Agent Provocateur: Has the time come to rethink Home Information Packs?

Home Information Packs were first proposed back in 2004 and started gracing us with their presence in late 2007 – which was great timing obviously, given the impending housing crash.

I was a vocal opponent at the time, even if the thinking behind HIPs had merit.

The introduction was botched, adding cost upfront – which agents often ended up having to shoulder – and their usefulness was watered down.

Political will seemed to ebb away and eventually after a lacklustre career they were binned in May 2010 when the Coalition arrived.

As recently as April Fools’ Day 2016 one of the recent plethora of housing ministers suggested they should come back, and although there’s been chat nothing seems to have come out of the woodwork – yet.

Frankly, when agents face challenging times, moving costs are high and politicians are somewhat distracted, it’ll take a brave minister to think about it now.

Completely by coincidence I’ve been involved in no fewer than three discussion groups considering questions posed by the newly named Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government.

It is looking at ways to improve the home buying process from the point of view of those paying for or using services, i.e. buyers, sellers, landlords and tenants.

This includes how technology might help, how redress/regulation can be tightened/simplified and how the legal process can be strengthened to avoid unnecessary cost implications from gazumping and gazundering.

It seems to me that both the above can be largely answered by looking at some of the companies that now produce seemingly absurdly cheap solutions for agents requiring information about properties on which they are doing appraisals, stuff that’ll set them apart from competitors.

I’ve been staggered by how cheaply companies like Sprift and One Dome can produce data that would have filled a HIP.

Detail available at the click of a button can now include such niceties as tree preservation orders and a simple owner’s manual telling you who has done what to a property and when.

The usual legal bumf is a doddle.

One of the main issues in the past was cost, but no longer, and solicitors I’ve spoken to, and let’s face it if you’re going to speed the process up we know where the acceleration needs to come from, are somewhat puzzled as to why these companies haven’t been marketing to them?

I reckon there are answers out there but perhaps there are too many vested interests in the way to allow them to be seen?

Agent Provocateur: Alison Platt’s Countrywide missed a trick but at £1 it’s now a cheap buy

Last week’s news was dominated by what happened at Countrywide.

Running that business is not an easy job to have been doing and some brave decisions have been made along the way.

Providing a service fit for the next generation is a challenge and Countrywide’s sheer size, in an industry notorious for its unwillingness to change, makes things even tougher surely.

I, for one, wish former chief executive Alison Platt all the best and certainly feel that a company with so much inherent ‘rightness’ must be a cheap buy at £1.

Big companies can often have an advantage when trying new things.

Getting them wrong can be ameliorated across a bigger network and I think their decision to launch their door-opening fixed fee direct offering under the same brand as their local high street perhaps missed a trick — they are, after all, one of the few companies with a nationally recognised brand.

Launching under the Countrywide banner might well have yielded a better ROI.

Meanwhile, any hopes that Alison Platt’s departure would arrest the fall in Countrywide’s share price appear to have been dashed, after it fell to another new low yesterday.

The shares closed at 94.9p, dropping nearly 6% during trading, having recovered slightly from an earlier low of 92p.

Bringing buyers and sellers together

As an agent the very last thing I ever wanted to do was get buyers and sellers together.

There are lots of debatable reasons but it seems there is more of an appetite these days to solve issues directly, especially at a time when agreed to exchange times are at an all-time high.

My old friends at AVRillo have developed something I’m surprised we haven’t seen before.

When an impasse develops they simply get all parties, buyer, seller and opposing lawyer on a video conference.

If it has been done before I’ve missed it.

There are endless proprietary systems — Skype, WhatsApp, Viber etc — to facilitate this, most have used them anyway at some time and as a bonus it actually uses the 60% of visual communication that even a conference phone call misses.

Last week whilst on a dreaded conference call I actually heard someone snoring.

Such video calls can be made at any time now too, given that phones/tablets have all the functionality required.

Of all the things I’ve heard about recently aimed at speeding up the selling process — and there’s plenty of proptech out there trying – this simple first gen solution, allied to some good old-fashioned lawyering skills, is one of the best.

Outsourced viewings industry looks set to stay – and grow

The outsourced viewings industry looks to have established itself beyond doubt.

One provider, Access2View, has announced its 50,000th accompanied viewing in just under five years.

Ed Mead’s high-profile Viewber, now one year old, has already notched up 6,500 viewings.

Jim Johnston, managing director of Access2View, said: “We’re proud to have hit this milestone. We’re an independent business with no outside investment. We’re completely focused on quality of service and have reinvested all our profits into creating a system that integrates with our customers’ IT platforms.

“Based on the last few months, we expect to hit 100,000 viewings by the end of next year.”

He said customers include letting agents, traditional estate agents, housing associations and landlords, as well as online agents.

Mead said that in the first three months of Viewber going live, there were just 50 viewings undertaken for a handful of clients.

The businesss now has over 500 customers, including lettings, sales and auction businesses, plus property and asset managers.

There are now over 2,200 ‘Viewbers’, with the number growing at around 20 a day.

Highlights of the last year include a request for 188 block viewings in one go; the 30 minutes that was the shortest time between a requested and actual viewing; and the 5.45am request for a viewing at 8.30am the same day, which was duly carried out.

Mead said: “I always knew this service was part of the future and increasingly useful to busy agents and other industry players who face squeezed margins and increased competition.

“Agents, buyers and tenants can now expect service on demand, which is often late, at short notice or at weekends.

“Viewber can help support a business, freeing up teams to spend more time putting deals together and less out on the road.

“It has been a phenomenal year and it’s hard to believe we’ve achieved so much in such a short space of time.”

Below, the two co-founders of Viewber, Marcus de Ferranti, left, and Ed Mead