Agents with their very own period properties – more beautiful offices

Who doesn’t like a beautiful period property with a bit of history and heritage?

Some agents clearly have so much enthusiasm for them that rather than just selling them, they work in them too, as our continuing search for the most beautiful estate agent offices reveals.

First of all, Paul Lucas, operations manager at Butters John Bee, sent us an image of the firm’s 16th century, Grade II-listed office in the town of Nantwich, Cheshire.

“With the second largest collection of historic buildings in the county, Nantwich can trace its origins right back to Roman times and was even mentioned in the Domesday Book,” Paul explains.

Even in Nantwich, there can’t be all that many historic buildings with a bright yellow front door, though.

Meanwhile, Vicki Wright, partner at Henry Adams, which has 16 offices across Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire, sent us this image of its Storrington branch in West Sussex.

The Georgian building is well over 200 years old and was once thought to be the finest home in the village. The last private resident moved out in 1930 and the building entered a new phases as commercial premises, Vicki tells us.

Acquired by Douglas Ross, estate agents, the first-floor rooms were leased to solicitors and the gardens at the front turned into car parking. Henry Adams has been using it as an office for the last 20 years, and coincidentally, solicitors still operate upstairs.

We’ve already received plenty of examples of beautiful offices. Please keep them coming and we’ll continue to feature them on EYE.

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Property drought drags on with ‘no sign of rush to market’

The New Year has opened without any sign of a rush to market.

The warning is from Rightmove, which today also said that the number of sales agreed fell 5.5% in the final quarter of last year compared with the same period in 2016.

It also said that stock per branch remains stubbornly low between December 3 and January 6, and that average new asking prices are now nearing £300,000 – at £297,587.

The property portal reported a 9% jump in traffic (over 4m visits per day) compared with a year ago.

Rightmove said buyers are price-sensitive despite the shortage of supply.

This is just as tight as it was last year, with the level of average overall stock per estate agency branch (including under offer and SSTC) between the start of December 2017 and the start of January 2018 static at 42 properties. Some 40% of properties on agents’ books have already been sold subject to contract.

Rightmove has this month updated the way in which it measures stock per agent and now calculates the average based on the number of properties an agent has on its site each day across the month, rather than the average of the total number of properties each agent advertised during the month. It also includes data for Scotland for the first time.

The average price of a property coming to market was up by 0.7% month on month to £297,587, which was similar to the 0.6% month-on-month rise during the same period a year ago.

London recorded a year-on-year fall in prices of 3.5% for the period to £600,296, with the number of newly-marketed property up 1.1%.

New asking prices in some regions were up by as much as 4-6%. Prices in the west midlands rose most, by  5.8% (making the average asking price £214,163), followed by the north-west at 5.5% where the average asking price now stands at £187,134 (see map below).

Properties suitable for first-time buyers have the greatest chance of sales success thanks to last autumn’s Stamp Duty cut, according to the portal.

The price of a first-time buyer’s typical target property of two bedrooms and fewer rose by 1.1% during the month to £188,024, ahead of second-stepper properties at 0.4% (rising to £266,380) and top-of-the-ladder homes at 0.8% (making the average asking price £519,852).

Rightmove director Miles Shipside said: “There is no sign so far of any rush to come to market and try to sell, with the number of new-to-the-market properties holding steady against the same period a year ago at around 63,000.

“With no increase in fresh supply, and an overall average of 40% of properties on agents’ books already sold subject to contract, would-be buyers in some sectors and locations of the UK are seeing less choice to tempt them, fuelling some localised price rises. While potential buyers are still busy looking, they are looking for good value and the right property.”

Offering an agent’s view of January so far, Chris Chapman, divisional managing director of estate agency at Andrews, said: “Our sales data so far this year suggests a strong return to house buying activity particularly evident across our network in Oxfordshire and the south-west, where buyers are showing significant interest in three- and four-bedroom family homes.

“Of course, the Chancellor’s recent announcement that Stamp Duty would be removed for first-time buyers of properties of up to £300,000, or on the first £300,000 of higher value properties up to £500,000, is the focus of much attention in terms of the impact that it’s having on the market.

“Whilst it hasn’t, in our experience, resulted in a huge spike of first-time buyers entering the market, it has certainly created increased interest from purchasers who had previously felt unable to take the first step on to the property ladder.”

Aspirant trade body CIELA to make come-back with self-policing register of agents

Aspirant trade body CIELA (the Charter for Independent Estate and Letting Agents) says it is compiling a list of legally compliant agents, ahead of what it insists will be its launch.

