Estate Agent Today
A judge has sharply criticised the police for investigating a family feud in which a dispute between a mother and daughter began when one left their joint business and set up a rival estate agency.
EAT has already reported on the heated row between Nicola Low, 71, and her daughter, Caroline Baines, 40, after the latter complained about the allegedly low level of her maternity pay when she was a member of the family estate agency.
Baines - who now runs Mint Lettings and Management - sued Low for £150,000 and also accused her of harassment and of making malicious complaints about her to police. In a counter-claim, Low sued her daughter for £100,000 for setting up a new agency and allegedly stealing clients.
Now Judge Richard Seymour QC has described the contents of a police statement used during the case as “outrageous” and had claimed it contains “a number of barefaced lies”. The fact that Hertfordshire Police even pursued the complaint “was not a tribute to the intelligence of the officers concerned” explained the judge.
The judge has dismissed the claims by both mother and daughter.
The pair initially worked together to run the Halcyon House agency until they began quarrelling in 2010. Baines had expected her normal four-figure monthly wage while on maternity leave but was told she would receive only statutory maternity pay, in line with other staff.
Low was accused of allegedly criticising her daughter’s work just two weeks after she had emergency caesarean surgery. Baines then allegedly went on to set up a rival estate agency.
Low accused her daughter of making use of confidential information to steal clients, but the judge ruled that Baines had not breached her contract or duties as a director.
Also dismissing Baines' harassment claim, he said some of her accusations against her mother were "frankly ludicrous".
"Irritating, annoying, unattractive or unreasonable" behaviour could not, by itself, amount to harassment, he said, nor could the sort of "manoeuvring for commercial advantage" which was only to be expected in the the world of estate agency, the judge claimed.
- Mint Lettings and Management
In a break from tradition, the developers of Battersea Power Station are creating their own internal sales and lettings agency instead of relying on existing external agents.
Battersea Power Station Development Company’s move is believed to be the first of its kind for a residential development in London. The new Estates team will be offering a range of services including residential re-sales, lettings and tenancy management, soft furnishings supply and bespoke interior design supply as well as property management.
Phase one is due to complete in 2016 so the main focus for the new business will be on residential sales, particularly off-plan purchases. The team will have the only agents with access to the on-site marketing suite.
Battersea’s Estates team is to be headed by Andrew Jones, who has been selling new builds in London for over 10 years. Catherine Scott, Tom Wright and Tamara Okello - also with new build sales experience - are the other key players in the team.
Perhaps appropriately for a scheme which has had bling and theatre at the centre of its marketing to date, Andrew Jones is not being modest about his team’s activities.
“This new service is specifically designed to meet the needs of our residents and home-owners. Simply put, we will offer the services you need better than you’ve seen before and will maximise our customer’s opportunity best” his press release claims.
- Battersea Power Station
- Estate Agency
- Andrew Jones
A dead agent's girlfriend found guilty of using a forged will to stop his estranged wife inheriting his £3m estate has had her conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal.
Gillian Clemo, 61, denied using a false document to deprive Helen John of a share of the estate of Chris John, a Cardiff agent who died in 2008 following a brain haemorrhage.
Three years ago Clemo was found guilty of using a false will and handed a fine and court bill of more than £8,000. But recently another copy of the disputed document was found, hidden in a London storage unit, leading the court to believe that the will was not forged after all.
The case had been complicated by uncertainties over the status of the relationship between the late agent and Clemo; they were living together at the time of his death.
Both believed the Johns had formally divorced in 2001 but it was only after the agent’s death that it was realised the decree absolute had never been pronounced.
As a result his assets would be split between his long-estranged wife and daughter Isabelle - until the discovery of the will.
- Chris John
- Gillian Clemo
College students will have the chance to undertake a new property profession course backed by the NAEA this autumn.
The BTEC Subsidiary Diploma in Business with Property Services is being launched in partnership with Arnolds Keys and Rightmove, with the support of the National Association of Estate Agents and the Association of Residential Letting Agents.
