Spoilt for choice? You can’t beat a good recommendation!

RAN PLATINUM MEMBER LOGO TALLToday, we have more choices than ever before. From the half-fat, decaf, double froth cappuccino at your local coffee shop to the fifty shades of white available at your local DIY store (Chapel Porth or Dover Skies anyone?). When it comes to selling your home, selecting an estate agent is no different, except this time it’s not a £3.60 coffee you’re choosing, it’s someone to help guide you through the biggest investment you’ll ever make.

With so many agents these days, it can be daunting trying to work out which agent is right for you. How do you even begin to choose?

Like most choices we make, it’s always more reassuring to make one based on a recommendation. And for us, there’s no better recommendation than from Relocation Agent Network. They chose us to be the ‘Local Expert’ in Wellingborough, Irthlingborough & Rushden which means they not only recommend Richard James to every seller in the area, but also to the market leader in relocation services, Cartus, who relocates employees for their corporate customers.

Who Are Relocation Agent Network?

Relocation Agent Network is a national network of estate agents across England, Scotland and Wales and a division of Cartus. They search the UK for the very top estate agents to represent them as Local Experts and only invite one company from each area to join. So in East Northants, Richard James is the only estate agent to be selected.

Why Did Relocation Agent Network Choose Us?

The team at Relocation Agent Network has a list of strict criteria they look for in any of their member agents:
-In-depth local knowledge
-Quality customer service
-Proven experience in the marketplace
-Innovation in business
-Professionalism
… and as it turns out, we tick all the boxes. So if Relocation Agent Network – experts in estate agency excellence – chose us, why wouldn’t you?

Thinking of selling?

Through our Relocation Agent Network membership, we are able to offer sellers a completely unique channel of buyer that no other estate agent in East Northants can provide.

Visit https://www.richardjames.net/relocation-agent-network.php to find out more.

Contact us today 01933 224400 to find out more.

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Habitable Rules

HabitNew legislation means that tenants can now potentially sue a landlord who fails to adequately maintain their property.

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 means that tenants can take direct action over substandard property, rather than having to rely on their local authority to pursue a landlord who fails to adequately maintain it. Courts will not only be able to force landlords to carry out repairs, but can also award damages to tenants.

The scope of the legislation is wide-ranging, although it is primarily designed to prevent landlords forcing tenants to accept substandard, unsafe or unsanitary accommodation with issues such as blocked drains, damp walls, inadequate ventilation, lack of natural light, etc. This extends the requirements of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 as well as numerous other laws requiring landlords to ensure safety in respect of electricity, gas, fire, boiler servicing, etc. The governments existing Housing Health and Safety Rating System provides extensive guidance on this.

Of course, a good landlord would immediately respond to a tenant’s concern over, say, a dampness issue. But this could now go legal if nothing is done about it. The problem is those good landlords who have entrusted their property management to a letting agent who might not be so fastidious, as the landlord still retains liability. It could be costly to assume that these extended requirements are being adhered to – or even recognised.

In some ways, the easy part is finding a tenant – but it takes ongoing care, consideration and an extensive understanding of current and ever-changing regulations to ensure that a property investment is no only profitable, but legal too. We’d therefore recommend that landlords check their property now and if there are any doubts over their agent’s commitment to maintain it in a decent state of repair, do something about it.

There are of course commercial advantages to being a fantastic landlord with an equally fantastic managing agent; a happy tenant stays longer and pays more. Our rule of thumb is to ask “what standards would we expect if we lived there ourselves?” The answer to this question goes far beyond the minimum standards required by law. It means a clean oven, white grouting, a new shower curtain, fresh carpets, clean windows, no dripping taps, good furniture, nice paintwork, well-hung cupboard doors, a neat garden, etc.

Please feel free to call us on 01933 224400 for an initial discussion about how your tenants can expect to enjoy your investment as you as much as you should enjoy your return on it.

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Other Forces

Other ForcesThere was a day when a slight shift in the bank base rate or change in stamp duty could have a profound effect on property market sentiment. Yet the Bank of England’s continuing consensus to maintain interest rates at very low levels (albeit tweaked with the occasional 0.25% here and there) is possibly the strongest signal to date that the British property market is actually driven increasingly by factors other than such things. The general economy, oil prices, employment, and global issues have now largely replaced house prices as a driving force in the interest rate balancing act.

Until recently, most of us ignored the fundamentals of the national and global economy in our quest for advancement in the property arena; we focused wholly on the word on the street as to the future of the property market. We all became economic experts, sagely stating our semi-informed opinions on the future of “the market”.

Indeed, the term “the market” goes a long way towards demonstrating that we have become “market traders” over the years, rather than homeowners peacefully enjoying our chosen abode. “Get on, move on, bank the money” was the order of the day in the extended post-Thatcherite era.

