Commercial Property Blog
All posts from: September 2010
Customer service is a strange thing. What can please one person can intensely irritate someone else. You either have too much communication or not enough. Meeting expectations is nigh on impossible because how can we know what anyone’s expectations are?
Judging by the past 24 hours, I have been hugely impressed with the Police non-emergency telephone service but unimpressed, for the millionth time, with enquiries sent into orbit by British Gas and Indian call centres.
The police were fantastic because, in spite of an automated answer service, the phones were answered quickly and the staff polite. Even when I was cut off and I called back the new person picked up on the incident and did not make an issue of not having the initial log details. Then to cap it all, the original person phoned back to apologise for the lost call and gave the details I needed! Service way beyond expectations!
British Gas? They think moving everything to India is the way forward. Unfortunately, the times they phone, 8:00am and 6:00pm, they think British offices will be fully staffed! My last rant at them prompted the response that they do not make the calls, the calls are computer generated! Even worse!
So, turning this to flat living, we have the constantly shifting challenge of managing a population of people who, when the housing market works, can change periodically and what might have been good service to one group may be appalling service to others.
All we can do is keep doing what we do; and for the majority that works!
I will let you into a secret: I am in a drinking club with David Higgins, the newly-anointed chief executive of Network Rail.
I will explain all in a minute, but first, what do I think about Higgins’ switch from the Olympic Delivery Authority to the national rail operator? And what is Higgins actually like?
The move is a good one all round, if a little earlier than anticipated, and marks a remarkable rebound for Higgins from a tough 1995-2002 when he was in charge of Lend Lease.
There he was criticised for buying construction group Bovis and pulling back from investment property, and with the nickname `The Professor’ at times seemed to be too cerebral for the private sector world.
But while The Prof may have seemed too academic for analysts and agents, he was right at home at English Partnerships, which had completely lost its way before Higgins arrived.
His stint in charge between 2003 and 2005 was a great era for regeneration, with things actually getting built rather than being the subject of endless `framework’ discussions or masterplanning ideas.
But surely in taking on the Olympics job Higgins would be heading for a fall? Remember, Britain hadn’t really expected to win the 2012 Games, we were ill-prepared, and the far smaller Wembley and Cardiff Millennium Stadium projects had been in construction disarray.
But Higgins will surely receive a knighthood for getting the 2012 Games this far on time and under-budget.
A cool head and an ability to `chunk down’ the task into manageable stages – preparation, construction, fitting-out – miraculously mean the project is now on the home straight.
On a recent visit to the Games site he told me there are new problems to deal with every day, but that one of his key roles is to be out on the vast site two to three days a week.
Optimism is Higgins’ other key trait – and let’s hope for the property industry’s sake that he is the man who finally unlocks the undoubted potential of Network Rail’s sprawling estate.
And the drinking club? Liz Peace, former Hines UK chief Stephen Musgrave, David Higgins and myself meet once a year at Christmas to repeat a tradition started at an IPD/IPF conference several years back.
We always strike a series of bets, returning to discover who was right the next year.
Last year’s was over the 2010 General Election. Most of us predicted a Conservative majority, but Higgins said there would be a hung parliament.
Now deeply entrenched in the UK public sector and political scene, he was bound to be right.
I almost choked on my Braised New Season Shank of Lamb at the City planning committee annual dinner last night.
The reason was my astonishment at the laziness and selfishness of the hordes of sports bureaucrats who will be descending on London in 2012.
In case you don't know, an 'Olympic Route Network' is being set up throughout the Games to ferry these hangers on from their Mayfair hotels to the games at Stratford in the east.
This means lanes being closed throughout central London as 'VIPs' are whisked through, with Lower Thames Street the most important thoroughfare involved.
Only two of its four lanes will be open, and security restrictions will mean further misery for the people who work there.
There are 15,000 people working in blocks between the river and Lower Thames Street, many of whom couldn't give two hoots about the games.
The organisers' argument is that these officials need to be able to get to Stratford in 23 minutes, but that totally misses the point.
If they need to get from the West End to Stratford quickly, there is a perfectly quick and efficient way.
It's called the Jubilee Line.
The other argument is that central London will be empty anyway. Because everyone will be on holiday or at the Games.
Forgive me, but some of us have jobs to do, and prefer football and cricket to athletics in the world of sport.
And why should we care about officials anyway? Surely the Games is all about the athletes, who will have no problems strolling to their events from their village onsite.
City of London Planning and Transportation committee chair Martin Farr was very measured in his speech last night on the subject of the Olympic Route Network.
'Of particular concern is the route from the West End to Olympic destinations,' he said. 'Detailed discussions are under way between the City and the Olympic Delivery Authority', he said.
