Estate Agent Today
Franchise agency Martin & Co has set up an online property sales service and becomes what is thought to be the first traditional agency to offer vendors a virtual alternative.
For an up-front fixed fee of £499, vendors will be able to advertise on Rightmove, Zoopla and other major portals, and get the benefit of traditional shop window advertising in local branches and advertising to a database of registered buyers.
As part of its online service, Martin & Co will handle the initial stages of the sales process, including advising vendors on valuation and how to achieve the best price for their property, completing photography and particulars for the customer and relaying enquiries from potential buyers.
Martin & Co will not charge commission on sales through its online service. If customers decide to switch within the first two weeks to Martin & Co’s traditional services their up-front fee will be deducted from the commission payable on sale completion.
“While we believe the traditional service will continue to be the norm, a growing number of people are choosing to personally manage the sale of their property through online platforms. Our new online offering will provide vendors with the highest quality service to market their property effectively and help them to achieve their desired valuation” says the firm’s chief executive Ian Wilson.
Last December the shares of MartinCo Plc, the holding company of Martin & Co, began trading on AIM, the small company market of the London Stock Exchange.
- Martin & Co
- Online Agents
- Traditional Estate Agency
A developer-cum-finance house is marketing a deal which allows people to buy a home without a mortgage and without a deposit - and, so far at least, no estate agents.
This so-called home payment plan has in fact existed in the north east of England for three years already and has several dozens of owners who have used it. But the firm behind it, the Gentoo Group - which describes itself as a ‘profits for purpose’ company - now wants to extend its reach across the country.
It works like this: Gentoo buys, builds or redevelops properties which it then sells at open market value. But instead of selling it via an agent in the conventional way, it sells via an in-house financial product called the ‘Genie home purchase plan’ which operates along similar lines to sharia mortgages.
Instead of putting down a deposit and instead of securing a mortgage involving interest payments, the purchaser pays monthly instalments on a 30-year plan. At the end of the 30 years, the home is fully-owned by the purchaser; along the way, the owner’s monthly payments gives him or her part-ownership, depending on the number of payments made.
Gentoo says over the course of 30 years the total paid by the purchaser would be the equivalent of a mortgage with a 6.8 per cent APR.
The product is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, customers are credit checked in the usual way, and the purchaser has the typical financial responsibilities associated with a mortgage - that is, to pay monthly and to be obliged to pay the full amount of the value of the property if it is sold prior to the end of the 30 year term, even if at the time of sale its value is lower than its original purchase price.
Gentoo has first refusal to buy should a client sell before the end of 30 years, but if the firm declines the owner can instruct an estate agent to sell on the open market.
The firm wants to spread beyond the relatively low-cost housing market of the north east of England, where it has won considerable praise from housing market analysts and politicians for offering at least an alternative for people to get on the housing ladder.
Would this work elsewhere? If so, is there a role for agents or is this best kept purely as a financial product? We would welcome your views.
- Genie Home Payment Plan
The latest move by one of the big two portals to retain loyalty in the face of the new Agents’ Mutual site takes an unlikely form - cut-price coffees, laptops and groceries.
Zoopla is launching a members’ reward scheme giving perks to staff of its so-called ‘member’ agents and house builders. The scheme offers discounts and savings on brands including Morrisons, Asda, Dell, HP, Starbucks, Halfords, Sainsburys, Costa, CineWorld, Alton Towers and Fitness First.
The scheme is available as a free benefit to all employees of all Zoopla Property Group agent and developer members and is the equivalent of at least £99 per person per year, the portal claims.
“Typically these schemes are offered by large employers but our sector is made up of a large number of small businesses who often aren’t able to offer these types of benefits to staff” says Alex Chesterman, ZPG chief executive.
He claims the scheme has 2,000 members already.
- Alex Chesterman
- Agents' Mutual
London agent Marsh & Parsons is opening two new offices this month and another in October as the buoyant market in the capital bolsters agency activity.
This month’s pair will be in Richmond and East Sheen. Both office sites have undergone a state-of-the-art refurbishment at a combined cost of £400,000, including the installation of a media wall at the Richmond branch.
