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As we approach Valentine’s Day it would seem that there’s a fair bit of love involved in estate agency! Estate agents are, if anything, matchmakers after all. And just as people fall in love with the right person, so buyers also need to fall in love with a property if the sale is to succeed.
Just as a good matchmaker will not put people on a database and expect them to enter into a long term loving relationship, so our job is far more than a simple broking service. That’s why we go to great lengths to understand our buyers’ needs, preferences, hopes, desires and aspirations in respect of their future home. Only through this understanding can we guide them to the right property.
Is the property market up or is down? This month, more than ever, the answer depends on who you speak to.
For example, according to the Land Registry, a total of 850,281residential properties were sold during 2017, which is a clear 14.6% fall on 2016 (although still 30% up on the low-point of 2008). In respect of properties listed as flats, terraced, semi-detached or detached, London was hardest hit at -27% and so was Manchester, supposedly the new kid on the “where to invest” block at -24%.
However, the problem with relying on Land Registry data is that it is seldom a true reflection of what is actually happening today. The recorded data is published at up to a month after registration of completion, which can be up to two months after actual completion, which is usually a month after exchange, which is often two months after the sale was agreed. That’s a total of up to six months after the sale was agreed. That’s a long time when the market can turn on the slightest change in public confidence based on a host of economic and/or political indicators!
Whilst estate agents may extol the virtues of triple aspect rooms, double garages, or south-facing gardens, it’s usually the smallest of detail that makes a house irresistibly a home for us. A lovely client of mine told me this week that during the viewing of her current home, she noticed a deer and it’s fawn in the field behind her garden. She was absolutely charmed, and they decided to buy the house at once. So it may be the way the sunlight streams in through the kitchen window, or the sight of a robin on the garden gate. These little but captivating images are extremely powerful, and can easily tip a wavering viewer into making an offer.
So how can a seller use these details to make their house more appealing to buyers, and give themselves an advantage over the competition?
Photography – instead of the photographer taking lots of wide-angled shots of the main rooms (yawn), encourage him/her to photograph some evocative details: a roaring log fire, a jug of Pimms on the garden table, horses in a nearby field, a freshly baked cake on the kitchen table.
Add atmosphere to the viewing – use the same approach when it comes to viewings; add atmosphere and a sense of homeliness with clever touches. Try some subtle music playing during the viewing, put some breadcrumbs out for the birds just before they arrive, add a reading corner with a comfy chair, lamp and a good book laid as if only just put down.
Paint a picture – if you conduct your own viewings, describe to your viewers how you use each space. For example, how you love to cook whilst watching the kids play in the garden, how you walk to the nearest pub on a summer’s evening, where you put the Christmas tree. If you can help your viewers to visualise the house as a home, you will give them the best possible chance to imagine themselves living in it.
Try making a list of all the things you love about your home, and plan how you can use these to turn your viewer into a buyer.
This November has seen both an increase in interest rates and the abolition of SDLT (Stamp Duty) for first time buyers up to £300,000. Certainly the nominal 0.25% interest rate increase is unlikely to cause most homebuyers a problem. However, this first rate rise in a decade might be regarded as a tipping point for further increases in the coming year and the market remains subdued. This is despite the apparent windfall for first time buyers, which will almost certainly turn out to be inflationary.
Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced the removal of SDLT (Stamp Duty) on all sales to first time buyers under £300,000 in his autumn statement. This is clearly great news for first time buyers, especially those paying the full £300,000, who pocket a tidy £5,000 towards their new home.
More realistically, the saving made by the average first time buyer, who typically pays around £163,000, is just £760.
I’ll tell you what you aren’t selling people – bricks and mortar. Let me explain.
The Chief Executive of Black & Decker once said: “People don’t go into a DIY store because they need one of our drills. They go in because they need a hole in a wall.”
What is it that you are really selling when you put your house on the market?
The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee has just announced a rise in the Bank of England base rate of 0.25% - the first increase in over a decade.
The base rate is the figure on which mortgage rates in particular are based and a whole generation of aspiring homeowners will be wondering what to make of it. Well panic not – although the base rate has effectively doubled, 0.25% remains a very small increase and simply returns us to the same 0.5% rate that had been in force between March 2009 and August last year, when it was dropped in response to the Brexit referendum result.
I spend a lot of time thinking about and discussing the differences between full-service high street estate agents and self-service, low-cost online agents with clients and peer groups. There are the inevitable fee comparisons, real people or computer algorithms, doing your own viewings and conducting negotiations yourself or viewings being pre-qualified and accompanied by an experienced, highly skilled sales negotiator and how this might affect the price you achieve. These and I suspect many others.
But something happened the other day that I hadn’t considered and is hugely significant in this debate!
There is a very different vibe to the property market from last month, with many reports suggesting that the market is rapidly changing from being a sellers’ market to what is starting to look a lot like the beginning of a buyers’ market in some areas (although nobody has told our Lock and Key office yet…shhh!)
The latest survey by the RICS reports a 20% increase in the number of their members who reported a fall, rather than a rise, in buyer demand last month. This is the sixth month of reported falling buyer enquiries. This is partly substantiated by Rightmove reporting an annual fall of 5.9% in the number of sales agreed.
“Moving House” may be the term we commonly use, but moving HOME is surely a better description for one of life’s more stressful experiences. Few changes in life, other than a relationship, can stir such emotions.
As a leading estate agent, we are effectively “agents of change” and whilst our natural focus might be to help people move in a practical sense, we find we can be most effective when we really empathise with our clients.
In my opinion it is strange to think that a home is just bricks and mortar. Home is so much more than that…