The 115 strong audience at the dinner, held on the eighth floor of Minerva's The Walbrook building and including Sir Stuart Lipton and Gerald Ronson, must have been impressed at his restraint.
I for one would be telling the Olympic fat cats to be getting on the tube, saving us all a load of hassle and cost.
Meanwhile, I am doing my own 'Olympics' this weekend, running the Greenwich 'Run to the Beat' half marathon for LandAid Day.
Please dig deep for this good cause by going to www.justgiving.com/giles-barrie
I hope to see you there.
The challenge in property management is the sheer variation and diversity of legislation that impacts and impinges on the running of buildings.
The constant difficulty is the perspectives of leaseholders who either do not have a concept of what is involved with block management or those who want to get in to the minutiae. For instance, if there is a resident management company some will want every letter of the Companies Act followed.
Now, that is not a bad thing but the costs and burdens imposed on the company and the managing agent can be enormous. Generally the buildings struggle to get their running costs met without someone thinking costs are too high!
I think one of my favourite exchanges on peripheral legislation was from a City trader, who claimed to be high powered, retorting ‘I have never heard of TUPE and therefore it cannot apply to us!’ This was after we alerted directors of a site that they had been employing porters illegally for years, no tax had been paid and, of course, the dangers of potential penalties if HM Revenue & Customs caught up with them!
Everyone is different and I do not think anyone can actually have full understanding in all areas, as it would be impossible. But what your property management company should be doing is doing what it says on the tin – managing!
It is our role to coordinate and know where to go for specialisms. But some will still question everything – like the chap who does not want extinguishers in his block for contractors because, in his firm, it is coincidence where they are placed next to equipment!
Ronson on the Pope, Candy on money laundering and Pidgley is no longer being the boss.
More on these in a minute - but first the other highlights as I travel back from RESI 2010.
- Redrow chairman Steve Morgan showing us more than 40 hurdles he has to jump through just to get planning consent.
- The scale of Capital & Counties' ambition at Earls Court.
- Manchester City Council Leader Sir Richard Leese and Tom Bloxham proving there actually is thriving life outside the south east.
- The angry audience member at my planning breakout who said he had been involved with 44000 homes scrapped from local plans in recent weeks.
- Lloyds head of house builders telling us today that there had been a conscious effort, based on talks with banking vets, not to flood the market with stock.
- Sir Bob Kerslake revealing today that the Thames Gateway will be passed back to local control.
- 'Invest with the Best', where 'Safe Hands' Alan Collett won the competition again.
- Ronson revealing he was due to meet the Pope today.
- Candy alarmed to relate stories of Asian businessmen with suitcases of cash.
- Pidgley only half jokingly saying that group md Rob Perrins is now running the Berkeley show.
See you at RESI 2011.
I was invited by a leading Hong Kong lawyer to join him for dinner at the famous Luk Yu Tea House on Stanley Street.
The initial signs were good as the famously inhospitable waiters, on hearing that we were Kenneth Sit's guests, guided my group towards a private dining room at the rear of the colonial-style 1930's restaurant.
As we waited for our host to arrive, my guide in Hong Kong, Paul Gratton an office agent at DTZ, explained the venue is as popular with tourists as it is with business men.
Almost as soon as Kenneth arrived with a property developer client and friend, he confirmed as much by explaining that he had been a patron for more than 20 years.
The first wine Cloudy Bay Te Koko 2006 was excellent: pale lemon green; lots of green apple and herbaceous aromas typical of Sauvignon Blanc; excellent structure and finish.
The wine paired perfectly with the shrimp toast and pan fried spring roll starters on which it is worth adding that these were the best that I have ever had.
I was less hopeful, however, that the next wine Chateau Marquis de Terme 1996 would be a success as I was uncertain about the pairing of a full-bodied, albeit fully mature Bordeaux, with Chinese food.
Happily, however, I had no cause for concern as the black fruit and sweet spices on the palate of the wine complemented the strong flavours of the chicken with clam sauce and smoked fish dishes.
Kenneth was generous enough to bring two bottles and so there was no shortage of wine with dinner; nor was there afterwards as we headed to Sevva, another popular hang-out of property professionals located in the Prince's Building overlooking Statue Square, where we enjoyed a glass of Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir 2006, a lightning storm and the views of Hong Kong.
I don’t know about you, but my career in property started with a book. Or to be more specific, the loan of a book.
I was just 23, a fresh-faced graduate trainee on Property Week, when Giles Barrie lent me his prized copy of the The Property Boom (complete with a touching drink-stained dedication from former Estates Times editor Lee Mallet, who had bought it for him in the 1990s).