To mark the occasion, Marsh & Parsons will be offering to sell homes in these areas for a special 0 per cent sales fee for the first three months following the launch - a discount from the firm’s standard 2 per cent commission. Both offices will handle sales and lettings.
Meanwhile Fox & Sons estate agency, part of Sequence UK’s national network, has set up its own apprenticeship programme for 16-22 year olds.
The programme involves 11 apprentices working as full time trainee negotiators; they will work in branches in south west England and will leave the programme after 12 months with NVQ qualifications.
Fox & Sons south west director Jason Bull says: “It’s extremely important the apprentices complete the educational side. The discipline and self motivation they will need to complete the qualification will set them up perfectly when working as negotiators in the branch, so we have highlighted this as a key area we hope for them all to learn from.”
- Marsh & Parsons
- Fox & Sons
- housing market
Connells has put its snout in the trough and explained why a picture of a house it has for sale in Suffolk has a large pig lying in a blanket in the living room.
On sale for £120,000, the detached one-bedroom property sits on a private road in Ipswich. The particulars featured a picture of the living room of the house - which included a pig with its head resting on a settee.
A spokeswoman for Connells says the pig in the photo is the home owner's pet. "The photo was put up in error and has since been removed" she says.
In the property details Connells describes the former meeting house as a "unique one bedroom detached house". Although the agency has removed the image from its website, it still appears on hard copy material.
Unsurprisingly, Twitter became alive with speculation about the pig when it was spotted by a national paper. Some tweets suggested it would be an incentive to include the animal with the sale.
- Pig In A Picture
The head of Property Portal Watch, which analyses portals around the world, is warning that Agents’ Mutual’s new On The Market website will struggle to be noticed when it launches early next year.
Simon Baker, the former head of leading Australian portal www.realestate.com.au and now the operator of Property Portal Watch, has told international real estate website opp-connect.com that OnTheMarket faces an uphill task.
“Why would I as a consumer look at an Agents’ Mutual site instead of Rightmove after, incidentally, I have had millions and millions of pounds of marketing thrown at me over the years? They need something in Agents’ Mutual that they don’t have in Rightmove, but what is that?” Baker asks.
He says it is “pointless” for individual agents to complain about portal fees generally.
“They put money on Rightmove because they get leads, but what’s the price per lead? How do those leads convert into sales? Perhaps they could just advertise on another site for a quarter of the price and get the same outcome. They need to systematically experiment” he says.
Baker claims the next big thing in the world of property portals will be international sales. “There is a lot of cross-border purchasing and as that becomes more and more obvious, there will be more access to listings in different languages and with more information around it that allows you to make a better decision” he says.
PPW is holding an international conference in Barcelona next month, buoyed by many of the world’s largest portals - notably the REA Group in Australia, Rightmove and Zoopla in the UK, the merging Trulia and Zillow in the US and Soufun in China - now being measured in billions of dollars.
- Agents' Mutual
- Property Portal Watch
An estate agent has created a guide for sellers who have to conduct their own viewings on how to ‘read’ the body language of would-be buyers.
The guide is called The Art Of The Silent Sell and focuses on different types of non-verbal communication and body language including greetings, posture, body angles and touch.
House Network says it will equip sellers with a useful tool to help increase their chances of not only selling their home, but also to achieving the asking price.
The agency has commissioned a body language expert, Robert Phipps. Some of his (arguably less-than-amazing) tips include:
- "As you enter each room or point something out, keep an eye out for whether a small smile starts to appear on their face. Make a mental note of their reaction and try to point out similar features to continue their positive, happy smiles”;
- "Encourage them to touch things, sit down in the living room, feel the carpet (if you are leaving it), lay down on the bed etc. Touch is one of our basic five senses and how people feel about a particular area or space is important to them. The more they can try out things the more comfortable they feel, the easier it is for them to make up their mind”;
- "Make a list of your properties [sic] assets but only point out those that seem appropriate to each new viewing. Also notice how as you point out each of these things whether they are engaging with you by actually looking at them”.