But it seems that all that has changed – and for the better. The complimentary or divergent forces at work on the fate of house prices are now so complex and confusing that even the experts seem to be at a loss to know what is happening.

However, one thing is sure; most buyers and sellers today tend to have a sincere reason to move. They are less driven by “the market” and more driven by real-life reasons such as family issues, downsizing, a job move, leisure, convenience, practicality, and leisure. As an estate agent, the joy of helping people move is what it’s all about. Please do contact us on 01933 224400 if you’d like to us to be involved in your own property journey.

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March Market Comment

March CommentSensation sells! The press is having a field day with all sorts of Brexit-related headlines and claims about how the current state of confusion is negatively impacting on the housing market. The reality is that latest figures published by respected sources support our own view that it’s not quite a buyers’ market yet, even though, according to the Nationwide, house prices are just 0.4% higher than this time last year.

The latest Propertymark Housing Report found that NAEA members report a 2.3% monthly drop in the number of house hunters registered per branch. Yet, in the same period, property supply fell by 14%. So although there would appear to be a softening of activity, demand continues to significantly outstrip supply. So any talk of a property crash is substantially misplaced. Anyone thinking of selling this spring would be well advised to bring this forward asap!

Interestingly first time buyers now represent a record 50% of the market (source Halifax). FTBs have of course been encouraged by the government’s Help-to-Buy scheme as well as SDLT concessions. Nevertheless, the market has historically been fed from below, and people who sell their property to a first-time buyer often become second time buyers themselves, prompting further up-line activity. This activity is likely to be further stimulated if up-line sellers become increasingly willing to accept a lower offer on their property.

Rents continue to rise, with around 26% of tenants experiencing a rent increase in January alone (source ARLA), making home ownership an even more attractive alternative.

This is supported by the latest English Housing Survey from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) who report a slight rise in the home ownership rate, which now stands at 63.5%. More people owning means more people buying and selling.

The economic fundamentals for a sustainably robust property market are very much in place – employment is at a 40-year high, interest rates remain incredibly low and affordability has also increased. According to Private Finance, ten years ago, the average mortgage borrower could expect their mortgage to account for 43% of their monthly income; today this stands at just 31% with payments around 13% lower too, despite soaring house prices.

In terms of sentiment, around 59% of Brit are expecting to see property prices rise over the next three years (source AnyVan survey), against 41% not expecting a rise. This suggests the perfect balance for a “keep calm and carry on” approach – generally positive and mildly inflationary. Maybe spring has come early this year!

Needless to say, if you’d like to take advantage of the market, even if only to see how it could potentially affect the value of your home, please feel free to ask us round for a chat. It’ll only cost you a cup of coffee.

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Low up-take of online estate agency

online blogSome local sellers have approached us to sell their property following a less-than-impressive performance by an online alternative to “proper” estate agency. Although it is always tempting to say “I told you so”, we wouldn’t be so harsh with someone who has just been through the mill with the wrong choice of agent.

And it seems they are not alone. In fact, a survey* of over 14,000 sellers, the largest ever undertaken, has demonstrated that 93% of people would prefer to use a real, human estate agent.

Those sellers who chose to use a traditional agent were asked whether they had considered an internet-only alternative; 30% had, due to apparently cheaper fees, but then decided against. Seventy per cent of sellers said they didn’t consider using an online agent.

Despite the fact that so much of our world is now online – and often all the better for it – most people recognize that this does not generally apply to effective estate agency. For example, 38% of sellers using a “traditional” estate agent said they did so because local knowledge was very important to them. Thirty five percent appreciated the value of a face to face relationship with their agent (which of course offers far greater personal accountability), seventeen per cent cited the importance of a local high street presence and 10% said it was simply more convenient than some presumably faceless online alternative.

It would seem that the only attribute an online agency has to offer is the temptation of an apparently cheaper fee (this was the main reason why 74% of those who used an online agent decided to do so). But beware! This can be a substantial false economy as most online agencies charge up front, with no incentive to actually sell your property! Additionally, automated models cannot fully understand the nuances of local values and online agents are seldom involved in the psychology of selling, negotiations, sales progression, chain chasing, liaising with solicitors etc.

These observations are also well supported by actual results. According to recent research conducted by The HomeOwners’ Alliance, the top 1000 high street estate agents typically sell 82.4% of homes listed with them (in 21 days on average), as opposed to just 51.9% of homes listed with an online agent (in 43 days on average). The top 1000 agents also achieved a 4.5% higher sale price v asking price than the online alternative.

Further research by city consultancy Jeffreys has projected that even the “hybrid” model of agency is unlikely to achieve even a ten per cent market share in the next two years.
Choosing the right estate agent for your property type is an important decision, so don’t be tempted to cut corners; as most sellers will confirm – it usually ends in tears!

