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PropTech Today: ‘Don’t blame us, we are not the problem – you are’

PropTech Today: ‘Don't blame us, we are not the problem - you are’

I had a wry smile when I read the article on Monday from the conveyancers complaining about people getting off their backs. It was quite fun.

The comments were also interesting. There is a serious disconnect between both sides and it is not going to resolve itself. Each side is blaming each other.

I am sorry to say that this issue is not going to go away anytime soon, quite simply because no one is managing expectations.

• Conveyancers need time to do what they have always done.
• Estate agents don’t have time, and perhaps don’t have the visibility to rest their impatience and frustration at the process taking so long.

It is that simple. That is the frustration. No expectation management and no visibility in understanding the process from both sides.

One comment from Tim stated: “Meanwhile IT this and that nonsense is floated about as some kind of solution or ‘tips for speeding up conveyancing’, which in the hands of a mediocre conveyancer does nothing.”

I might add a mediocre estate agent doesn’t help either, if you view it from the other perspective –  but let’s not digress.

Technology can help if systems are there to help and I know a lot of work from the government is trying to push through reforms to help conveyancers do their job, particularly around searches BUT let’s look at it with today in mind.

Technology may not help completely with the process itself but it can help, I believe, with managing expectations and clearly pointing out where flaws in the process (or conveyancer) exist.

If we can offer transparency to all sides, it may lessen the frustration and may allow the agent to manage the buyers and sellers to make for a more fluid transaction with less chance of falling through.

It may also keep the agents off the back of the conveyancers. But I can’t promise.

Let me explain.

Many, many firms focus on the quick wins of improving the transaction experience – I might even suggest the UK leads the way here given the sheer volume of companies that exist.

The ability for people to search for their next house. The ability to view the chosen few and then how to make the offer process more efficient.

Anybody can really get involved there. It is simple to understand, and easy to develop for.

Post-offer acceptance, it gets super complicated and more difficult for people outside of industry to understand what the hell is going on.

And this is the problem. When you put insecurity into the equation, it breeds frustration and concern into a transaction. Then everyone gets jumpy, estate agents get nervous of deals falling through and they put the pressure (and the blame) on conveyancers.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned the speeches I give and brought in my example of how iBuyers give ‘certainty’ to transactions.

This current argument – and it is just that – speaks to a second trend I mention. Transparency.

When I give these speeches, I generally try to make the companies I then showcase relevant to the audience I am speaking to. Yesterday, it was a Canadian conference and so the majority of companies were either Canadian or American.

The slide below shows some of the firms from yesterday’s presentation. You can see the iBuyers there with the American and Canadian slant. Then there are those that give transparency in the transaction process.

You will note they are only British firms. That is because we have leading firms that are helping the process. We should be embracing firms like these to help streamline this difficult time to aid both sides of the market.

Only 10 days left to beat stamp duty holiday deadline – claim

Only 10 days left to beat stamp duty holiday deadline - claim

Delays across the house buying sector mean those wanting to benefit from the stamp duty holiday need to begin the buying and selling process by November 1.

That’s the advice of the Legal & General Mortgage Club, which has tracked delays occurring because of the high transaction volumes in recent months.

L&GMC says in the majority of cases before the pandemic, a mortgage application for a consumer with straightforward circumstances took less than two weeks  to move to mortgage offer.

However, since the UK-wide lockdown ended, this process is taking much longer – around a third of its mortgage advisers told the club it was taking three to four weeks with a further third saying it is taking four to eight weeks. Those applicants with more complex backgrounds, such as those with impaired credit histories or who have been on furlough, may typically need six to eight weeks to get approved for a mortgage.

Conveyancers have told L&GMC that the time between offer and exchange is now taking three weeks, while the period between exchange and completion stands at one to two weeks. Responses from estate agents also indicated that the average time between receiving an offer on a property and completion has increased by some eight weeks.

The overall timeline for home buying, therefore, could be up to 15 weeks for a straightforward deal or up to 17 weeks for buyers with more complex requirements.

However, this figure does not take into account half term and Christmas holidays nor the impact of a possible second lockdown.

Legal & General therefore advises buyers to begin their search by November 1 to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday to give themselves enough breathing space should any issues arise before completion.

“Policy makers need to consider if a tapering of the Stamp Duty deadline is needed instead of a hard deadline. We need to avoid those moving or purchasing a home missing out through delays after 31 March when the holiday ends” says club director Kevin Roberts.

Working From Home – what buyers want, and where they want to be

Working From Home - what buyers want, and where they want to be

Agents in some parts of the country may be able to make use of data from utilities comparison service uSwitch, which has drawn up working-from-home information for buyers.

