Why leading agents love a tougher market

dinnerreservationI booked a restaurant last week for my wife and I. Like all things nowadays I had the opportunity to book a table online and as I’d visited the restaurant before I knew the exact position and table I’d like. It wasn’t a special occasion like a birthday but was ‘special’, as like most people with children and a family, we were celebrating being able to actually do something on our own for a change!

I took the decision to phone and book. I got instant rapport with the waiter I spoke to and yes, on my arrival we were met by the same guy and shown to the table – he remembered our ‘you’ve managed to escape from the kids’ conversation. At the end of the meal he got my thanks and a modest but appreciative tip. 

This week whilst in the office I’ve been wondering about my choice of phoning versus booking online. I guess it’s a question over communication and connection with your potential customer. If I hadn’t spoken to anyone in the restaurant I may’ve got the same table but without making that personal connection it may’ve been given to someone else who did.

Making that ‘connection’ is just as important in estate agency. Over the last month or so I’ve seen more and more people visiting our two Plymouth branches. Some are Sold stc, yet many have not put their own properties onto the market – what they have in common however is that they all couldn’t find anything new that matches what they are looking for available online.

When the market gets a little tougher, simply thinking that placing your property onto the internet will get you moving is now not enough. You may get a buyer, but if you are buying onward and in the middle market (not a cheaper investment property with no chain or a much, much larger property where the owner is likely to have a second residence to move into), you’ll be like well over 80% of sellers who need to find a property to move into.

NOW is exactly when good high street agents earn their money. Putting a face and story to a name means that a good agent will start to chain build. Having a buyer in mind before you even visit a property to value and knowing that you also have a buyer in mind for their own. This comes with experience, knowledge of the industry and having the ability to be able to talk to people in a relaxed environment.

But what if I am going to go into rented? Unfortunately the rental market is just as lean as the sales market for quality property. You can see why some people stay put.

Like I’ve always said, marketing the property is the easy part but when the market gets a ‘little tougher’, that’s when your choice of agent could pay dividends or unfortunately leave you wanting.

It’s funny to think that being able to walk in to an office and speak to a professional and knowledgeable person is fast becoming a real point of difference when choosing who to market your home. But that is exactly what seems to be happening across the City.

This is and will continue to be a testing market, but likewise having been in the industry ourselves for over 4 decades, we have seen differing markets before. Good agency, chain building, clever and innovative ideas to sell houses and win instructions will be key. Being able to simply build rapport and a working relationship is just as important.

The upside for High Street agents like us here at Mansbridge Balment is exactly that…… buyers and sellers need a point of contact, a place to talk to an expert, discuss strategy and get an intelligent view from an Agent who thoroughly understands his or her patch.

Simply thinking that placing your property onto the internet will get you moving is now not enough. Talking to an agent face to face and explaining your requirements over a cup of tea could make all the difference.

Do you take sugar?

 

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What does the future hold for house prices in Plymouth?

There have probably never been more factors at play in the UK property market than there are right now. The national market is pausing for breath as it reaches the end of the cycle which started with the credit crunch. 2016 saw stamp duty changes as well as the Brexit vote, and the impact is very much still being felt. The result of the election has added to the uncertainty surrounding the economy.

Now that Brexit negotiations are getting properly underway, it will be interesting to see if it has any further direct effect on the market. Since the original vote, interest rates were dropped to 0.25 per cent to support the economy. This has resulted in property prices rising nationally by 7.2 per cent – and we expect them to grow by a further 6.6 per cent over the next 12 months. Locally, prices in Plymouth have increased slightly too due to the lack of property available and buyers competing to gain a purchase. This is of course good for sellers but not so good for buyers – especially if you are in a chain – as often properties are being sale agreed to those without a chain, thus presenting a lesser risk to the seller.

So why are we so bullish about the market in Plymouth? Well the data shows us that in the second half of 2016, sales levels were 1.6 per cent higher than the first half, which is even more impressive when we account for the stamp duty rise in April of that year. Based on market trends, we expect the price of the average home here to reach £173,300 by the end of 2018.

Projecting future price trends is never straightforward. The construction of new homes impacts on this heavily; residential developments will often increase the value of other properties in the area due to the way valuers use ‘comparables’. Other important aspects they consider when determining the future value of property are upgrades to travel networks and new businesses opening in the area. With several developments ongoing in the City it is generally good news for many resale properties in those areas.

