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23 October 2008

Estate Agents and the no commission model

So the property market is now at the point where estate agents are selling houses with no commission charges (This is London; 20th October 2008)

Hardly news for me however, I wrote about this in the Linlithgow Gazette on 17th October and on this very blog almost 5 months ago.

How many more estate agents will go bust before they realise the commission model driven on a low number of high profit sales is no longer viable?

These days the main source of house sales is the Internet. If websites didn't run a closed shop estate agents only model, then members of the general public could sell their own homes for a tiny fraction of the present commission driven cost.

The longer that estate agents cling to the 1%+ sales commission model, the more incentive there is for some real competition from the likes of House network - commission free selling.

I should not more have to pay an estate agent several thousand pounds for picking up the phone and sending a seller my way than I should pay autotrader a commission for selling my car. Even eBay don't charge a commission for selling property.

Conventional estate agents pay attention! Time to wake up and smell the coffee.


Letter from Linlithgow Gazette 17th October 2008:

A challenge

Sir,— I have lived in Linlithgow for over seven years and during that time have seen businesses close in the High Street and seen a reduction in diversity in the High Street, including no toy shop, more sandwich shops and properties lying vacant. Coming from the other side of the argument, I worked for Tesco and was IT manager of the grocery website at their corporate HQ in Hertfordshire last year. Yet I feel that another out of town shopping centre is the last thing the town needs – I would rather have Tesco where it is than a larger supermarket that you need to get in a car to drive to.

The £10 minimum charge levied by retailers on credit cards doesn't apply at Tesco and if the small retailers don't want to alienate people they need to drop this requirement – even small retailers can use credit card clearing facilities that charge a flat amount per month (just like Tesco) rather than a per transaction fee.
My job as an e-commerce consultant takes me all over the UK. When I work in London, I see that small traders get more passing custom yet seem much more willing to capitalise on the internet to supplement their passing trade.

With online shopping continuing to rise, the efforts of the Linlithgow High Street to reach out to anyone wanting to shop on line are woeful by comparison. Even something as basic as a one page website listing the company name, address, email address, products and services and opening hours is missing from most of the High Street traders and instead people searching often find traders in Livingston or Falkirk instead – for example enter Linlithgow Plumber in Google and the first site returned says there are none.

Enter West Lothian computers and Google maps returns nothing for Linlithgow either. Most of the time entering generic search terms, for example Linlithgow pubs or Linlithgow restaurants such as tourists would use, simply results in generic listing type sites over which local businesses usually have little or no control – actually returning the site belonging to a local business or would be far more useful.

Whilst is a useful first step, in times of a credit crunch and competing with out of town shopping, the woeful presence of Linlithgow on the Internet does not help businesses reach out to new customers who would rather look online.

Indeed even those with the most developed websites, that is estate agents, now face challenges from online-only estate agents who list property for sale on the same websites and at a tiny fraction of the price charged by Linlithgow High Street agents. Even the might of can't tell me what's in stock at my local shop in Linlithgow.

The challenge of out of town shopping, online searching for businesses and online shopping presents a problem for businesses from local high street shops to major retail groups, and the people of Linlithgow. In difficult economic times we need to come together and do everything possible to reach as many customers as possible.
Not having an adequate Internet presence in this day and age is like not having a phone number 30 years ago.

Making Linlithgow at the heart of Silicon Glen fully connected with modern shopping trends would not only complement Cittaslow status, but would help businesses of all kinds to combat the challenges posed not only by Springfield's development but also global shopping trends.—Yours etc.,
Chartered IT Professional

17 October 2008

Star of Bombay, 157 Westbourne Grove, London W11

If you bought some goods and then had a mandatory 30% charge slapped on them without warning you'd probably be pretty annoyed.

Restaurants do this with alarming regularity, nowhere else indulges in such a dubious practice so why do restaurants such as the Star of Bombay and indeed about 90% of other restaurants annoy and mislead customers like this when 99% of non restaurant businesses are open and honest about their pricing?

Supposing the price of the food is £20. On top of this slap the 10% mandatory service charge whether you like the food or not and even if it's just you eating. So the price of the food is now £22. Rather than an honest price for the food of £22, it's a dishonest £20 with an extra £2 even if the service was rubbish.

On top of that, as a VAT registered business I should be able to claim back the VAT by getting a VAT bill. So the real cost to me should be £20 * 100/117.5 or £17.02. Instead, because the restaurant just issues a piece of paper with a VAT number and a total on it, this is not a VAT bill and as the VAT isn't separately itemised, it can't be reclaimed. Combined with the dishonest 10% mandatory service change (little more than a table ordering charge, since pub bring the food to my table and don't charge a tip) the cost of the meal is £22 instead of £17.02, a mark-up of over 29% and nearly £5. Eat out 5 times a week on business and approx 1.5 meals equivalent cost is due to rip off charges and poor billing practices by restaurants rather than the actual price of the food which I need to eat. When I registered for VAT, one of the first things I learned was how to issue a correct VAT invoice for customers and all it takes is a piece of paper, a computer or till, a printer and calculator/excel/word or similar so that the invoice has the total, vat total, date, address, and VAT number. Hardly rocket science, so why do restaurants think they are the only sector that can do what it likes in terms of billing? It also makes me wonder if a restaurant can't meet its VAT legal obligations, do they have the same laissez-faire attitude towards legal obligations towards food hygiene which require more skill to meet?