Its remote working index taps into the trend of some people seeking to move from major cities to other locations where they may get an improved quality of life, especially if they are to spend more time at home because of the continuing pandemic.

Harrogate in Yorkshire emerged as the best place to work from home, with its combination of superfast 60Mbps broadband, large amounts of green space in the area, low crime rates and good schools.

Other locations in the top 15 are Bath, the Mendips, Derry City and Strabane, Wigan, Cheshire, St Albans, York, Edinburgh and Swansea, plus St Helens, Cheltenham, Basingstoke, Stockport and Exeter.

In comparison, big cities fare poorly – Birmingham 82nd, London in 88th place, and Manchester ranked 100th out of 104.

A uSwitch spokeswoman says: “The pandemic has turned our working routines upside down and given many of us a taste for what our lives could be like if we worked from home on a more permanent basis.

“With the likes of Derry and Wigan so high up the list, it shows how different our priorities are once we are liberated from having to worry about the length of our commute.”


See how many leads your competition are generating in your area

When choosing a new place to live on the assumption they were working from home, 53 per cent said house prices were most important, followed by green spaces (45 per cent) and broadband speeds (34 per cent).

A fifth of people want to spend more time working from home even when the pandemic is over, and one in six employees want to work from home full time when life returns to normal.

People generally want to move from cities and larger towns to smaller towns and villages.

One in four currently live in a city of more than 500,000 residents, but only one in nine wish to do so in the future. Conversely, the proportion who live in a village is only 15 per cent but rises to three in 10 who would like to do so.

Industry Redundancies: Agents Together launches support programme

Industry Redundancies: Agents Together launches support programme

Agents Together, the wellbeing and mentorship service which came into existence earlier this year, is launching what it calls a Redundancy Bounce Back Series.

This is a month-long virtual event aimed at supporting agents worried about losing their jobs or already redundant.

“We know that estate agency and the property market has been more buoyant since lockdown but the three month cease of trading has caused some significant issues across businesses” explains a statement from Agents Together.

“As uncertainty continues and the prospect of a second round of lockdowns loom we felt it was our duty as a charity focussed on a healthy mind that we help those most in need” it continues.

The organisation – set up by Michael and Kenny Bruce with the involvement of key industry figures including chief executive Sarah Edmundson and high-profile consultants Mike Day and Chris Watkin – says that in the past two months across the whole UK jobs market some 227,000 losses have been reported.

The Agents Together series is supported by some of the best known recruitment experts in the industry including Josh Rayner, Nicola Broomham, Iain White, Russell Humphrey and Andrew Deverell-Smith.

Other experts joining in during the month include Stuart Perkin, head of people at the new Bruce brothers portal, Boomin.

More details can be found here.

Key dates include:

Today, October 16: Official Launch of the Series;

Wednesday October 21, 1pm: Webinar 1 – How to make your CV and LinkedIn profile stand out from the crowd;

Wednesday October 28 1pm: Webinar 2 – How to prepare for and win your interview;

Wednesday November 4 1pm: Expert Panel – A chance to ask the experts anything about redundancy, CV’s, interviewing, and maintaining a healthy mind.

Agents Together is also setting up a support group on Facebook from early next week – where it will be a safe environment, with experts on hand to answer any important questions around redundancy.

There may be trouble ahead…Mortgage lending to get tougher

There may be trouble ahead…Mortgage lending to get tougher

A Bank of England survey suggests it may be more difficult for prospective buyers to get a mortgage later this year.

In the BoE’s latest quarterly Credit Conditions Survey, lenders reported that credit to households – including mortgages – increased slightly in the three months to the end of August. Much of this was driven by greater demand for mortgages as a result of the stamp duty holiday.

However, those same lenders have told the Bank that while demand for both house purchase credit and remortgaging would probably increase in the next quarter, it would more difficult for borrowers to take out a mortgage.

This is because increasingly-cautious lenders are considering tightening lending criteria – and that’s despite a call from Prime Minister Boris Johnson just a week ago for more relaxed mortgage conditions for first time buyers.

In response to the warning shots from lenders, Joshua Elash, director of property lender MT Finance, says: “As the economy deteriorates, and unemployment numbers continue to creep up, adverse credit could seriously impact the availability of credit to the average household.”

And Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, adds: “Borrowers who have found it harder to get a mortgage will not be surprised to hear that lenders tightened criteria in the third quarter and expect to tighten further in the run-up to the end of the year. Concerns about the impact of the pandemic on earnings and what will happen to property prices, particularly for those borrowing at high loan-to-values, is behind this growing caution.”