And it has warned that it will forge ahead with the idea whether agents co-operate or not.

In a rambling announcement to members last night, written by founder Charlie Wright, it revealed the development of a free online facility in co-operation with HMRC, Companies House, the ICO (Information Commissioners Office) and redress schemes that will allow anyone, agent or member of the public, to check the legality of any agency operation instantly.

Wright said the industry needed to police itself in order to restore public faith in residential agency.

He said: “For as long as I can remember, nothing has improved public opinion of residential agency. Every time new legislation is suggested, it reinforces the public impression that agents can’t be trusted and need more new laws to force them to behave.

“The internet has made it easier for new agency businesses to open, with ever-lower standards of service, professionalism and competence (even from the good-intentioned), reflected by the ever falling fees. There are of course some exceptions and sometimes brilliant new agencies open up.

“Having listened to every conceivable view, and accepting that government legislation does nothing to help, there remains only one option: self-regulation, or in plain language, the naming, shaming and ousting of the rogues.”

He dismissed the work of established associations NAEA and ARLA to improve the image of the industry, arguing that their purpose is to promote their own members as trustworthy, “with the implication that non-members cannot be trusted”.

He said: “This worsens the public view that there are indeed untrustworthy agents out there.”

The launch of CIELA’s list will be phased, allowing all agents the chance to confirm and prove their compliance at no cost before any lists are published.

CIELA will then publish a “comprehensive public register” of all known legal operations, as well as listing suspected illegal operators once they have been confidentially notified and given a chance to rectify compliance shortfalls.

But the body, which doesn’t officially launch until April this year, said it wouldn’t need agents’ direct co-operation in order to establish their legality, at least in the case of incorporated companies. In the case of sole traders, it may not prove to be so easy.

Wright said: “This means that the launch of this facility will happen regardless of any opposition. As yet, we have not heard a single reason why this is not in the interests of the industry as a whole and the public.”

At the same time, he also issued a call for new members to the organisation, with pre-launch membership costing £35 per month plus VAT.

CIELA has previously asserted that the number one concern among agents is the public’s negative impression of the industry, “caused by the illegal conduct of many small independent agents, compounded by the Government’s failure to enforce existing laws and further worsened by the failure of any existing organisation to take effective action”.

It sees its role as policing the industry and will provide a free downloadable “certificate of integrity” for compliant agents and also provide a “snitching” facility for agents to anonymously report firms not following regulations.

CIELA was originally supposed to launch towards the end of 2017 but delayed this by six months, blaming a lack of support.

Propertymark freezes cost of NAEA and ARLA subscriptions and CMP levy

Propertymark is to freeze the cost of membership subscriptions this year and will not increase its Client Money Protection levy.

The current cost of ARLA Propertymark and NAEA Propertymark membership is £230 a year, plus a one-off application fee of £50 for member, associate and fellow grades.

The CMP levy remains at £340 for this year.

EYE asked Propertymark if the number of CMP claims had changed over the past year and it said they were “as anticipated”.

The professional body said it had also struck an agreement with accounting firm the Letting Partnership – an ARLA member – to enable members to save money on their annual accountant’s report.

The service, for members who have a financial year-end date of December 31, 2017, or beyond, means that they will pay £250 plus VAT for the Letting Partnership HealthCheck.

Propertymark claimed this represents a £750 saving on the typical £1,000 cost of an accountant’s report, based on its knowledge of what a number of companies charge, together with wider anecdotal evidence and discussions with members.

David Cox, chief executive of ARLA Propertymark, and Mark Hayward, chief executive of NAEA Propertymark, said: “With the increased financial pressures faced by members, particularly with the impending tenant fees legislation, we are committed to reducing the costs incurred for members while making sure they have the best services available to help run their businesses efficiently.

“We’re therefore really pleased to be working with The Letting Partnership, enabling our members to use their HealthChecks.”

Jennifer Markham, chief executive of The Letting Partnership, said: “The Letting Partnership was created with the express purpose of supporting and promoting professionalism within the property services industry specifically in the area of client accounting and client money protection.

“Our HealthChecks have already proved to be the quick and definitive way to confirm that client money is ‘in safe hands’ and we are delighted to be able to offer this service to Propertymark members as a cost-effective alternative to accountants’ reports.”

No evidence of Purplebricks contravening reviews guidelines, says Trustpilot

Reviews website Trustpilot has clarified its policy on postings amid concern by agents over the validity of posts about Purplebricks, stating that the online agent hasn’t breached any guidelines.

