more than welcome to look at our website which is www.ssaarchitects.co.uk

Alex: Ok, fantastic Joel, thank you very much again really appreciate your time.

Well I’ve got some unusual top tips for you this month because it’s my last ever show with Stray FM and I’ve had an absolute blast over the last 15 months and thoroughly enjoyed outing the show together. The feedback from listeners and people downloading the podcast has been fabulous with my social media accounts rife with activity as result. Many people are saying how much they’ve learnt about property through listening to the show and that’s exactly why I did it. Exciting developments are on the horizon so look out for my new expert videos and line Q&A sessions. These can be found on the new website alexgoldstein.co.uk So listen in, my top tips for this month are follow me on Twitter @AlexOGoldstein, number two find me on LinkedIn and Facebook at Alex Goldstein Property Consultants and of course visit the website alexgoldstein.co.uk regularly for the latest hot property tips, news and videos. My last top tip, enjoy your property move and thank you as ever for listening. That’s all from the Alex Goldstein Property Show.