- Online Agents
- House Network
- Body Language
The National Association of Estate Agents’ latest TV campaign begins this evening with advertisement slots in the Midlands, north east and south west regions.
There will be 48 spots planned in each area to run from today and for the next fortnight. The first will be a 30-second ad this evening at around 6.45pm in the middle of the ITV Early Evening News in the Central West, Tyne Tees and Westcountry ITV regions.
Others include prime-time slots during shows including Emmerdale, Coronation Street and through the keyhole, as well as daytime appearances during popular programmes such as Jeremy Kyle, This Morning and Loose Women.
Over the two week campaign NAEA forecasts that an average of 55 per cent of the population of each area will see at least three adverts - that’s equivalent of 4.1 million people.
The association is telling its members to make sure their branch window stickers are in place and to use the hashtag #LOOKFORTHELOGO on social media campaigns - this hashtag will be a prominent part of the TV campaign, too.
- TV Advertising
- housing market
Here is this week's roundup of stories from Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, featuring stories on easyProperty, Lettings Redress and Ice Bucket Challenges.
House prices are almost static as the slowdown gathers pace according to Hometrack - but this is hotly disputed by the Nationwide today.
The Hometrack consultancy, which produces its monthly house price index based on data from 5,000 agents in 2,300 postcodes across England and Wales, says prices rose just 0.1 per cent for the second month.
A key characteristic of the past month is the rapid narrowing of the gap between supply and demand.
The market in London continues to under-perform the rest of England and Wales, it says.
Growth in the capital flat-lined once again in August and just 11 per cent of London postcodes registered month on month price increases. This compares to prices rising across 19 per cent of markets outside London.
Hometrack says the change of fortunes for the London market over the last six months has been stark. In February this year 87 per cent of London postcodes witnessed a price increase over the month compared to just 11 per cent now. The proportion of the asking price achieved has fallen from 98.8 to 96.4 per cent.
Meanwhile across all of England and Wales, key indicators show a stagnating market.
The average time a home is on the market is now 6.3 weeks - just three months ago it was 5.9 per cent. Even in August - a time that is traditionally quiet for new instructions - there was a 0.1 per cent increase in the volume of property listings. More than one in 25 postcodes are now showing average price falls whereas three months ago it was one in 60.
“The signs of a slowdown were starting to emerge back. Talk of a housing bubble and warning from the Bank of England have impacted sentiment while tougher affordability checks for mortgages and rumblings around interest rate rises is starting to make buyers think twice” says Hometrack research director Richard Donnell.
“Important lead indicators are pointing to a loss of momentum, in particular a widening gap between asking and achieved prices in the face of weaker demand and an increase in the time on the market. We expect a continued shift towards a seller’s market in the face of weaker, more price sensitive demand” he says.
But rival figures from Nationwide show that house prices moved up by an average of 0.8 per cent in August - the 16th successive monthly rise.
As a result, house price growth annually is still rising substantially - it's not 11 per cent a year, up from 10.6 per cent a month ago.
Nationwide's figures come from mortgage data, and while these rises are large, Nationwide insists they are not unsustainable.
"National housing affordability does not appear stretched by historic standards, in part due to the low level of mortgage rates" claims Nationwide chief economist Robert Gardner.
- housing market
- Richard Donnell
Strutt & Parker has become the first British agency to show its hand on the Scottish independence issue, claiming that a Yes vote would lead to higher mortgage rates and “dampened” house prices.
The agency - which is arguably best known primarily for its country houses, but which also has extensive land and estate management functions - says it backs the view of credit rating agencies in saying that an independent Scotland would have a financial status below the UK’s current rating.
The agency claims that rises in bank interest rates would occur should Scotland choose not to accept its share of the national debt, potentially leading to an increase of £5,200 per annum on the average mortgage - a more detailed version of the argument recently put forward by former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling on TV debates against the SNP leader Alex Salmond.
