Making Sense of the Sayings

In these times of extreme caution, what are the most popular adages and do they actually make sense?

I remember a friend telling me about the three Ls of property – location, location and location. It was the mid-Nineties and I hadn't come across this truism before – it was (mildly) funny and it made sense. Yes, I thought, you really should think about where you buy rather than what you buy. Excellent advice, lesson learnt. Shortly after that, an agent told me about the three Ds of the market – death, debt and divorce – which would always keep a churn of properties coming through his door. Less funny, but equally true.

But, over the past few years, the property truism has boomed as agents have tried to make sense of the appetite for house buying and work out some quasi-reliable formula for what will sell and what makes the soundest buy. The alliteration may have died away but the trite advice wrapped up in a single, easily digestible phrase has multiplied, even when the essential nugget of truth of one can be entirely at odds with that of another. So, in these times of extreme caution, what are the most popular adages and do they actually make sense?

1 Buy the worst house in the best street: the touchstone for any committed renovator but a truism that has variable relevance. Certainly buying the most run-down house in the nicest area should make sense. It can almost be a hedge against the market: while prices are falling, make sure your house is worth more than you paid for it by doing it up now to help hold its value. In fact, such was the enthusiasm for doer-uppers during the peak of the boom that, in some cases, they began to command higher prices than their finished neighbours. This only applies to properties that can be brought up in line to their smarter neighbours, rather than the ones that back onto the abattoir or have a railway running past them.

2 Three viewings is one too many: quite why you should limit the number of visits to two before committing yourself to a six-figure spend is anyone's guess, but agents become decidedly jumpy if you don't put in an offer after the second. The idea is that the viewer should fall in love with the property on the first viewing and use the second to confirm that their heart hasn't led them hopelessly astray. But real life is more complex: we doubt our feelings; not all properties are instantly lovable; partners, children and parents who may be funding the purchase, aren't always available to view at the same time.

3 Decision is made before the door: in direct conflict with buying the worst house in the best street, this truism bigs up the importance of kerb appeal and, in these brutal times, is even more distressing than its boom-time equivalent that the decision was made in the first 20 seconds. Are your windows polished? Is your hedge clipped? Is your door flanked by a pair of bay trees? If you regularly glimpse cars driving very slowly past your house and this is not followed promptly by a call from your agent announcing a new viewer, you may want to take a closer look at your paintwork.

4 If she brings a friend, it's the end: a blend of the property truisms that it is women that choose houses and three viewings being too many. The friend – or, worse, an interior designer – is definitely the enemy of the sale and likely to make the scales fall from the besotted viewer's eyes. The last thing an owner wants is a fresh set of eyes on their home announcing that the garden is, in fact, north-facing and sniffing the air suspiciously for the telltale signs of damp.

5 Vendor, price, house – two out of three have to be right: a true sign of our straitened times, there are some occasions when it just isn't worth an agency taking a house on. A difficult seller who has a wonderful house and is willing to put on it a realistic price can be contained; a really nice seller who will only accept an inflated price on their less-than-perfect home is too much effort. If agents are walking away from your property, think about what signals you are sending.

6 First cut is the cheapest: the easiest way to explain this is by using its sister truism, "Start with a price too high, and you end up with a price that's too low". No clearer? Then let Lindsay Cuthill, of Savills, translate: "If you put your house on the market and the price is a bit ambitious, when you realise that price isn't going to work, you make one good decisive cut rather than chip away and chase the market down."

7 Don't buy the cheap thing, buy the right thing: deployed on occasion by Strutt & Parker's Lulu Egerton, this could be a smart piece of salesmanship but does beg the question, "Is the lowest price always the best bargain?" The property that has had the biggest reduction isn't necessarily the best buy.

8 You can't pay too much, just too soon: the get-out clause for those caught up in a bidding war two months before the Northern Rock saga played out. One day, even those 2007 prices will seem reasonable. Unfortunately, that day may well be in 2027…

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