A Question of Property: Liz Brown, MD of Connells, Midlands

Nigel Lewis talks to Liz about online agents and how the region's housing market is in a world of its own, including new homes sales up by over 30% year-on-year.

How big is your part of Connells?

I look after 55 branches and approximately 140 staff in the Midlands for Connells including land, new homes, mortgages services, sales and lettings.

Are online/hybrid agents making headway?

They were during the first six months of the year when the market was more buoyant, and the instruction-to sale conversion rate was high up at the 80%. It’s then that we saw a considerable take-up among vendors for hybrid agents.

But as the market has become tougher, so this has changed. Vendors are realising the hard way that in more difficult markets, you need a little more expertise and proactive support to achieve a sale. You’ve got to know your customer base much better and be able to be able to put chains together.

We are picking up instructions from online agents, which fall into two categories. These are either failed online attempts to sell – people who’ve tried online and haven’t sold and who are then seriously annoyed when they have to pay twice.

Then there are the people who do get an offer via a hybrid-type agency listing, but the sale goes nowhere, and they have to abandon the offer and start again with us.

Overall is the Midlands property market thriving or diving?

On the one hand we’ve got a thriving economy with good employment and salaries, particularly in and around Birmingham which is a real hot bed at the moment, as well as the region’s other big cities. But on the other hand, homes remain affordable although prices aren’t as low as other parts of England north of us.

The Midlands housing market is an interesting one because on the one hand we’re isolated from both the ups and down of the South, but also the transaction and price lows of the North.

This year has been particularly good – resales are currently 18% up on the same period last year while new homes are doing even better and have increased by a third or more compared to last year.

Sounds like an agent’s dream?

It’s not all a bed of roses – some of the problems you see in the south including homes taking longer to sell and transactions beginning to drop off have been spreading to the Midlands in recent months. But some of that is seasonal too.

And Connells in the Midlands is preparing now for the tenant fees ban next year too – we’re not sticking our heads in the sand and hoping it doesn’t happen. We need to be ready.

I still think the ban and the other changes to the buy-to-let market aren’t a good idea – we’ve seen landlords starting to exit the market in the Midlands and stock is becomes shorter so rents are going to increase.

The trouble is, the ban isn’t going to help the  people it was designed to help. They’ll be paying fewer fees to move, but rents will rise. It does seem very silly.

We have a good rental sector here – properties rent quickly, although people are staying in privately rented homes for longer – of up to three years.

What's your opinion?

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