Strutts say the uncertainty over currency means that it is difficult to predict exactly what mortgage lenders would do with existing Scottish customers. It claims these uncertainties around currency and credit risk could deter buyers from entering the market and result in a significant effect on house prices, mostly likely driving them down north of the border.
Farmland and rural businesses will be affected if Scotland is no longer part of the EU.
Strutt & Parker says that according to DEFRA, Scotland receives about €600 million a year in CAP direct payments and rural development payments, and if lost this could have significant implication for Scottish farmers.
However, if under independence Scotland does become a member of the EU and receives CAP payments it could be better off with farmers receiving €196 per hectare compared to the €130 at present.
- strutt & Parker
- Scottish Referendum
- housing market
Here is the latest set of exploits undertaken by our industry in the name of charity.
We at EAT and LAT hugely admire the often-unsung work by agents who donate energy, time and money to charity. We want to shine a spotlight on this side of agency.
If you want to be mentioned, please let us know. Email email@example.com.
In the meantime, here are this week’s updates.
ALS Association - the Ice Bucket Challenge: More than a few traditional estate agents have no doubt wanted cold water poured over Adam Day, the controversial head of online agency Hatched. Well now he’s seen to that himself, and all in a good cause. Having been nominated by Russell Quirke of eMoov, Day has done the deed and raised funds in the process for the ALS Association - and here’s the video: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10154484573800551&id=896740550
The Northwood Foundation: Five Northwood agents are set to hike up Mount Kilimanjaro at the end of September to raise funds for the Northwood Foundation, set up in honour of Nick Cooper, the former managing director who died of pancreatic cancer last year.The firm wants to raise £20,000 by 2015. A Just Giving page has been set up and donations can be made at www.justgiving.com/Northwood-Charitable-Foundation/ or by texting either £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 to 70070 using the code TNCF99.
The Coastal Commando Cycle Challenge: A group of 12 cyclists including Steve Moir, partner of Hennings Moir in Saltash and chairman of the Property Sharing Experts network, have raised over £13,000 for wounded and homeless ex-services personnel by taking part in The Coastal Commando Cycle Challenge. Steve and his cycling colleagues completed the 350 mile journey over five days, starting in Kent with the route taking them through Hastings, Brighton, Bognor Regis, Southampton, Weymouth and Exmouth before finishing the road trip at the Royal Commando Training Centre in Lympstone, Devon.
Cancer Research UK: Hunters Property Group has helped a group of 11 year old boys get on their bikes for charity by sponsoring a five-strong Hunters Heroes team on a 127 mile ride along the route of the Leeds Liverpool Canal. They raised more than £7,000 in aid of Cancer Research UK and the route the boys took passed by each of the Hunters’ branches in the area.
The Octavia Appeal: On Sunday September 21 the single-office central London agency W A Ellis is going to undertake a half marathon paddle board down the Thames in aid of The Octavia Appeal, the paediatric arm of The Friends of Royal Brompton Hospital, a charity which raises funds for projects the UK’s largest heart and lung centre. Last year the agency raised almost £20,000 for Action Medical Research and now it’s hoping to do at least as well this year. The agency team can be sponsored at https://www.justgiving.com/waellisoctaviapaddleboard.
- Estate Agent Today
- Letting Agent Today
A not-for-profit organisation wants agents and other industry insiders to explore how water efficiency technology can add value to properties on sale and be used to attract more buyers.
Waterwise, which campaigns for water efficiency in public and private sectors, says it knows “water efficiency doesn't sell houses” but believes the issue could be turned into a positive draw for buyers.
“How do we make water efficient technologies in a property desirable? What needs to happen to make rainwater harvesting a must-have feature? Is it possible for water efficient technologies to viewed as cutting edge?” asks the organisation.
Now it is inviting agents to a half-day workshop on 7 October in central London - perhaps neither the format nor the location most appealing to agents - to discuss how the sale of a property can be a vehicle for publicising the importance of water efficiency.
“Whether people are buying a newly built home, or like the majority live in an older property, they have the choice of whether to install and use water efficient technologies” says the organisation.
More details about the event are available by contacting Waterwise on 02079 172 826.
