Dissatisfaction with estate agents is a national pastime in this country but school administrator Sally Millo has better reason than most to be unhappy with them.And the reason she has problems is because she requires specialist knowledge not required by about 98% of an estate agent’s customers.
"I've got spinal muscular atrophy type III affecting my nerves and muscles. I walk badly indoors and need a wheelchair outside, and perhaps sometimes inside too," she says. Her current home in Salisbury has been extensively modified over the past 18 years but the difficulty she has is finding a property with appropriate features in Norfolk, where she and her husband Jon wish to live.
Suitable homes undoubtedly exist there, as they do everywhere, but few mainstream estate agents' websites and property portals allow 'searches' to be made on disability features. Instead, searches must be on the numbers of beds or rooms, without giving vital details about wheelchair space, stair-lifts or other features.And if you have a special need to know arcane information and you are ‘denied’ it by the private sector because no-one else needs it, well, that’s against your ‘uman rights, isn’t it?
"When I telephone agents asking for details about a property, they generally don't have any idea what I require," she says.
"I'm happy to modify a property by fitting ramps at exterior doorways, a walk-in shower and wider doorways but I need to know other elements," explains Sally.
I can see the activists and lobby groups gearing up as I type.
So why is it that the needs of Britain's 8.4 million registered disabled – that's one in 14 of the population – appear to be almost ignored by most estate agents?Whoa, hold on there! Not all of those people require anything like the type of specialist modification required by wheelchair users like Sally Millo.
And you have to assume the ‘Independent’ knows that, but prefers to let their readers draw an erroneous conclusion….
Conrad Hodgkinson has run the Accessible Property Register on www.accessible-property.org.uk for some 10 years. He began by appealing to developers and estate agents to sign up to publicise adapted properties, and his site currently attracts up to 20,000 visits by would-be purchasers every month. They can see a current list of 500 modified homes – but this is not down to agents or builders.Wait, what…? So, there is a specialist site for these needs after all?
"Only around 20 estate agents have ever registered with us and most have only posted one or two properties. Only one agent has added an accessible property section to their own website. We have given up waiting for estate agents to provide the information, so we go out and get it," he says.
No. There’s at least two:
Mike Reid runs his own mainstream estate agency in Eastbourne and a specialist online service called Mobility Friendly Homes (www.mobilityfriendlyhomes.co.uk ).Hmmm, so, what’s the problem? A niche exists in the market, and some companies find it profitable to cater to it.
Isn’t that how things are supposed to work?
"In Birmingham we found a local authority fuming that it had just adapted a property only to find that one a few doors away was available which would have suited the occupier perfectly. But there was no information in the sales details. Otherwise, it would have saved the local authority about £25,000," he says.Well, I suppose we can’t expect councils to be psychic now (even if they sometimes expect it of us). There’s no law (yet) forcing the seller to declare these adaptations, so it’s just a fact of life.
But the progressives never sleep:
There are some improvements on the horizon, however. Globrix, is the first of the 'big' sales websites to allow searches for access features, although this usually depends on the properties' estate agents specifying those features in the first place.So, in order to accommodate the specialist needs of the minority, the majority must put up with expensive and wasteful inclusions? Wait until the Greens hear this – I’m sure the extra space and heating costs won’t make these houses eco-friendly!
Meanwhile building regulations are changing to insist that by 2013 new homes must be built to 'lifetime standard', appropriate for older and disabled residents. Many private developers are unhappy and a spokesman for the Home Builders' Federation has said: "A turning circle for a wheelchair may be desirable for some but it may lead to redundant space at extra cost."
An exasperated Conrad Atkinson of the Accessible Property Register puts it this way: "Agents still fear that promoting access will put people off, and of course they are right. Who wants to live in a house once owned by a disabled or older person? We might catch it... "Oh, get over yourself! This is almost as good as the ‘racism in Cravendale adverts’ picked up by LfaT and NNW.
No-one believes they may ‘catch’ disability – they just don’t want to put off prospective buyers or viewers by listing the disadvantages for anyone (the majority) who doesn’t require these modifications.
Just as they won’t include search terms for ‘stonking great gasometer in view’ or ‘noisy pub next door’.
So patronise the businesses that do cater to your specialist needs, and everyone’s happy. Aren’t they?