According to Jeremy Leaf, the London estate agent who is also a former residential faculty chair at the RICS, the figures demonstrate the strength of increase for house purchase mortgages in the third quarter after lockdown ended and the SDLT holiday began.

The Bank of England carries out the credit conditions survey each quarter, but individual lenders’ views are not necessary Bank policy. The latest survey was carried out between September 1 and September 18.

Agency bought by hotel group pledging jobs growth

Agency bought by hotel group pledging jobs growth

An estate agency in Lancashire has been taken over by a hotel group, which pledges to expand and create more jobs.

Mikhail Hotel and Leisure Group is to takeover David Davies estate and letting agents in St Helens.

The firm plans to make its new acquisition one of the largest agencies in north west England.

Mikhail has become a major investor in the region’s hospitality and property sectors and recently bought one of Europe’s biggest gaming arcades in the area.

David Davies Sales & Lettings is one of the oldest sales and lettings businesses in the North West and was founded by the late David Davies in 1981.

Mikhail has now joined this brand alongside David’s wife, Paula Davies, who remains in place as an executive director of the company.

Andrew Mikhail, chairman of MHALG, says: “I am very excited to have bought such a prestigious business in St Helens and keeping Paula involved in the business was crucial to me. Paula was David’s rock both within and outside of the business for the last 21 years until his untimely death last year.

“I got to know David and Paula extremely well in the later years as I used their services and was so impressed with the way that they conducted their business that it was such an easy decision to make the purchase.

“I will grow David Davies to become one of the largest Sales and Letting agencies in the North West, growing a business on a 40 year solid foundation, thanks to David and Paula Davies and their team, makes my goal achievable.”

Paula Davies adds: “David Davies is a great business with brilliant staff who have worked with us for a long time, but we have been through a lot in the last 12 months and it’s a credit to the team that we are in such a good position now.

“David and I have known Andrew for many years and know he can offer the company a bright future. He has a lot that he can bring to the business, but importantly for us, he acknowledges the existing brand and wants to take that further.

“It’s already a very strong St Helens brand but there are now big plans for the business, and I’m delighted for the staff because they really deserve for this to happen.”

New “sellers portal” pledges to improve on Rightmove and Zoopla

New “sellers portal” pledges to improve on Rightmove and Zoopla

A new portal-style PropTech product has launched and wants to recruit estate agents to its fold – despite describing the way agents work now as “outdated.”

Vyomm is a portal that currently operates as a showcase for a small number of high-end homes on sale or to let but ultimately wants to operate across a wider market.

The platform enables landlords and vendors to upload details of properties before then offering the listings to ‘winner’ agents who effectively bid for the instructions.

The sellers or landlords who have created property profiles and uploaded photos and other information, then wait to receive the agents’ bids, valuations and indications of a marketing strategy.

The portal charges agents only when a home is known to sell via the platform.

A spokesman for Vyomm told Estate Agent Today: “The way estate agents work is quite outdated. So imagine an Airbnb type of technology but for property and selling.”

Vyomm is the brainchild of businessman Utsav Goenka, who has married into the Mittal steel family; the product has been five years in development.

Publicity for the product says: “We all enjoy a good story, novel or movie, and in the social media era, people are telling their own stories every day, forging connections and stimulating emotions. In an ever-crowded, noisy property market, the art of story-telling holds key.

“Vyomm launched to fast forward the property market with its unique technology, which took five years of development, leveraging the power of visual narrative. By showcasing homes and presenting them with modern visually appealing images and videos (think Instagram and Airbnb), viewers are immersed in the visually rich living experience of the home and emotionally connect to it.”

Three high-end agencies – Carter Jonas, Beauchamp Estates and Sotheby’s International Realty – are “embracing Vyomm’s technology” according to the firm, which is first operating in London’s premium market but has “a view to go global.”

In a section of its website aimed at attracting estate agencies to sign up, Vyomm claims: “Zoopla and Rightmove have been presenting properties much the same way for over a decade. Vyomm changes all that. Browsing a home on Vyomm is as close as you can get to experiencing being there. You not only attract more buyers, but also the right ones for each property, allowing you to close more deals in less time.”

And on the site the creator, Utsav Goenka, writes: “As resources become available on a tap, and marketing and sales converge in a digital, social media-driven world, large corporate agencies are starting to look a lot like Goliath – big and powerful but slow to move.

“The independent agent is the David – small, but savvy and agile. With the right technology platform and support channels, they are ready to go forth and carve out their niche in the market.