The new course, the first of its kind in the country, is being staged at City College in Norwich a one year full-time training for 16 to 18 year olds, providing students with a grounding in business whilst learning about all aspects of the property profession.
A key element of the course will include NFoPP Awarding Body Qualifications, either within Sale of Residential Property or Residential Letting and Property Management, in order for students to gain the relevant sector knowledge within their chosen discipline.
All NFoPP Awarding Body Qualifications are nationally recognised, sit within the QCF register and are regulated by OFQUAL.
Students will also have the option to extend their learning by progressing on to a second year to gain additional modules in business and sit, if appropriate, further NFoPP Awarding Body Level 3 Technical Awards in their chosen subject area.
Part of the course will encompass work placements within agents and other property businesses, giving students practical experience of how the property sector works and of the many job roles available within it – from working in private and commercial estate agents, to property surveying, architectural design, lettings and valuing and auctioneering.
The College will also be offering part-time courses for those already working in the property profession. These include a new evening course, starting in September, which will enable new recruits to the sector - aged 19 and over - to sit NFoPP Awarding Body Residential Sales and NFoPP Awarding Body Residential Lettings qualifications.
Nick Leeming, chairman of Jackson-Stops & Staff, says that contrary to some media speculation about a nationwide surge in the housing market, most of the country’s prices are still below their pre-downturn 2007 peak.
Leeming says his company’s 44 offices across London and the UK show that - outside of the capital - both the volume and higher end are below peak.
“Help to Buy has been useful but the north [of England] would benefit from more immediate regional assistance. Further south the lower end of the market is relatively buoyant but demand for higher value property remains patchy” he says.
Echoing comments by others in the industry who say that government policies are based on the unusually strong London market, Leeming adds: “The government must remember that London is another country and the rest of the UK continues to need measures that will support rather than stifle any recovery.”
Leeming says that in any case, the capital’s market is now “topping out” with demand below its recent high point.
- housing market
- Nick Leeming
- JacksonStops & Staff
Estate Agent Today understands that easyProperty, which begins its online lettings service in the autumn, will now not launch its sales operation until the spring.
At one time it was thought that both the rental and estate agency elements would make their debut this year. But Robert Ellice, easyProperty’s chief executive officer, has told Estate Agent Today that it would be “late in Q1 or early in Q2 of next year” before the sales operation begins.
Ellice says easyProperty has had successful discussions with “some of the country’s most substantial landlords, which we cannot name at the moment” and that this would mean the lettings service would appear with a significant stock of properties.
The state of the sales or lettings market will have no bearing on the launch date or the scale of the easyProperty service. “It doesn’t matter whether 800,000 homes a year are being sold, or 1.3 million” says Ellice.
After the lettings launch there will be a “very significant spend” on marketing and advertising over the winter period to prepare for the sales push.
Ellice, who says he has worked on easyProperty’s offer for two years, reiterates that his service will offer, in his words, every element of a lettings or sales operation that would be found in a traditional estate agency, with the exception of a physical high street office.
“People need choice and I’m confident that within 10 years the majority of property transactions will be conducted online” he says.
- Online Agents
- Robert Ellice
Telephone answering specialist Moneypenny says there was a 14 per cent increase in calls in the second quarter of the year compared to the first quarter, with Monday the peak day for handling telephone contact to agents.
Agents these days receive contact from clients through various means but the Moneypenny figures are still seen by many as a barometer of market activity - especially as telephone contact between clients and agents is rising, despite increased use of email and social media, too.
In addition to Monday being the busiest day, the periods from 9am to 10am and 4pm to 5pm weekdays were the busiest for the Moneypenny team, who 'pick up' calls when busy offices are unable to answer directly. The single busiest day of the first half of the year was Tuesday May 27.
Overall property calls have increased by 21 per cent compared to the same period last year; some 42 per cent of calls are new business enquiries.