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The Advertising Myth

AdvertisingIt would not be unreasonable to assume that as a property comes onto the market, the instructed estate agent will post the property details on various property portals and wait for the enquiries to roll in.

However, this approach is somewhat simplistic! We take a much more strategic and proactive approach to handling new buyer enquiries. There is a fallacy surrounding adverts in that many people think that a property sells as a direct result of the publication of its corresponding advertisement. This is simply not true in most cases.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of buyers who enquire about a specific property do not go on to buy it – they buy something else instead. This is because only limited information can be conveyed in an advertisement, such as price, location, accommodation and condition. Yet the decision to buy is usually much more complex, and is something that cannot adequately be assimilated until the buyer actually visits the property.

So while it is important to choose an agent that advertises extensively (eg, we feature our clients’ properties on a number of portals including Rightmove, Zoopla, etc), it is more important to choose an agent who knows what to do with an enquiry than simply putting the buyer on a mailing list!

A good agent will use good ads to attract buyers, and then use their skill, training and judgement to help the buyer identify the right property – which in all probability will not turn out to be the one about which they enquired. This effective method is one of the reasons why we enjoy such an excellent ratio of new applicants to sales agreed, which is of course to our clients’ substantial advantage.

Why not join them? Please feel free to call 01933 224400 now to arrange a confidential appraisal so that we might provide you with highly relevant strategic marketing proposal.

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February Market Comment

FEBIt’s a funny old thing, the British housing market. Just when you might expect the political uncertainty prompted by the “B” word to dull the market further, it leaps! That’s the way things look from where we’re standing anyway! Not only have we experienced an extremely strong start to the year, both in terms of new instructions and offers agreed, but this appears to be supported across the board.

For example, a founder of MyHomeMove, a major conveyancing firm, reported that they had received (and processed) some 1,400 conveyancing enquiries last weekend alone! Surely this is an indication of a market that has decided to keep calm and carry on moving! This is mirrored by a 5.3% increase in mortgage approvals complimenting a 5.8% decrease in remortgaging (source UK Finance Data). In other words, people are once more moving rather than improving.

Along with the inevitably optimistic perspectives of your average estate agent (although nobody has ever accused us of being average) these are front-end figures that take a snapshot of how the market is right now – not Building Society completions or Land Registry figures (often four to six months months out of date), nor ONS figures (based on the Land Registry). Our instruction levels are up, our offers are up and our sales arranged are up. Even some prices are up too!

According to the NAEA, the stock of properties overall is also on the rise – by 20% on last year and the highest it has been for four years. However, we do not expect this to negatively impact on house prices, as there is still a lot of pent-up demand, especially from people who thought the choice of properties to buy was limited; so they sat tight. But now they are moving again with the NAEA reporting that overall demand is up 13% on this time last year.

The confusion and uncertainty of Brexit has effectively lasted two years. People are now tiring of it, and are clearly refocusing on getting on with their lives. As ever, the economists missed this one, so if your intention is to consider a move this year – you might just want to bring that forward a bit and take advantage of what appears to be an early spring to kick-start your plans. And when you’re ready, we’ll be here to help. It’s what we do!

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January Market Comment

January Maket CommentThe media would have us believe that the property market is nursing a New Year’s party hangover. Certainly the issues that influenced the market during 2018 remain, such as Brexit-related confusion, lack of supply and affordability problems for first time buyers. And whilst the media does love to scaremonger, they tend to ignore, the perhaps rather boring reality, that the UK property market is actually surprisingly resilient.

Property has always been generally low-risk and any annual capital appreciation over 3% can be regarded as a bonus. For most people, property is a home more than an investment – albeit a tax efficient one. Most homeowners are quite satisfied if the value of their property more or less keeps up with or exceeds inflation, which, even over the turbulent year of 2018, it has. The latest ONS figures suggest that the average UK house price has risen by 2.7% over the last year, compared with inflation of around 2.2%pa.

But what’s in store for 2019? As far as we’re concerned it’s very much business as usual and we’d even go so far as to say that all forecasts that quote projected figures can be ignored, as even the “experts” cannot agree – nobody knows what will happen with the Brexit mess, let alone any effect on the property market. Just look at the spread of 2019 house price forecasts from the following authorities, who are no better informed over the outcome of Brexit than the man down the pub:

Capital Economics: 1% up
Halifax: 2%-4% up
Hamptons/Countrywide: 0.5% down
Hometrack: 2% up
JLL: 0.5% up
Office for Budget Responsibility: 3.1% up
PWC: 2.8% up
RICS: 0%
Home.co.uk : 1% down
Rightmove: 0%
Savills: 0.5% up

History tells us that it is confidence levels that tend to exert the greatest influence on supply, demand and prices in the property sector. If the confusion over the past 18 months has not had a significantly detrimental effect on the market, then this surely proves that the market is reassuringly robust, and buyers and sellers alike need not worry about making a wrong move, as the market is unlikely to either rocket or crash.

