Thoughts on the local market for 2016 and the year ahead for Simpson and Partners
Following on from a very good 2015 for the company when our results towards the end of the year were our best for 7 years, I’m looking forward to an even better 2016. Certainly, things have started off very well for us and we have seen a really buoyant start to the year’s housing market. Stock, that is houses coming on for sale or rent, is still something of a problem with potential buyers outnumbering sellers. But I see a move here as owners who have been biding their time are increasingly recognising that appropriately valued and professionally marketed property is selling really well at the moment and they are beginning to move towards the market themselves. As more properties come on, so the variety of stock to buy increases and this in turn speeds up the whole market taking some of the uncertainty out for sellers and buyers alike.
Of course, not all agents are enjoying the same success as Simpson and Partners and whilst we have been pro active and concentrated on building on our core strengths of professionalism, customer service, creativity and innovation, others have suffered during 2015. The increased competition from new high street agents together with the apparent increase in online agents activity has caused a dramatic drop in business for some of the more established names. It really is a case of when competition increases the real strength or weakness of a company’s offer becomes apparent. For example, whilst we have actively promoted our in house professional photography service, a proven route to attracting buyers to your property, many other agents have dropped theirs to save costs. Likewise, whilst we have been through a complete rebranding and office refurbishment programme during 2015 others have stood still hoping that “more of the same” would be enough to see them through their difficult times. And it shows doesn’t it.
We’re immensely proud of our new branding which we believe represents in graphic terms the maturity and focus of our company. Our original branding, whilst it went through a number of subtle changes, was essentially the same as when I first launched the company, in Kettering in 1998. It was incredibly successful for us and our purple and gold livery has become the most recognisable across each of the areas now covered by our 11 offices. But we wanted to send a clear message to the market that we had no intention of resting on our laurels as being the areas leading independent estate agent and so whilst we have retained the classic colours we have produced a whole new, contemporary look. We never stop looking for ways to improve our service to our clients and we hope that our new branding exemplifies that relentless ambition to be forward looking and to be better than the rest. The response so far has been terrific.
We’ve also had a great response to our new website which went live for the first time in November. Yet again, we set out to do nothing less than produce the best website of any agent and I believe that we have done just that. We’re still developing some of the features but the overall aim of being able to get anywhere on the site within three clicks has been realised and over this year we will be working hard to build on the platform we’ve created to improve our online offer to clients even further.
On the subject of online activity, I have already mentioned an apparent increase in online-only agents influence as part of a changing pattern in the housing market, an offer based on the promise of supposed very low cost. Well, what is in fact very low is their market share, around about 3 % of the total market and it’s not hard to see why. Anyone who has sold a house through us will know that the relationship between your agent and yourself is absolutely crucial, not only in setting out with the right valuation and marketing plan but of course in the potentially stressful and uncertain negotiations and completion of the sale itself. No online only agent can provide anywhere near this level of service, particularly if you opt for the basic package that will be attached to headline grabbing low cost. You only have to look at the list of extra cost options on offer to see how those low costs don’t cover any of the services that experience tells you are essentials rather than luxury add ons. Many of the online onliers are now having to look again at their fee structure and some are ditching the idea of the up front, low cost payment as disgruntled clients have complained, quite understandably, that poor results may have something to do with lack of motivation once the initial fee has been handed over.
That the online revolution that has characterised the change in retail habits so extraordinarily over the last couple of decades might be applied to estate agency is no surprise. Over the last 10 years or so, I have looked carefully at whether or not Simpson and Partners could offer something along these lines and have concluded that as things stand the online only model just cannot deliver the levels of service that I know our clients require and expect of us.