"We're answering around 1.1 million calls a year for more than 800 estate and letting agents as well as developers. The first half of 2014 has been very busy. January this year saw a ‘like for like’ 26 per cent increase in calls compared to January 2013" explains Moneypenny commercial manager Samantha Jones.
The firm is going to provide quarterly data from now on in a bid to see how calls reflect wider market activity.
- estate agents
- housing market
The organisation locked in a war of words with the Land Registry over local land charges is calling on Business Secretary Vince Cable to reverse a government decision to centralise the handling of searches.
The Council of Property Search Organisations cried foul last month when the government announced that, as part of the Digital By Default modernisation programme, local land charge registers would be held centrally by the Land Registry.
"Mr Cable could protect the property market and the tax payer by intervening in this senseless project" claims CoPSO chairman James Sherwood-Rogers.
CoPSO disputes that the centralisation is to make digitalisation easier and instead insists it is - in its own words - "just a way to fatten up the Land Registry to maximise the proceeds in the event of a sale."
In the past CoPSO has also hinted at the possibility of legal action, staged jointly by local authorities and itself, although this has so far not materialised.
Sherwood-Rogers now claims "search turnaround times are ballooning in some locations due to the crass handling of this initiative by Land Registry officials."
CoPSO also claims that other, unspecified projects undertaken by the Registry "have failed spectacularly at a cost of £87m to the tax payer."
Land charges, currently held by a number of local authorities and firms as well as by the Land Registry, are searched by conveyancing solicitors on behalf of buyers, and contain information relating to planning applications, listed buildings status, tree preservation orders, and enforcement notices.
- Vince Cable
- land registry
A raft of reports show that those who dismissed talk of housing bubbles earlier this year were just about dead right - the market is slowing, significantly.
The Mortgage Market Review and warnings from the Bank of England have created a drag on transactions and prices according to latest data.
RICS’ latest residential survey shows that a net balance of 53 per cent of surveyors in its monthly analysis reported an increase in prices in June - slightly down from 56 per cent in May, with prices rising in all 12 of its regions.
The south east of England and Northern Ireland experienced the strongest price gains for the second consecutive month, although the rate of price growth in London eased.
But demand for property stands at its slowest pace since the beginning of 2013, with the London market particularly affected by the increased air of caution, where buyer demand fell for the second consecutive month in June.
The slower trend in demand has also been reflected in RICS’ newly agreed sales balance – a good indicator of market activity – which is showing the most subdued pace of increase since autumn 2012. Meanwhile, new instructions increased for the first time since December 2013.
And although we at Estate Agent Today have long cautioned against taking any one month’s single price index too seriously, the latest measure from the Halifax also shows an easing - with prices actually dropping 0.6 per cent in June across the UK.
Halifax’s quarterly measure is more encouraging but still shows a sober picture.
It suggests that prices in the three months to June were 8.8 per cent higher than in the same three months a year earlier.
The number of sales edged down by three per cent in May to below 100,000 for the first time in six months; however, transactions are still 15 per cent higher than in May 2013.
New buyer enquires fell for the sixth consecutive month in May, which if sustained could moderate further growth in demand says the Halifax.
And no one anywhere is talking ‘bubbles’ any more...
- housing market
Greater London house prices have risen 15.6 per cent in the past year according to LSL but values in some of the capital's most expensive addresses are now firmly on their way down.
Four of the top five boroughs with the highest average house value now have average prices that are actually below their peaks of earlier this year. In three of the four, prices are five per cent or more below peak.
Meamwhile LSL's national house price index saw an increase of 9.6 per cent in the past year - although this collapses to only 5.2 per cent once London and south east England’s increases are removed from the equation.
LSL director David Newnes says the figures make the case for Help To Buy in an era when there are new affordability regulations and stress tests tightening mortgage approvals.