Perhaps of more interest to home-movers over the past year has been the failure of internet-only estate agencies, with around a third of the top names no longer trading. According to Which?, over 92% of sellers prefer to use a “traditional” estate agent than any online alternative. The lure of apparently cheap fees turns out to be a classic false economy, not least because these low-value agencies have no incentive to proactively sell a property for the highest price. Additionally, in a low-volume market, chain management becomes paramount and it seems somewhat ridiculous that sellers should entrust the sale of their greatest asset to a DIY platform. Most people realise that it’s not just about finding a buyer!

Here at Richard James Estate Agents, we are very much looking forward to the year ahead. We thrive on challenge and delivering creative, results-driven, solutions for local homemovers. A final word of caution though; this year, if you’re thinking of moving, don’t wait until the Spring, as you may find yourself competing with too many other sellers jumping on the bandwagon, thereby suppressing prices. Just a thought – and please feel free to call us for our personal attention and an accountable service on 01933 224400. Happy New Year!

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Buyers Warm To a Real Fire

FireThe fireplace was traditionally the heart of every home, but changing lifestyles over the past four decades have relegated many of them to the scrap heap, with many families choosing to huddle around the TV instead.

However, the fireplace has seen a huge resurgence in popularity as a design feature among buyers, so if you are considering selling, it might be worthwhile investing in a fireplace or revamping your old one before going on the market. There’s a huge choice.

If you are replacing a bricked-up chimney breast with a fireplace, here are a few things you may wish to consider:

• Check that the chimney actually works. Many have been capped, and in some cases the chimneybreast on the upper floors has actually been removed altogether.
• If you don’t have a chimney-breast, a solid fuel stove can sometimes be installed, even using a horizontal flue through a ground floor wall.
• If you live in a smoke-free zone, make sure you buy the appropriate fuel.
• Don’t feel you necessarily have to find an old fireplace for an old house. Many people feel that contemporary fireplaces can complement traditional surroundings.
• A fireplace in a large bathroom is a particularly luxurious selling point.
• An instant and more practical alternative to solid fuel is a real-flame gas fire using ceramic coals. Note that you may need to line your chimney and have the emission levels professionally checked.
• How about a gel fire? This recent innovation using bio-fuel can usually be burned safely in a fireplace even if the chimney itself is sealed as there are no toxic fumes.

So why not embrace the pleasures of a real fire that gives warmth and comfort and is a more sociable alternative to the TV as the focal point of any room? It could help you sell your home!

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December Market Comment

December Market CommentAs we approach the end of the year we find ourselves in politically turbulent times, with the Brexit debate continuing to undermine confidence, but only slightly. Certainly there are some scary concepts being tabled, not least the Governor of the Bank of England suggesting that a no-deal Brexit could trigger property price falls of up to 35%.

Far be it for us to argue with the Governor, but this rather dramatic suggestion relies on a) a no Brexit deal and, b) drastic falls in transaction volumes which are already relatively low as there are very few speculative sellers in the market. Most current sellers have a genuine reason to move – marriage jobs, divorce, children, debt, etc, and these situations are unlikely to be especially affected by any Brexit outcome. In fact, anyone likely to be affected by the long-running Brexit confusion already has been. There are still far more prospective buyers than sellers (especially as it is generally cheaper to buy than to rent) and this is unlikely to change unless money supply were to dry up. This is very unlikely as banks are becoming increasingly competitive to secure any potential fall in mortgage business. Remember, prices only fall when there is an over supply of stock in relation to demand.

Sales to first time buyers, especially, continue to rise and now represent over 23% of the market.

In terms of house prices, whilst Prime Central London may have already dipped by nearly 15% in the past four years, these properties are being sold by extremely wealthy individuals for whom a dramatic price reduction that enables a quick sale is hardly painful, but gets the job done! For everyone else, it’s business as usual, although potential wobbles in market confidence suggest that sellers would be well advised to listen to the advice of a trusted agent – not one who seeks to flatter with an over-optimistic asking price.

Certainly this is the wrong market to be sitting on a property that goes stale on the market, as buyers seek to take advantage of negative media reports, whether of not they turn out to be true! We always find that those properties that sell first tend to achieve the best price too. It is also essential to ensure that your agent is particularly strong in their buyer qualification and sales progression activities; glitches down the chain in a nervous market must be avoided at all costs.

Confusing times? Maybe. But hey, Christmas is round the corner and we look forward to helping our clients take advantage of the traditional spike in buyer activity over the festive season. Happy Christmas to buyer and seller alike!

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