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Dr Dan Twining talks about Wheelchair-Friendly Homes

May 16, 2009

There was an article in the Independent this week with a quote attributed to one Dr Dan Twining. Yes, it was me, and no, I haven’t bought a doctorate off the internet (or from anywhere else for that matter). Still, it’s one more step up that ladder of success, right?

Anyway, the rest of the article seems accurate enough. If you happen to be looking to buy or sell a wheelchair-friendly home, then there are plenty of links in the article to help you on your way. For the record, here’s what I told the reporter…

Dear Mr Twining

Thank you so much for agreeing to participate in a story I am writing for The Independent. I am a property journalist, and you can see samples of my work on www.grahamnorwood.info.

The thrust of my piece is that the large market of existing and prospective owners who sell and buying adapted homes is not catered for on ‘mainstream’ property websites for fear of deterring other buyers. I propose to explain the kind of adaptations often required, and will get comments from agents and website representatives. However, I also wanted to get first hand experiences from buyers and sellers.

I gather you have sold an adapted property through the MFH website. In that case could I ask you, when you have time, to let me know:

(a) whether you tried to sell the property through ‘mainstream’ estate agents and websites? If so, did they understand and appropriately promote the adaptations or did they try to ‘play them down’?

Our main listing was with House Network (www.housenetwork.co.uk), one of the fixed-price, internet-based estate agents. They in turn put their advert on the main property websites, like Rightmove and Prime Location.

The House Network listing was very factual; it said that the property had adaptations and was suitable for a person in a wheelchair, but also described the house’s more ordinary attributes. In general, House Network were happy to put what we wanted into our listing – I don’t know how different things would have been if a “traditional” estate agent had been involved. We did have some local estate agents look at the house when we were setting an asking price, but I didn’t deal with them directly (I’ve cc’d in my father who may be able to tell you more).

(b) when you have looked for a property to buy, have you been able to identify suitably-modified ones on mainstream websites and agents’ details?

We’ve never had to look for an adapted house; we bought the house in the mid-80s before my mother was in a wheelchair, and sold it after she passed away.

(c) how well, or otherwise, do you regard the property business as being sensitive to, and educated about, clients with disabilities?

Not very. One of the main reasons for going with a fixed-price listing was that there were no restrictions when it came to posting our advert on other websites, and I put a lot of time and effort into tracking down as many specialist websites (Mobility Friendly Homes, Accessible Property Register, Disability Now, and so on) as I could. I knew that the search criteria for the mainstream websites are very restrictive (price, location, number of bedrooms…) and it’s impossible to search for features like “hoist” or “wheelchair access”. I also knew that an able-bodied buyer would see the adaptations as an expense that needed fixing, whereas a wheelchair user would see them as assets worth paying for, so it made good marketing sense as well as meaning that all our adaptations weren’t of no further use.

I guess that if the websites helped buyers find houses according to non-standard criteria, then estate agents may be more willing to market specialist homes. As it stands, the chances of a local agent selling a specialist home to a local buyer is pretty minimal, and so it makes more sense to just sell it as a generic home. I’m sure that there must be other types of specialist homes that cannot be searched for on mainstream property websites.

I also remember being quite surprised at the [low] level of accessibility required to advertise on some of the specialist websites. I seem to remember that just having level access to the front door was enough. This is in stark contrast to the amount of adaption our property required in order to become a wheelchair-friendly family home. Although I guess these websites have a wide range of buyer requirements, and want to appeal to a broad range of accessible-home-sellers, and they did at least allow buyers to filter out houses which only met a few of their accessibility criteria… But I’ll be particularly interested to read what you have to say about the types of adaptation that are generally required, and see how that compares to our own experience.

I hope that is something along the lines of what you’re looking for. If I can be of further assistance, just let me know.

Thanks,

Dan Twining


and just to complete the story, here’s what my father added…

Dear Graham,

I am very pleased to hear of this piece of work. Perhaps I can add a few points.

The local estate agents did not seem tuned in at all to selling an accessible property. They struggled to come up with a consistent valuation simply because it was not like the other houses on what was an estate built in the 1970’s. Mostly they seemed to see the adaptations in terms of the costs that would be involved in their removal. They varied widely in their valuations and were all going to charge me several thousand pounds more than I eventually paid in fees.

One limitation of the web-based firm was that one had to show prospective buyers round oneself but as I had retured early to care for my late wife that was not a problem. In fact it was probably a very good thing because showing a prospective buyer round who has access needs is probably best done by someone who knows the reality of day to day life with a wheelchair.

The eventual buyer was actually local although that may have been because the house is only 5 miles from a spinal injuries unit. He identified the property from a reply to a letter in the Spinal Injuries Assciation newsletter which directed him to one of the accessible property sites Dan had used. It was a joy to show him round as it was clear that he had been visiting many properties that would have required major alterations to meet his needs.

It was also good for all of us to know that the emotional and financial investment we had made into creating an accessible family home would be used and appreciated.

I wish you well with the article. If I can help further please do get in touch.

Yours sincerely

Dr Charles Twining

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 17, 2009 3:28 pm

    Hi Dan

    I have just come across your piece about the Independent story.  It is without doubt the best  unsolicited testimonial we have received to date as it covers so many of the aspects for which we set up the service.  It is also the only one we have so far seen online.

    We have a number of journalists and trade organisations that we mail from time to time, and I would be pleased if you would please give us permission to circulate the item.

    The economic situation means that we have had to draw in our horns on marketing spend, but we find that once we receive a piece of publicity at national level it rolls onto other things.  As an example we are on BBC South radio tomorrow because of Graham’s story. 

    Many thanks

    Mike Reid

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