The 23rd of March was a terrible day for the property industry when Boris Johnson closed the UK and the housing market came to an screeching halt.
But that day was particularly hard for former Fine & Country sales manager Ashley Harwood who, along with interior designer pal Natasha Lane, had just launched a new estate agency.
Called Manor Oxford, it finally opened on 13th May and is now beginning to get word-of-mouth listings from within the UK’s property market.
“It was a pretty difficult week – we had to put the whole business plan on ice because we couldn’t even see each other, never mind see any potential clients,” he says.
Harwood is remarkably relaxed about the drama of the past few months, helped in part by his company’s lower than normal running costs; he doesn’t believe in having a high street presence and is still looking for off high-street premises in Oxford.
But that’s modern estate agency – you can win a listing for a £5 million house with a good contacts book, decent track record and a website.
“The lockdown gave Natasha and I a greater opportunity to spend more quality time developing our brand and work out what we were going to offer that the big corporates we used to work for don’t offer their clients” he says.
“Big estate agencies can end up becoming very disconnected and it can just become a numbers and volume game, so instead we’re offering a personalised service and will be restricting the number of homes we’re dealing with at any given time.
“I think there’s a gap in the market for this kind of service within the upper end of the market.”