Anyone that rips me off by nearly 30% doesn't deserve praise. So in a recession where places are competing for customer business, I will be sending more business the way of pubs because 95%+ of pubs can produce a proper VAT receipt and don't rip me off with a mandatory service charge, whereas 90% of restaurants do (and they are more expensive). I note most restaurants, especially midweek, are pretty quiet just now. They might be busier if there wasn't a 29%+ surcharge in the bill.

As for the food at the Star of Bombay, well it may be the favourite restaurant of The Chemical Brothers, but I found the food fairly ordinary, the poppadoms were too crispy and disintegrated on touching and dumping the sweet menu in my face without asking me if I would like to see the sweet menu meant the mandatory 10% "service charge" was taking liberties with the name of service.

As for the Star of Bombay, I'll leave the Chemical Brothers to it and eat elsewhere in future. There's no chemistry here for me.

'Craig ate here' on 16th October.

16 October 2008

The Swan, 66 Bayswater Road, Lancaster Gate, W2

Decent enough pub serving a good choice of real ale and large portions of food. The slab of salmon completely dominated my plate and was one of the largest portions of fresh fish I've had in a while. Speedy service and a proper VAT receipt (unlike most restaurants) count in its favour, although having to walk through a smoky beer garden to get to the door was no fun. Convenient for Lancaster Gate tube and probably worth a repeat visit that next time I fancy a large slab of salmon!

'Craig ate here' on 14th October.

13 October 2008

The Victoria pub, Strathearn place, Paddington W2

Excellent traditional London pub steeped in history, serving great food at competitive prices. Good choice of Fullers beers makes this an ideal destination for the real ale enthusiast. Ample wine menu. There is also an upstairs function room. Quiz night 9pm Tuesdays can be busy, but there are also a few outside tables if it's full inside. Decent curry across the road too. Unlike many restaurants I've eaten at in the Paddington area, there's no mandatory rip off 'service charge' for the cheery service and unlike said restaurants, The Victoria CAN give you a correctly itemised VAT receipt. Excellent food, excellent atmosphere, excellent service. Recommended and will return and I suggest a few restaurant owners should dine at The Victoria too and learn how it should be done.

'Craig ate here' on 13th October.

09 October 2008

Khan's Indian restaurant, Westbourne Grove, Bayswater

Food poor, service even worse . Mandatory service charge even if you think the service doesn't deserve it. They can produce a bill with the service itemised but not a correct VAT bill with the VAT itemised, even though they know it should be. Oh and my credit card receipt said "cash". Dodgy food, dodgy billing. Avoid.


05 October 2008

Multimap goes down the toilet (literally)

I have already blogged about the failings of multimap. I first wrote to them in March 2001 that EH49 7PL is in fact called Avalon Gardens and always has been since the road was first built in 1999. Anyone, including multimap, can check this via the postcode database. Avalon Gardens is a cul-de-sac and only connects to Mill Road, is not a through road to the Falkirk road and indeed since there has been a school at the end of Avalon Gardens since 2002 on East Mill Road (no connection to Avalon Gardens) then the road name for the school is also wrong. Nearly 10 years later, the information is still completely wrong. Despite them writing to me in April 2007 with this information:

Your comments are much appreciated as having accurate data on the site is very important to us. Having investigated the issue you reported, we have identified a potential data anomaly. Our data comes from various suppliers and we have forwarded your query to the relevant supplier in order for them to investigate and make any necessary amendments at source. We receive regular data updates and although we are unable to give you a timescale of when this improvement will take place, you can rest assured that any corrections will filter through to the Multimap website in due course.

OK, here's another rather more humourous "anomaly". I entered a postcode to get a map. The correct map came up (surprise!). I then clicked on directions thinking it would use my map position as the starting point. I then entered my destination postcode. However, the initial postcode location wasn't populated from the map search, instead it was blanked off and the "default" postcode used instead. Not content with using the point in London where all distances are measured from, namely the equestrian statue of Charles I at the south end of Trafalgar Square (the original site of Charing Cross), multimap has its own central point of reference.

The actual centre of Multimap's universe is show on the following image (click to enlarge), taken from a screen capture and easily replicated via the above steps.

So now we know from the enlarged image. Not only is the centre of the multimap universe a gentlemen's private part just off King Willy (sorry William) Street, but on a journey to what should be the centre of UK mapping it sends us past Nelson's column and Cockspur Street (that's enough genital references) in a convoluted path apparently going the wrong way down a one way street between stages 3 and 4. All in all, rather a cock up.

I think that the orange advert says it all: "When turning back is out of the question you have to put your trust in what you know". Which is this case is knowing that multimap once again is not the dogs bollocks, rather it belongs in King William's toilet.


01 October 2008

Correct VAT receipt

I've blogged before about VAT receipts but just for the benefit of the 90%+ of restaurants who seem to think that a total and a VAT number constitutes a VAT receipt, here's the news - it doesn't.

The two things that most restaurants leave off is the separately itemised amount of VAT included in the bill and the rate of VAT applicable. If any restaurants are reading and want to know what you need to put on a VAT receipt, please check out the HMRC website.


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