The future looks bright for the local property market; now is the time to think about getting on it if you’re not already, especially while interest rates remain so low.

If you would like to sell your property, pop into one of our two Plymouth offices 7 days a week for a friendly, professional chat with one of our local experts. We’d love to help.

Buy now – but pay later?

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I’ve been helping out in my aftersales department this week and I must say it’s massively strengthened what I already knew – that we are so lucky to have our own dedicated department to chase our sales. It’s no coincidence that so many of our glowing reviews on www.allagents.co.uk individually mention our fantastic members of staff.

Whilst it’s great to be voted ‘The best agent in Plymouth 2016’ by our customers on this Independent review site, little is known of the real turmoil that is starting to have an effect on the Industry.

Poor practice through estate agents and solicitors is nothing new of course but through my own Regional N.A.E.A role I was made aware a year ago of some concerns nationally over the impact that new, well publicised companies with National TV exposure and coverage were having on the industry.

The problem is not in losing potential property Instructions, but when these companies are involved in a property chain. I’ve talked previously about chains falling through because vendor’s time expectations are not being established from the outset and poor or non-existent financial checks. Those valid shortcomings aside, I’m seriously concerned at bad practice hurting the Industry that I, Mansbridge Balment and other likeminded companies in the City do so much to maintain high standards in.

What help to the industry is a central aftersales department who won’t answer the phones or a central email address that won’t reply to emails at any point along the sales process?

And why an earth would an ‘Estate agent’ want or need to speak to anyone in order to get a sale through to exchange and completion if they’d already been paid upfront?

It’s a sad state of affairs and something that both the National Association of Estate Agents and Local Industry Associations are keen to address. Similarly distressing is that I’ve been made aware of contracts signed by sellers being marketed with these companies that are not Industry standard ‘NO SALE, NO FEE’ estate agent terms of business – some say it is akin to a ‘Loan agreement’, effectively meaning the vendor is in debt whether or not the property achieves a buyer. This is of course not good for the seller and certainly not good for the industry as a whole.

Anyone who knows me or has read this blog knows that I love new ideas and fresh concepts. I openly encourage new ideas in the industry as without them we become stale and uninteresting to our potential customer base – so this is not about that. But in the cold light of day I work in an industry that despite every sinew of common sense shouting ‘we need regulation’ – it isn’t happening. And it won’t happen soon. Because of this I can seriously see agents in the not too distant future ‘turning away’ offers from buyers who have Sold stc but have properties involved in their chain with poorly run, national companies included.

Until the government puts the Estate Agency Industry sector as a high priority, self-regulation could possibly become the norm. If this is the case you’ll certainly be reading more about agents and buyers favouring sellers who have sold with more traditional agents. Agents you can speak to and who want, and need, to see the sale through to completion. Agents who want repeat business and want to build lasting relationships.

Everyone is open to choosing who they want to sell their home through and as long as you are aware what you are getting into then fine, I wish you luck.

Just remember that if you ‘Buy now’ you sometimes don’t pay until much later – but you will pay.

Let’s hope that in time it’s the industry that doesn’t end up counting the real cost.

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get. Even the Victorians knew that!

You can learn a lot from the past. Not far from my City Centre Office is a wealth of Victorian architecture and along with the common acceptance that the age created the foundations for ‘Modern Britain’, the Victorians seemed to have it ‘licked’ when it came to the meaning of ‘Value’.

For me, one of the most prominent social thinkers of the time, John Ruskin, captured it beautifully when he stated –

“It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”

Don’t get me wrong, there will always be a place for ‘cheap’ in the world. Businesses like the Pound Shop or similarly named are successful because they offer what they promote – cheap goods. Buyers rarely visit to purchase something that has a long life, is of the highest quality or something that could be given as a special gift. Unfortunately in other business fields there is often a big difference in what you get, compared with what you expected to get – and it’s rarely positive.

A friend of mine recently chose a local garage to fix their car. Phoning around for quotes they went for the second cheapest. What should’ve been a simple job became a long and complicated one, where lack of expertise and knowledge ended up costing him far more money (and perhaps more importantly time). My friend is not a fool but ended up feeling like one. He’ll say it himself that he knew that it was a gamble and if the original garage had been capable of doing the work agreed, to the correct timescale and pricing, he would’ve saved some money. Unfortunately it very rarely works out this way of course.