Agents have taken to Twitter in recent months to question why certain Purplebricks reviews have been removed and how genuine some are.

Trustpilot said its investigations haven’t identified any behaviour that contravenes its guidelines.

The online agent says all reviews, positive and negative, are validated to ensure they are genuine, and Trustpilot says the firm has reported more four- or five-star reviews than one-star ratings.

In an attempt to appease “a small handful of individuals” who raise regular queries on Purplebricks’ posts and Trustpilot’s policies, the reviews website has issued an open letter detailing guidelines for how posts are monitored.

The open letter says the Trustpilot platform is “open to all” and reviews aren’t pre-moderated, while incentives to leave positive reviews are forbidden. Additionally, it says companies can’t pay for reviews to be removed.

Any company or individual can report a review it believes to be incorrect or libellous.

The letter said: “When reviews are reported by companies they are temporarily taken offline and investigated carefully.

“When those reviews are found to be authentic and compliant they are reinstated. Reviews only remain offline when the consumer does not provide the further information requested after a week.

“Should a consumer’s review not meet our guidelines then they have the opportunity to edit their review to ensure compliance (for example, by removing foul language).”

The letter says fake reviews are treated seriously and consumers can be banned for persistent violations, while businesses can have notices added to their profile or be suspended.

Read the full open letter.

Average estate agent’s fee sinks to 1% – how low can it go?

The average estate agency fee has fallen to almost exactly 1% excluding VAT – and is likely to fall further, despite mounting costs for agents.

Peter Knight, of the Property Academy, said that moving off the high street and/or going ‘hybrid’ would not be a solution for most agents because of their marketing and staffing costs.

In the 2017 Home Moving Trends Survey carried out for this month’s EA Masters event, 5,838 home sellers were asked about fees.

Knight said: “In simple terms, you can break things down into three thirds.

“One third pay more than 1%. One third pay less than 1%. And one third pay 1%. The average fee is now, as near as damn it, 1%.

“And as if this isn’t concerning enough there’s a worrying trend – the fees are going even lower.

“Those currently selling are paying less in percentage terms than those who have sold within the last 12 months.

“This confirms data Stephen Hayter of My Home Move shared with me that estate agent fees fall between 0.1% and 0.15% every 12 months.

“On that basis, in the first quarter of 2019, the average fee could be as low as 0.75%.”

The study of home movers showed that relatively few (30%) were selling for over £1m, and most (60%) were selling for £250,000 or less.

Knight told EYE: “This is the tenth year we’ve surveyed people who are currently selling a property and we’ve seen a marked reduction in the average fee.

“In 2011, 76% of sellers were paying in excess of 1%, whereas today it’s just 31%.

“We will be sharing further insights from this survey and also two others, the 2017 Landlord Survey and 2017 Tenant Survey, at the EA Masters.

“In addition, we will also be revealing insights from our 30,000 mystery shops for the Best Estate Agent Guide and highlighting what it takes to be exceptional.”

Knight said the continuing reduction in fees cannot continue – “unless the industry is prepared to experience even greater levels of change than those of the last few years”.

He said the main costs of staff and marketing are going up, not down: “So, while a small saving can be achieved by leaving the high street and working from a conventional office, or from home, or going ‘hybrid’, this isn’t enough to compensate for the reduction in fees.”

Knight said that the subject will be tackled at the EA Masters on September 22. There are just 50 tickets left for what will be the largest estate agency event ever staged in the UK.

Details here – where you will also find a rather stirring short video about the Best Estate Agents Guide, also to be part of the event:


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

New instructions drop almost 6% across UK year-on-year

New listings were down last month by almost 6% on August the year before, and down 13.1% on a monthly basis.

Analysis of new listings on website Home has shown that in 100 UK towns and cities, supply dropped on a monthly basis in two thirds of places.

The biggest falls were in Coventry (down 33%), Winchester (31%), Salford (28.5%) and Oxford (25.6%).

In London, supply was down 22.3%, with the highest monthly fall in Richmond at 42%.

The analysis was done by HouseSimple, whose CEO Alex Gosling said: “Few people will be concerned by the drop-off in new listings between July and August.

“More of a concern is the 5.9% drop-off when comparing last month with the corresponding month in 2016. Supply continues to be a major issue.

“The property market needs a strong September after a subdued period since the general election.”

The Land Registry has said that transactions in the second quarter of this year fell 12% on an annual basis across England and Wales. In the 12 months to the end of the quarter, there were 844,380 transactions – the lowest since the same period in 2009/10.