“It’s not a question of who will win, as perhaps there is place for both. Only one thing is certain! The high ground shall belong to those who embrace the future by engaging the technology and tools that differentiate them and set themselves up to better serve the market.”

Agency abandons online-only strategy by opening High St office

Agency abandons online-only strategy by opening High St office

An estate agency in the south of England has abandoned its online-only strategy and has decided to open a physical office in a local High Street.

Open House Brighton Coast, which has been operating for five years, has stepped out of the virtual world because of what it calls “growing demand and ongoing success.”

Owner Neil Standing says: “Demand from both buyers and sellers is strong and we’re seeing properties sell faster and close to or above asking price. Given the challenging world we’re living in, it’s great to see our industry thriving and we felt the time was right to make the local investment in Peacehaven with our new office serving Brighton, Saltdean, Peacehaven and Newhaven.”

Co-founder Stuart Foster adds: “In November we’re launching a 360 degrees ‘virtual tour’ service for vendors, making it easier for potential buyers to ‘walk through’ properties before a Covid-19 safe viewing of the properties they’re interested in making an offer on.”

“We continue to support our local businesses during these unpredictable times and wish Neil and Stuart the very best of luck with this enhanced service.”

Agents are ’spivs with tape measures’ says angry press article

Agents are ’spivs with tape measures’ says angry press article

A right wing magazine once edited by Boris Johnson has called estate agents “spivs with tape measures” who conceal information from buyers.

In an article about leasehold properties the veteran Spectator contributor Ross Clark accuses agents of not wanting to tell buyers the remaining duration of leases on leasehold properties.

“So often when I see details of flats on Rightmove, there is no word whatsoever on any of these matters. It will just say ‘leasehold’. Even when I have rung up the estate agent he or she often doesn’t have a clue as to these details — or they don’t want to part with them” says Clark, who in the past has contributed on property matters to the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph.

He claims in The Spectator that in the 2000s the much-criticised Home Information Packs would have required agents to disclose leasehold lengths –  but that part of the pack’s provisions was abandoned because of wider opposition to other elements of HIPs.

“Estate agents should be bound to provide all the crucial details. They should have to tell you the length of the lease, who owns the freehold, how much the ground rent is and whether it rises with inflation or by doubling, and who manages the common parts of the building. They should be able to email you the full lease on request” insists Clark.

He says agents are more interested in telling prospective buyers about the brand of dishwasher in homes, and he laces his article with heavy sarcasm about agents.

In addition to the “spivs with tape measures” jibe, Clark calls agents “Kevin Whitesocks” and “the sharp-suited middleman in the Vauxhall Astra.”

His only praise for the profession appears to be because of the technology used in recent times.

He concedes: “Many have indeed become very good at offering good floor plans, fly-through videos and the like. The ability to get a good idea of the layout and the state of a property before you commit to viewing it saves everyone’s time.”

Market Boom: Sales agreed so far in 2020 surpass last year’s figure

Market Boom: Sales agreed so far in 2020 surpass last year’s figure

The total Sales Agreed in 2020 so far has overtaken Sales Agreed up to this point in 2019, despite the Coronavirus crisis.

Property consultancy Twenty EA also says New instructions this year is 92 per cent of those reached at this point in 2019, despite the market lockdown.

On top of that Twenty EA says the market should prepare for a surge in exchanges, although these are currently running 25 per cent behind last year’s rate.

The consultancy says although there was a form of ‘Boris Bounce’ early in the year, the growth in Sales Agreed numbers really started as soon as the English housing market reopened.

That was sustained when the stamp duty holiday was announced, but the holiday itself does not appear to have led to a major spurt in Sales Agreed – at least so far.

“The stamp duty holiday did not make a massive difference to the volume of sales agreed on a weekly basis – certainly not enough to show clearly in the overall numbers. What we don’t know is what the graph would have looked like had the stamp duty holiday never been announced” says the consultancy.

It goes on to say: “In usual times, we would expect sales agreed will revert to normal demand levels when buyers believe that they cannot complete on a property purchase prior to the end of the stamp duty holiday on March 31 2021. It appears this realisation may dawn on many purchasers about the same time as the furlough scheme ends.  Could this be a double blow to consumer confidence in early November?”

Twenty EA says there are two other key triggers that important to examine – New Instructions and Exchanges.

“We would expect 2020 to have more New Instructions than 2019 by the end of the year. Presently, 2020 is 92 per cent of 2019” it says.

“2020 has only currently seen 75 per cent of the Exchanges seen in 2019 year to date. But … it will start to rise rapidly as these sales were agreed just after the reopening of the English market. Essentially there is a simple lag effect on Exchanges.”

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