- housing market
- Water Efficiency
The National Association of Estate Agents still insists only 20 per cent of sales are being done to first time buyers - repeating a controversial claim it made a month ago.
Its figures for July, just released, repeat the June claim and say that for the second month running just one deal in five involves a first timer. Back in June, the NAEA claim won it a front page mention on the Daily Mail as well as valuable column inches elsewhere.
However, the association’s reiteration of the 20 per cent figures, this time for July, appears once again to contrast sharply with recent data from other industry players.
LSL, for example, says the number of first-time buyers hit a seven-year high in July with 30,000 first time buyer sales, about a quarter above those seen in the same month a year earlier, and the largest number since August 2007.
The Halifax and the Council of Mortgage Lenders, too, have produced data showing significant surges in the numbers of first time buyers.
The NAEA has been sharply criticised for the earlier data, notably with a Savills researcher taking to Twitter to describe some of it as “bonkers.”
Association president Simon Gerrard told Estate Agent Today that the June figures, compiled from reports from around 500 agencies across the country, were accurate.
But he also suggested that in his own 11-office agency the number of first time buyers in July appeared to rise, which if true appears to be an experience at odds with the NAEA’s assessment.
This month, the claim about the 20 per cent first time buyer share was carried in the final paragraph of the NAEA press release announcing its view of the market.
- First Time Buyers
- housing market
PropertyMoose - a crowdfunding website that allows individuals to pool investment in property allowing individuals to spend smaller sums than usual - is to relaunch in the middle of next month.
Set up by James Cadbury, part of the chocolate-empire family, it has so far reportedly attracted a modest 70 investors allowing them to buy a share in a house or apartment for as little as £500.
New investment opportunities are temporarily unavailable prior to the site relaunch.
Investors enjoy income from rent: PropertyMoose promises a potential six per cent return. Investors could also ultimately receive capital appreciation earned prior to sale - the site promises 70 per cent of appreciation will go to crowdfunders.
When it relaunches the website will include a link with a not-for-profit property renovation service which will operate as a charity, assisting young women who have been the subject of domestic abuse or people trafficking.
Meanwhile CrowdProperty has been launched as a new peer-to-peer lending platform designed to facilitate loans between private individuals and property professionals.
CrowdProperty says it is aimed at two different groups of people. Firstly the ‘lender’; private individuals with £500 or more seeking to achieve returns of five to 11 per cent gross. Secondly ‘borrowers’ or property professionals, that wish to borrow money from the crowd of lenders to finance a new property project or re-finance an existing one. This includes development projects, project refinancing and buy-to-let investment refinancing.
CrowdProperty takes a one-off three to five per cent arrangement fee from property professionals and passes the full amount of the gross interest payable on the loan to the crowd of private individuals. Borrowers can apply for up to 100 per cent finance on new developments at between nine and 11 per cent per year, or up to 80 per cent loan to value for refinancing at five to six per cent per year.
An auctioneer which claims to have enjoyed property sales of £35m within just 9 months says it is now looking to identify “a strong agency partner”.
Swindells Auctioneers, which specialises in the Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire areas, says it has already enjoyed growth of 200 per cent over the last 12 months. It wants to build on its reputation and client base of buyers and investors in the UK and Ireland.
“We recently made an important strategic decision to divide our business from our previous partner as we are hoping to move forward by collaborating with a new or existing auction house focussed primarily on appealing to buyers and property investors” says owner Edward Swindells.
“We also plan to identify a partner who is able to support us in our aim to significantly expand our reach within central London and the M25 corridor over the next two to three years, as this is where we have identified the best possibilities for growth” he suggests.
The move follows Edward Swindells recent departure as auction director of MS Auctions.
- Auction Market
Slowdown? What slowdown? Against the trend of most recent market forecasts, one high-end agent has significantly increased its forecast for growth in the mainstream UK market claiming some areas will see up to 32 per cent price surges by the end of 2018.
Savills says average UK house price growth has exceeded all expectations over the past year. The firm now expects average annual UK house price growth to settle at 9.5 per cent this year, well ahead of the 6.5 per cent which it originally forecast.