The same could be said of selling your own property (usually your biggest asset) and making sure you get the right agent from the outset. With so many agents claiming to offer ‘everything’, often there isn’t a clear picture on perceived value for what you pay.

I’ve spoken about it in a previous post but both locally and nationally in the Estate Agency Industry it is something that perhaps needs greater clarification.

A low fee may initially be enticing but that’s usually because there are a smaller number of people (1 or 2?) to pay a wage to. Even the most capable people in the industry cannot answer the phone whilst undertaking a viewing, valuing a property, chasing solicitors, giving a vendor a marketing update, answering phone calls, replying to email and website leads, booking viewings, valuations, 7 days a week etc, etc – you get the picture.

“If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”

You can learn a lot from the past.

I don’t want to market every property.

There, I’ve said it. It’s a bit of a statement I know – in a world where every estate agent will tell you that they ‘want’ your property (without even knowing about you, your property, your own needs and your own timescales).

Sometimes it takes experience to say, NO. Perhaps the prospective seller does not ‘value’ the extra services a company like Mansbridge Balment offers and simply wants the lowest fee, the vendors expectations on price are too high or on odd occasions we feel that we simply could not work together with the vendor – sometimes the right decision for both parties is to not get involved in a ‘partnership’ at all.

And that’s what selling a home is – a ‘partnership’ – one where the Seller does their part and the Estate Agent does theirs. A lot of people forget that.

When I first started out valuing property for a different company (many years ago) I was told about the 3 point triangle rule – (1) Great property at the right price 2) Realistic vendors 3) Good fee for the services the company offers). As a valuer if you could get two out of the three points ticked, then you took the instruction.

It seemed a simple premise to begin with but actually, my early days as a valuer came with it a lot of pressure to win a listing and I’ll be honest enough to say that I took on a few properties that I should’ve steered clear of. Hindsight and experience now shows that it would’ve been so much better and easier, to stay truer to those three points. I can blame some of my early mistakes on enthusiasm of course but those three key valuing points are perhaps more strongly relevant than ever.

As I write, the market is property scarce, meaning the possibility that properties try over optimistic prices just because there are more buyers out there. But buyers are not stupid. Many of these properties linger on the market jumping from one agent to the next until someone stands up and says what is wrong with the property or owner mindset.

It’s a massive generalisation of course, but the people who successfully achieve a sale on their own property to good timescales are those who are straightforward and easy to deal with, those that have honestly looked at pricing and made their own property competitive and those that know the difference between what they pay and what they get.

This is the same if the property is niche or difficult to sell because of its situation, design etc. Most negativity against estate agents is due to having the wrong advice from the outset and subsequently the ‘relationship’ turning sour. In many instances an individual / company have not delivered on what they promised. For myself and other Independent Full Service Estate Agents like us here at Mansbridge Balment, being truthful from the outset is the key to success. Sticking to your own knowledge, experience, comparable Sold properties and ‘common sense’ can mean ‘trust’ is built from the outset and we can get the right price, from the right buyer to the right timescales.

Experience shows that we don’t want every property and we don’t want to ‘help’ everyone. We can then use all our focus on those sellers who see value in what we do when we ‘go above and beyond’ selling their home.

It’s a selling ‘partnership’ with honesty from the outset. It’s Mansbridge Balment.

When is an ‘Estate Agent’ not an ‘Estate Agent’?

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I’m going to perhaps surprise you. Being an ‘Estate Agent’ is not just about advertising your property and getting someone to offer the right price.

Just 2 years after we opened in Plymouth in 2004, 7500 Estate Agents sold 1.8 million houses nationally. In 2015, the number of agents had boomed to 18000 ‘Agents’ selling the lower figure of 1.2 million houses. Out of those properties Sold in 2015, statistically 95% of houses were sold by a ‘FULL SERVICE HIGH STREET ESTATE AGENT’ like ourselves.

I was speaking to a one such agent the other day about emails coming through on the internet from websites such as Rightmove.co.uk. He had actually been able to drill down information to such an extent that he could state that well over 75% of people that emailed about a specific property – ended up buying a different property with his company.

This is not only a testament to having the right amount of trained staff to be able to ‘sell’ a better suited alternative property, but for me, yet another key indicator of the INCREASINGLY WIDER GAP that is happening within the Industry itself.

You can’t seem to go a couple of weeks without seeing another ‘Agent’ opening up in the City these days. Being established in Plymouth ourselves for almost 15 years, we know how hard it is to be a successful independent business and I don’t have a problem with a new company opening. My irk however is often in the majority of those new companies using the words ‘ESTATE AGENT’, when clearly ‘Sales Agent’ or ‘Advertising Agent’ would be a far clearer reflection of what many offer?

Of course, if you are not offering the FULL SERVICE you should not be paying FULL PRICE – so I understand people choosing to go with low-fee agents. But when they purport to be the same as every other offering it is totally mis-leading. Many have no experienced staff to answer the phone, no knowledge of the local market, no after-sales team in-house you can speak to or visit, No financial and chain checking, no care, no attention, no customer service – no clue..

Whilst many sellers will be happy with what they’ve got for a seemingly low fee (and acceptance that the customer service bar was set at a low level to start off with) – classing differing levels of service etc under the same ‘ESTATE AGENCY’ banner, causes confusion to the general public and dare I say, is a threat against those agents offering the FULL ESTATE AGENCY SERVICE – career ‘ESTATE AGENTS’ like ourselves here at Mansbridge Balment and others in the City.

So, let’s be honest about this. Advertising your property for sale and gaining interest, even an acceptable offer, does not make you an Estate Agent. It is about so much more and all ‘ESTATE AGENTS’ are not the same.

If you are thinking of moving make sure you really delve into the detail of what an agent does for the fee you pay. You’ll find out that not only are there are some strikingly different offerings out there – you’ll also find out that you get what you pay for too.

Year of ‘Optimism’ ahead?

I was fortunate enough to witness Plymouth Argyle play so admirably against the mighty Liverpool FC last Wednesday night in the FA cup replay. Over 17,000 fans were willing the Green Army to level the cup tie and take the game into extra time – but alas it wasn’t to be. But what a great spectacle and event for the city. I came away from the match proud of what my City had done on the pitch and optimistic that the good showing against a stronger team can push Argyle onto promotion.

I like Optimism. I’d say personally I am typically an optimistic person and Mansbridge Balment are ambassadors of ‘Optimism’ if you like. We are also realists and will tell it how it is when needed to of course and 2017 is fraught with possible dangers for the housing market. Possible interest rate rises, ‘Brexit’ hanging around the corner looking to strike, but regardless of whether you voted to stay in or out in the last referendum, if you look for problems or potential reasons not to do something, you will find something.

There are those that could state that Liverpool only put out a ‘youth side’ albeit a few exceptions and Argyle couldn’t even beat them – but I’ve never been a person to listen to ‘nay-sayers’ and I always sail on the coat-tails of optimism. Having the right mind-set can get you a long way in life and it’s amazing how a change in mood can affect people’s attitude towards things.

Estate agency is no different. The appetite to move is typically enhanced when jobs and the economy are secure and people are at a good place in their life (a successful football team further enhances the feeling too of course!) The optimism of an exciting ‘new chapter’ can be a beautiful thing to be involved in.

We’re just waiting for the final property price data to come through from 2016 but our estimates still show strong numbers. Stats show that the market in Plymouth is changing compared to previous years. Based on Land Registry, Office of National Statistics and Resi-analytics trend information we estimate that 801 flats, 1815 terraces, 742 semi-detached and 290 detached properties were sold in Plymouth during 2016. Taking a longer-term property view against the last decade, sale levels in the City paint a promising picture moving ahead (see graph below).

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I’ve spent long enough in Estate Agency to know that there is no point worrying about things that are out of your control. The market is moving well. Although we’d always like more, our offices have a healthy stack of new properties and a list of eager new applicants have registered looking to purchase. Whatever the impending Brexit and the knock-on effect it brings, let’s be mindful of it and other things that may happen in the near future when making decisions, but not let it rule our life choices.

Now back to football and the prospect of Plymouth Argyle playing in the Premier League in 3 years time? Too optimistic? There were those who said they’d never get a draw against Liverpool in the first leg weren’t there?…