“Help to Buy remains a crucial link in bolstering first-time buyer demand. HTB may not make a difference in London, but it is a vital aid for aspiring homebuyers in parts of the country where prices are still regaining ground lost during the recession. Places like Lancashire and York are still experiencing annual growth below one per cent" he says.
- housing market
It just doesn’t stop. Each Friday we give a brief round-up of agents' charity work, and summer sunshine has only encouraged more of you, it seems.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
CARDINAL HUME CENTRE: £19,000 has been raised by a (freshly-rebranded) Chestertons team in Grosvenor’s 13th Annual Dragon Boat Regatta at Marlow. The agency set the fastest time in each of the rounds to beat 27 other teams to the coveted trophy.
CHARITY VOLUNTEERING: Staff from across five branches of Waterfords, in Camberley, Sunningdale, Chobham, Fleet and Yateley, have completed their first week of volunteering, after each agreeing to donate one working day to help in the local community.
The first team spent a day with Camberley-based charity Make-a-Wish Foundation. The team was tasked with helping to put together more than 2,500 fundraising packs to be sent out to supporters of the charity.
Another team of five Waterfords volunteers embarked on a day of manual labour at Frimhurst Family House in Frimley Green - a manor which welcomes disadvantaged families from all over the country for short respite breaks.
Gary Brook, Waterfords director, says the team “had an extremely tiring but very rewarding day. The team at Frimhurst Family House looked after us tremendously well and I am delighted that, in a very small way, we were able to contribute to such a fantastic facility.”
HELP FOR HEROES: Rook Matthews Sayer has been showing its support for our servicemen and women - staff have been busy baking and raising money from cake sales at branches, as well as donating £10 for every house sold. So far a whopping £6,263.33 has been raised.
- estate agents
Foxtons has received a strong endorsement from Credit Suisse which has given the controversial London agency chain an “outperform” status - effectively a recommendation for future investment.
The bank says its expected future target price for Foxtons shares is 400p - some 30 per cent more than their current price.
"We see Foxtons as a compelling investment case on valuation grounds, structural growth and capital returns," says Credit Suisse analysts Eugene Klerk and Harry Goad.
"Between 2014 and 2018 we believe Foxtons will double its branch network, deliver annual average earnings per share growth of circa 23 per cent, return circa 43 per cent of market capitalisation to shareholders in dividends, and maintain a net cash position throughout" they say in a market briefing.
Credit Suisse has added the stock to its ‘Small- and Mid-Cap Focus List’ for investors, adding that over a 10 year period Foxtons may well triple the geographical area its offices currently cover.
In April Foxtons reported a 44 per cent rise in earnings in the first quarter of 2014. Sales commissions were up by 41.1 per cent year on year in the first three months of 2014 at £17.6m driven by “significant” volume growth.
Foxtons’ expansion programme is one of the biggest in the residential sector: it has opened five offices this year at Greenwich, Beckenham, Earls Court, Stoke Newington and Harrow, with another planned for Croydon shortly and at least one at an unnamed location in the autumn.
Last week Nic Budden stepped up to become chief executive of Foxtons following the news that Michael Brown was stepping down for personal reasons after 12 years in the firm.
- Credit Suisse
Winkworth is opening a new office in Ramsbury, Wiltshire, under the auspices of the firm’s Devizes franchise holders, Simon and Lisa Jacobs.
The office aims to give Winkworth its first involvement in the well-heeled nearby markets of Marlborough, Pewsey and Burbage. The new branch will give Winkworth a more comprehensive sweep of this part of the west - there are existing offices in Newbury and Bath, as well as Devizes.
Winkworth’s chief executive Dominic Agace says his firm can use this office to tap into “the trend for relocation to country towns from the capital” while local franchise holder Simon Jacobs says all of his staff will be local with personal knowledge of the Ramsbury area.
Although Winkworth’s brand is expanding in terms of areas covered, the agency is still very much London-focussed. The firm generates 80 per cent of its revenues from London and has posted record pre-tax profits of £1.69m for 2013, which came after a 10 per cent rise in average sale prices by the firm.
