The Daily Telegraph - Saturday, 10 March 2001 - Property

Nothing is quite as it seems

Looking-glass furniture, no doors, disposable gardens . . . it's all an illusion.
Ross Clark reveals the Top Ten ruses that developers use to make show homes seem bigger and better than they are.

When you've trawled round dozens of homes looking for something to buy and seen quite enough of other people's smelly socks, it is very easy to fall for the allure of a new property. Show homes do not belong in the same world that the rest of us inhabit: there is never a speck of dust; everything is perfectly arranged; and the furniture and fittings are often by top designers.

Wonderland: your new house may turn out to be smaller than it looked; beware show homes fitted out with furniture that is three-quarters normal size - they are deceptively roomy.

But are we falling for the image rather than the home itself? The marketing of new homes is a rapidly evolving art which is not shy of employing a few shady tricks. We've selected 10 of the favourite ones of which prospective buyers ought to be aware.

1 - Diddyman furniture
Few people take the time to sit down at the stylish furniture chosen by developers. A shame, really, because if prospective buyers did have the audacity to lie down on the chi-chi bed in the master bedroom, they may well discover that it is only 5ft long. Some developers fit out their properties with furniture that is three-quarters normal size - fine for diddymen, but not so good when you've just splashed out 200,000 on a new home that is not as large as you think.

2 - Cavernous spaces that turn out not to be part of the property
A favourite trick, says Richard Aldous, of FPDSavills in Norwich, is to add an enormous conservatory to the show home - one that would cost a good deal extra and may be too large even to fit into most of the gardens on the estate. The prospective buyer who has just emerged from a pokey living-room is fooled by the sense of space. "You might have a 1,400sq ft house which leads into a 200sq ft conservatory, which in turn leads directly into a 200sq ft garage, full of tiling displays," says Aldous. "The buyer comes away thinking he's buying a 1,800sq ft house."

3 - Missing doors
Ever wondered why, when you look round a show home, the doors never seem to get in the way? Simple. Look carefully and you will notice that there aren't any. Removing doors gives a show home a greater sense of space and allows the developer to place items of furniture closer to the doorway than would be possible in real life. Also check for mirrors and wallpapers chosen to make rooms look bigger.

4 - Subtle lighting effects that hide poor natural light
Beware the magnificently hung curtains, brilliantly lit with purple light; it pays to take a peek through them. Many upmarket apartment developments in city centres have been formed out of 19th-century former office buildings in which many windows look onto small lightwells - and brick walls. If you are seriously interested in a flat, draw back the curtains, turn off all the lights and see what it looks like in daylight - that is, if the light switches really do control the lights and are not all operated from a central switch out of view.

5 - Thick-pile carpets that mask unwanted noise
Fluffy carpets, heavy curtains and pot plants with thick foliage have been out of fashion for some time, but they have made a comeback in show homes close to busy roads, thanks to their noise-absorbing qualities. The sound-proofing effect of the furniture in the show home, says Peter Mackay of Property Vision, is sadly not always matched by the soundproofing used in the building itself. "With conversion of a period building, developers will often not put insulation in between the floors."
Beware show homes where the windows are closed in the height of summer and temporary fans are used - it is often a ruse to hide outside noise, as is the playing of soothing music.

6 - Carefully situated show apartments
Many developments these days are sold off-plan, which means having to exchange contracts before the building is completed. In some cases the show apartments are not even in the building at all, but in a detached pod in the grounds, which will be demolished once the development is complete. Needless to say, the pod tends to be in a tranquil part of the grounds and its views will bear no relation to those of the completed flats. Beware, too, show homes that face south, or those that have particularly large corner plots. In reality, they may not.

7 - Brochures that are really tourist guides
When developers launch new housing schemes in Cobham in Surrey, says Margaret Moes of LSS Relocations, which is based in the town, their brochures always show the beautiful National Trust-owned mill - "even if the development is completely on the other side of the town and next to a petrol station".
Similarly, brochures for apartment blocks in up-and-coming areas in London are notorious for showing attractions miles away from the property in order to sell you the neighbourhood. The brochure for one development currently for sale in Lambeth, for example, manages to incorporate photographs of Tower Bridge and the Palace Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue.

8 - Show homes that are just a stage set
The show home on a development often casts such a favourable impression upon prospective buyers that when it comes to be sold itself it commands a premium of up to 10 per cent, according to Mark Flemington of FPDSavills in Sevenoaks. And he should know, because he was enticed to buy one himself. After he moved in he discovered that all was not as it seemed.
"I found that overflow pipes had not been put in place and the doors had been made out of damp wood so that they warped and I had to have 15 of them replaced," he says. "Developers are so keen to get the cosmetics right in a show home, and are up against such a tight deadline, that they don't always make sure the nuts and bolts are screwed together."

9 - Extras that fail to materialise
Stylish toasters, bottles of fine wine and loaves of freshly-baked ciabatta: all are part of show-home land these days. Just don't expect them to be included in the price. Nor, in many cases, are the dishwasher, the downlighters or the blinds. Show homes are always fitted to a high specification and it is vital to check what the price covers.

10 - Instant gardens
Everyone loves a Japanese garden. They are stylish, don't need a lot of maintenance and, if you are building houses on brownfield land, they are a perfect way of masking the fact that the so-called flower beds are a trick of the eye. Many brownfield developments are created by importing a foot or less of soil onto an otherwise barren site.
When Mark Flemington saw his future garden, it was full of luxuriant foliage. "But after I had exchanged contracts, the developer stopped watering the garden and everything died off," he says. "If you dig down more than a foot, you come to hardcore, which you need a jackhammer to get through."

Recommended reading for the Homebuyer, by Ross Clark

The Telephone House Neighbours Association, Tunbridge Wells
The aims are to heighten peoples' awareness and concern for the development on Telephone House site, Church Road / York Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent.