The grand halls and corridors of London’s Grosvenor Hotel on Park Lane were buzzing with hundreds of delegates, speakers and exhibitors on the 29th November 2019, as they arrived to join The Negotiator Conference 2019.
In this stunning venue, with a reputation for first class guest speakers and panel sessions offering hard hitting debate between property leaders such as Michael Stoop, Nick Leeming, Lucy Morton, Lord Best, Peter Bolton King and David Cox (plus many more), The Negotiator Conference stage was ready.
Lord Best drew gasps from the audience when he suggested that the end of the small or ‘accidental’ landlord is nigh, that the PRS will increasingly be supplied by larger-portfolio operators.
The focus was the property industry in 2020 – exploring what the future holds for sales and letting agents in today’s volatile business environment, including Brexit, regulation, customer hesitation, technology, online agents, diminishing high street footfall, taxation, money laundering, tenant fees and (the then) looming General Election.
Brilliantly chaired by The Times columnist Lord Daniel Finkelstein OBE, speakers included leading estate agency senior management, industry consultants, analysts, regulators, industry association chiefs and tech innovators.
Going to conferences is more than just listening to debates and, as ever at the Negotiator Conference, the audiences gave our panellists a good run with many lively and provocative questions!
Going to a conference is more than just listening to debates and as ever at The Negotiator Conference, the audiences gave our panellists a good run with many lively and provocative questions!
John Bercow, Former Speaker of the House of Commons and self-confessed ‘marmite character’ gave a rambunctious account of his role as the parliamentary ringmaster.
He tackled key questions around his former role with many of the crucial political issues of the day – including Brexit. He questioned how long it will take for Brexit to finally drain out of the nation’s political and economic life (up to 15 years), as well as giving his opinion on the party leaders (the LibDem’s Jo Swinson is better in the flesh than on TV, apparently) and his impartiality.
Lighter-hearted moments, including him tackling the frequent media commentary about his height. “The Speaker’s job is not be a nodding donkey or craven lickspittle for the government but instead to stand up for MPs individually and parliament institutionally,” he said.
If only we could all summon such rhetoric at such times.
“I wasn’t pro government or pro opposition; I was pro parliament. I accept that parliament has been much criticised, but it was discharging its duty to look at and question, probe and challenge and sometimes contradict the government of the day.”
David Cox, ARLA Propertymark
David agreed with Lord Best that the lettings sector faces considerable challenges now and in the future; for example, over the past six years the government has announced new legislation for agents almost every six months.
Cox expects an announcement on RoPA at any moment and he compressed its recommendations into three key areas; a new statutory regulator who would police ‘licences to operate’; new common codes of practice for each discipline (sales, lettings, property management, auctions), training and professional development.
David Cox also revealed that senior staff and business owners will need to be qualified, and not just the frontline ‘reserved functions’.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’ve worked in the industry for 12 months or 30 years, you will need qualification under RoPA,” he said.
Professionalism in agency
Peter Bolton King, RICS
RoPA is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get regulation of the property industry ‘over the line’, but Peter warned agents not to assume everything in the report will become law – “they are recommendations, there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge before the regulator goes live”, he said. But he warned that the industry needs to be more professional to overcome the poor reputation agents have among consumers, increasingly looking for greater “sincerity and integrity” from professionals across the board, including in property.
The housing market in 2020
Richard Donnell, Research and Insights Director, Zoopla
Donnell delivered a forensic examination of the current sales and lettings market including surprising data on Stamp Duty.
He told delegates that, while buyers, renters, landlords and vendors combined spend £3.9 billion on agency fees every year, the government collects £9.27 billion in residential Stamp Duty – nearly two-and-a- half times as much. He also pointed out that Stamp Duty payments are rising; HMRC’s latest figures show that last year the amount of duty paid on average by purchasers increased by seven per cent, largely due to the increased duty levied on high priced properties in the higher price brackets. Other highlights included how lettings deliver 25 per cent of revenue (or £1 billion) for agents across the UK while sales generates 75 per cent (or £2.9 billion).
Donnell also outlined how first time buyers keep the sales market going now, and how it has been turned on its head; south of the East Midlands sales revenue for agents has been in decline whereas those north of it have seen significant gains of up to 15 per cent since 2016.
Making sense of proptech
James Dearsley, Unissu
Dearsley, who used to work for Foxtons as a negotiator, prompted mirth when he kicked off his presentation by comparing proptech to teenage sex; everyone’s talking about it, everyone thinks their competitors are doing it but really no-one’s that sure what they are doing. Dearsley went on to claim that the property industry needs a more ambitious vision of what technology can deliver and how it can be integrated into the ‘traditional’ way things are done.
James Dearsley, formerly at Foxtons, compared proptech to teenage sex; everyone’s talking about it, but no-one’s really sure what they are doing.
He also claimed that proptech isn’t a ‘thing’ by itself but rather a symptom of the digital transformation which is taking place among consumers, and that property is one of the last industries to adapt to this change.
Regulations and Professionalism
Lord Richard Best
Lord Best joked about former Conservative MP Jeffrey Archer who was prevented from voting in a General Election because he was a cross-bench peer – and he was in prison.
Turning to serious subjects including his Regulation of Property Agents (RoPA) report, under review by ministers – and also the provision of housing for older people.
He said agents had to realise that the Conservative government is on a crusade to reduce the PRS and create a level playing field between first time buyers and landlords.
He warned agents that more regulation is coming because governments are much more ‘pro consumer’ than they were, citing ‘property MOTs’ and tenant fees as examples. Lord Best also drew gasps from the audience when he suggested that the end of the small or ‘accidental’ landlord is nigh, that the PRS will increasingly be supplied by larger-portfolio operators and regulation would chase less professional agents out.
Panel debate 1:
How to survive in uncertain times
Nick Leeming, Chairman, Jackson-Stops
Nick underlined the importance of building personal relationships with clients, and that agencies which are run day-to-day by owner-operators tend to be more agile and entrepreneurial and that therefore the clients get “more immediate results”. This personal connection with clients, he argued, helped agents weather local or national economic downturns.
Nick added that owner-operators who are part of a larger national network like Jackson-Stops have the ‘brand back-up’ that independent agents do not have.
Glynis Frew, CEO, Hunters
“Success is all about lead generation, conversion and customer service, said Glynis. “That can be digital, CRM, phoning people up and canvassing; all that contributes to success.
“But I’m not going to pretend it’s an easy market; people are reticent but I think independent agents have an advantage because they have the time and contacts to really understand their local marketplace.”
Lucy Morton, Head of Residential, JLL
Lucy said that customers’ expectations have changed recently and that agents who recognise this will thrive. This includes a desire for 24/7 service and an expectation that agents who ‘know who they are’ digitally, on first contact. She added that customer service quality will become more important, and the ‘working environment’ is becoming increasingly crucial in order to attract the best talent.
Michael Stoop, Chairman, Belvoir
Michael’s view that success is more about traditional, frontline services rather than tech. He urged agents to ensure their negotiators have a structured diary including morning sales meetings, “The industry remains customer-focused and frontline staff are still key to day-to-day business.”
He added that independent agents have a material advantage over corporates because they can be more agile and cut costs more easily.
Ian McKenzie, CEO, Guild of Property Professionals
Ian believes that gaining market share during downturns is the most important factor in the success of an agent. This is because people have needs – e.g. a certain type of property – and the agents with the best solutions or properties that fit their requirements will win the sale.
“It’s also all about conversion rates of the opportunity – as transactions fall, so the best agents will increase their slice of the pie and convert more of the opportunities into sales,” he said.
Panel debate 2:
Are online estate agents here to stay?
Naveen Jaspal, eMoov
Naveen said she surprised people by suggesting that online and high street agents can work together and it’s all about offering different choices to different customers. This is in contrast to previous missives from hybrid and online agents’ bosses, many of whom say high street agents’ days are numbered. “You can’t automate estate agency, you will always need a human behind the process,” she said.
I worked in traditional agency for 10 years before eMoov, so I believe technology can remove some of the pain from some processes including booking viewings – and make the transaction faster.
“I worked in traditional agency for ten years before eMoov, so I believe technology can remove some of the pain from some processes including booking viewings, and make the transaction faster.”
Lauren Scott, NAEA Propertymark
Asked whether online and traditional agents are ultimately set against each other, Lauren was diplomatic saying there was room for both kinds and that traditional agents can learn from the technology that online and hybrid agents have been pioneering. Naveen tempered this by saying online agents must embrace the more traditional and face-to-face customer service approach of high street agents.
Ian Lancaster, TwentyCI
Ian predicted that the industry is likely to see merging propositions, offers and pricing between the online and high street sectors of the industry, a trend that is underway; Purplebricks recently increased its prices and many online agents now offer two-tiered pricing.
David Brierley easyProperty
David Brierley said that online disruption was increasing choice for consumers across all industries including, in particular, clothing and food retailing and that property is following suit.
Howard Russell, Accommodation
Howard agreed that the human factor can’t be removed from estate agency – and from lettings in particular – and that, for example, when it came to assessing tenant safety during inspections a “machine cannot replace this role”.
Panel debate 3:
Evolution of the estate agency model
David Alexander, Apropos; Liam Doherty, Orchards; Neil Singer, Singer Veille and Nicky Stevenson, Keller Williams
All four speakers brought their experiences of evolving the property sales model including Neil Singer – whose bidding technology is currently being tried out by Rightmove – and David Alexander, whose lettings platform for freelance negotiators is due to launch early next year.
Nicky Stevenson, then with Keller Williams, also talked about how she believes a range of issues including lifestyle and technology – and high street costs – are disrupting the estate agency model.
However, Liam Doherty of London agency Orchards proved to be the most drastic evolver of the agency model; he has overseen his company’s closure of its seven high street branches and adoption of a hub approach. “It was a difficult decision to make but we committed to it after looking at where our customers come to us from, and the amount of footfall into our branches,” he said.
THE NEG TALKS – NEW IDEAS, ENTERPRISE, GROWTH
The NEG Talks are our take on the universally recognised TED Talks, short, sharp, inspirational – a swift review of a new way to view opportunities, to understand the current issues, to recognise issues and opportunities and stay ahead of the crowd.
The NEG Talks are our take on the universally recognised TED Talks, short, sharp, inspirational – a review of opportunities, to understand the issues and, above all, stay ahead of the crowd.
Our speakers were:
- Ian Crowther, Tili
- Adam Walker, Adam J Walker Associates
- Andy Soloman, CEO Yomdel
- Richard Rawlings, Estate Agency Insight
- Vicki Quinn-Campbell, Homelet
- Simon Whale, Kerfuffle
- John Alexander, Apropos by DJ Alexander.
Left to Right above: Adam Walker, Andy Solomon & Richard Rawlings.
Left to Right above: Simon Whale & John Alexander.
Left to Right above: Kate Wenham & Andy Gilbert.