Franchise giant Century 21 is beefing-up its UK management team as part of its bid to expand its current 21-branch network in this country.
Dani Roberts has joined as Franchise Development Manager having worked previously in the lettings division of the Shepherd Direct Group - the company which holds the Century 21 UK franchise licence.
Marc Lynch has become the operation’s Business Development Manager after running his own sales and lettings office for several years. His new role has a specific remit to develop existing and future London offices for Century 21.
Shepherd Direct acquired the licence to operate the Century 21 sales and lettings brand for a reported “significant seven figure” sum in April 2013. It is part of a portfolio of companies in the Shepherd Direct empire including Sesame Bankhall Valuation Services, Direct Valuations, Shepherd Chartered Surveyors, and moneyQuest Mortgage Brokers.
Century 21 was started in America and claims to be the world’s largest estate agency with 7,000 franchise offices and 100,000 agents in 73 countries.
- Century 21
- Shepherd Direct
A book-keeper at a Mayfair agency has been jailed for four years after being found guilty of stealing no less than £2m to launch a property business in Africa.
Mirriam Clark, 47, spent some of the money - stolen from Dowley Turner Real Estate’s office in Bond Street - on first class international air flights and private education for her children, as well as buying properties in her native Zambia and across England and Wales.
Southwark Crown Court has head that only £295,000 has been recovered by Clark’s former employers.
“This fraud was carried out over a three-and-a-half year period while the defendant was the book keeper for the property and real estate consultancy firm. The partners at the business had both known the defendant for 15 years, she having previously worked for the previous incarnation of the firm between 1995 and 2006” the court heard from prosecutor Charles Pentangeli.
She confessed to the thefts, which began in late 2009, after being sacked for work-related reasons in March last year.
The court heard that even if Clark’s properties are sold and the proceeds returned to DTRE, the firm may still be short of £700,000 as a result of the fraud.
- Dowley Turner Real Estate
Graham Norton is selling up and has used an innovative way of helping his agent publicise the property - by tweeting a link to the details to his 805,000 social media followers.
“Anyone looking for a house?” asked the celebrity on Twitter yesterday lunchtime.
The link with the tweet was to details of a large 2,200 square foot house set in five acres of grounds on the Sheep`s Head Peninsula near Cork. There is a slipway, spectacular views and a substantial water frontage.
It has a kitchen garden and landscaped grounds outside while inside boasts traditional stone floors and walls and timber beamed ceilings after being “tastefully extended and modernized over the years.”
The agent, Charles McCarthy, confirmed to EAT that this was Norton’s home.
But the asking price perhaps says more about Ireland’s still volatile housing market than it does about Norton’s no-doubt-flamboyant lifestyle - it’s on sale for a modest €1.2m or £953,000.
- Charles McCarthy
- Graham Norton
Four estate agencies have teamed up with a mothers’ organisation to provide a school catchment area property guide which could be a major influence on how parents look for new homes.
NappyValleyNet.com allows parents buying in south west London to check exactly which schools’ catchment areas a property falls within. It works in partnership with Primelocation, Marsh & Parsons, Hamptons, Savills and Douglas and Gordon.
Visitors to NappyValleyNet.com can view their local area with properties available to rent in blue, or for sale in purple. The catchment area of each school is shown as a highlighted circle, with the approximate size of the area shown – so users can see which properties fall within the catchment of which schools.
The search tool also shows different kinds of admission policy the school has; for example, schools with priority areas are shown in a different colour to schools which offer places to any child applying for a place.
Susan Hanage, says the information on the website is being augmented by “users’ own robust feedback on schools which they’ve been giving since 2009.”
“It’s an innovative use of Primelocation’s relationship with local agents” says the portal’s spokesman Jamie Jaggard.
So far there is no plan to expand this service outside of south west London.
- Catchment Areas