I was struck by author Oliver Marriott’s tale of the 1960s property boom, with larger than life characters like Harry Hyams and Jack Cotton leaping from every page.
Crucially, it helped me to understand the mathematics behind property investment. And it also conveyed the entrepreneurial flair of the property developer, a fascination with which I have never lost.
When I moved over to the Investors Chronicle, I was pleased to find out that our property coverage had been spear headed in the 1960s by none other than Oliver Marriott. And when he became an independent non-executive at Shaftesbury last year, their chief exec Jonathan Lane put us in touch.
So this week, to celebrate the Investors Chronicle’s 150th year, we’ve published a bumper issue, dedicating our weekly property section to its founding father, Oliver Marriott.
Having lived through the property crashes of the 1970s, 1990s and Noughties, Oliver’s prediction that the wounds from this crash will take much longer to heal is worth listening to.
True, there are bright spots, like the wall of foreign money chasing prime UK assets, and the strength of central London. But he predicts that the next property boom will probably not occur “for another seven or eight years”.
I am today revealing plans to undergo severe physical pain – after severe exertions alongside a former England cricketer at the weekend.
First, my new plan:
This is to run the 13 mile Greenwich `Run to the Beat’ on Sunday September 25, with proceeds from my backers going to LandAid Day on Friday October 15.
Given that I hadn’t run more than 7 miles at any time in my life until two weeks ago, this will be pretty tough, but I will finish come what may.
Running through my own `manor’ in south-east London will be great, and please give me as much support as you can at www.justgiving.com/Giles-Barrie.
The problem right now, though, is that I am feeling extremely stiff.
But it is worth it, because I had a brilliant weekend in Wiltshire playing for the `Meantime Wanderers’ against first the Ian Shanahan XI and next a pub team called the Golden Fleece.
All pretty run of the mill, you might say, expect that we had within our ranks the 64-year old former England batsman-keeper Roger Tolchard.
Rog (my neighbour Eddie’s uncle) and his brother Jeff were the stars of our touring outfit, with Roger taking an easy slip catch off yours truly’s military medium in the first game, and Jeff being our sturdy umpire.
Even in his 60s Roger made batting look supremely easy, easing the ball at all times into gaps and guiding us to a two wicket win in our first game.
So, my back may be killing me, and I can hardly get out of my chair, but it will all be worth it when I set out on the `Run to the Beat’.
What are you doing for LandAid Day?
Have you noticed anything new about Google?
The world's favourite search engine has today (Wednesday) rolled out an enhanced service named "Google Instant", which suggests search terms (and results) as you type - much like the predictive text on a mobile phone.
Google suggests that this will result in users getting to “the right content much faster than before because you don’t have to finish typing your full search term, or even press 'search'.”
It is also suggested that Google Instant "can save between 2-5 seconds per search" and that its predictions will "help guide your search".
Google Instant is being rolled out over several days and initially to users signed in with a Google Account.
There has been quite a lot of online chatter in the past few hours regarding what this means for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and online marketing with some brave souls even predicting that Google Instant will "be the death of SEO" - on the basis that users will begin to "alter their searches in real-time".
I have to disagree (it might be the death of other search engines – but that’s another topic).
Search Engine Optimisation is not about stuffing a web page with key words, it’s about well structured and well written web content that the search engines can find and index. Google Instant does not change this - it simply displays possible results and presents the results of searches much quicker - leaving the user to get on with what they were trying to do that much sooner.
And I'm all for that.
How better to resume this blog after a summer `staycation’ – and the quietest market I can recall – than by talking about a homophobic, lecherous and ruthless developer?
Although there are plenty of characters in the real property world who fit one or two of these bills, none can boast all three traits demonstrated by a key player in last night’s `Bouquet of Barbed Wire’.
`Giles Harcourt’ was the developer in question – and he wasn’t any old small –time residential spiv.
Our man was a true giant of the Square Mile, the man behind what looked like a huge and empty office scheme on St Mary Axe.
We were first introduced to him at a City drinks to when he greeted the `Bouquet’s’ architect star, played by Trevor Eve, as `a big pouf’.
Later, at a clandestine meeting with Eve’s wife Harcourt reminded her that he was her husband’s client - and said she had better oblige with him in the sack.
No sooner did she refuse than our architect friend was being served by Harcourt with a claim for breach of contract over what appeared to be a problem with the cladding on said City office tower.
In his mid-50s, semi-posh and with swept back hair, Harcourt actually looked the part of the property man.
But even after 21 years in the property game I have to confess I haven’t met someone as odious as this Giles. It is no use complaining that this is the property stereotype – that will never go away.
So just tune into next Monday’s `Bouquet of Barbed Wire’, and enjoy Harcourt’s odious ways.