This will be followed by 4.0 per cent growth in 2015 and 25.7 per cent overall in the five years to the end of 2018, fractionally higher than 25.2 per cent originally forecast.
Savills - which concentrates its house sales in the southern half of England and in Scotland - says house price growth in London, the south and east of England has significantly exceeded its original forecasts, with all expected to end the year well into double digits.
In the case of London this appears to go against the grain of what other agents are saying.
For example, south west London agency Douglas & Gordon has just claimed that price rises are “grinding to a halt” and “flat-lining” in its area. Sequence has also been significantly more downbeat; it says property registrations in the capital rose by 25 per cent year-on-year, while new buyer registrations increased by only seven per cent.
Savills, however, is in bullish mood. “House price growth in the mainstream market has been underpinned by record low interest rates, rising loan-to-income lending and pent up demand from buyers re-entering the market as the economy and consumer sentiment have improved,” says Lucian Cook, who heads Savills’ UK residential research.
“But these extraordinary rates of house price growth cannot continue in the current, more regulated mortgage environment, particularly in the face of likely interest rate rises” he concedes.
- housing market
Foxtons is paying another special dividend of £12.8m after revenues jumped up by £29m to £72.8m in the first half of this year.
The group will pay out £12.8m in interim and special dividends, more than half of the £23.1m pre-tax profits it generated in the six months to 30 June, a rise of 57 per cent on the same period last year.
It is its second special dividend payment since it went public last autumn.
Nic Budden, Foxtons’ new chief executive, describes the firm as “highly cash generative” with “no debt to service”.
Revenues rose 16.2 per cent to £72.8m, driven primarily by larger volumes of homes being sold, which grew by 20 per cent to 2,919.
The average price of homes sold by Foxtons rose from £475,000 to £545,000, reflecting its focus on what Budden calls “higher volume, higher value mid-market sector”.
But Foxtons is warning that MMR is cooling this sector of the London sales market.
However, the firm’s lettings revenue remained roughly static at £31.8m, and the number of homes let saw a marginal decline to dip below 10,000.
- housing market
Four out of 10 property sales now fail to reach exchange thanks to problems in the “antiquated” conveyancing process, says a London and Home Counties buying agency.
Property search firm The Buying Agents - which has seven offices handling high-end purchasers, investors and corporate clients across London and The Home Counties - says the industry norm in recent years has been 30 per cent but this has now risen markedly in recent months.
In some cases the firm agent has found that sales have fallen through as a result of vital information being withheld by the selling agent or vendor.
“In certain areas we’ve seen an increase of around 10 per cent in the number of properties returning to market which indicates there are still problems with this antiquated process. Now is the time to get industry leaders together to find the best possible solution for all parties” says Henry Sherwood, TBA’s managing director.
He says the much-hated Home Information Packs were, in theory, a solution to this problem.
“Buyers should always have access to detailed information about the property before they consider making an offer. Some of the things to be aware of include details of the lease and any relevant restrictions, physical issues such as damp and subsidence as well as whether or not the property has been on the market before and if so why it returned to market” he insists.
- Fall Throughs
- housing market
- The Buying Agents
The head of online agency Turtlehomes.co.uk has become the latest industry figure to join the ice-bucket challenge.
Richard Tuck - dressed appropriately enough in goggles and scuba diving gear, and using a head-cam to film proceedings - was doused enthusiastically by his children in a video later posted on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGOtbZjnk4M
His nominations announced before the soaking did not include rival agents.
There is still no news on whether Agents’ Mutual chief executive Ian Springett - nominated by a Scottish agent over the weekend - will accept the challenge, nor whether the controversial founder of online agency Hatched, Adam Day, will accept the multiple nomination requests for him to get icy in aid of charity.
If you or anyone in your agency is undertaking an ice-bucket soaking in aid of good causes, please let us know for our Agents Do Charity feature, every Friday here on Estate Agent Today.
- Ice Bucket Challenge
- Agents' Mutual