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Son of ex-Savills boss slams traditional buying agents as “outdated”

Son of ex-Savills boss slams traditional buying agents as “outdated”

A buying agency targeting what it calls the “prime and super-prime” London market is offering clients not only a sourcing service, but also options to redesign and remodel their chosen new homes as well.

Capital Place Properties – led by the son of a former Savills chief executive – says it offers a complete in-house service from the initial stages of search and acquisition through to “architectural transformation, interior design, furnishing and lighting.”

“For affluent individuals without the luxury of time or those with limited knowledge of the London market, the company’s ‘seamless service’ means buyers are able to source, view, buy, reconfigure, design and fit out their new properties without needing to employ third parties or approve the property in person” says a statement from the firm.

“This all in-house solution is especially critical for prospective overseas clients looking to invest in the UK’s prime market where transparency, trust and dependability are paramount” it adds.

The firm is critical of traditional buying agencies, using a press statement to describe their methods as “outdated, unnecessarily cumbersome” and says that its own integrated offering has proven valuable during the Coronavirus period.

“Our track-record speaks for itself, we do it all and we do it well. We know that our clients value consistency through the buying process and prefer to deal with one person for all their needs rather than multiple third-parties” according to Harry Helsby, the 30 year old son of former Savills chief executive Jeremy Helsby.

“The traditional process where clients have had to manage multiple third parties for acquisition, architectural transformation and interior design work inevitably puts additional cost and stress on the buyer. By offering an all-in-one solution, we handle the entire process” he continues.

“Our clients depend on our insight and market experience to not only identify and source the best properties on the market, but to go the extra step and bring their vision to life through our bespoke interior design service, whether as a personal residence, a buy-to-let or to improve and sell” Helsby adds.

“This client dependency means we need to be completely aware of market changes and the specific requirements of our current and future clients. For example, we know that the aspirations of buyers have changed dramatically due to the lockdown experience – extra room to work from home as well as outside space are now top of the priority list while traditional requirements, such as luxury bathrooms and kitchens, are less important. Location, of course, remains as critical as ever” says his co-founder colleague, Alexis Stellakis.

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New warning to estate agents over illegal price-fixing

New warning to estate agents over illegal price-fixing

The estate agency industry is still under the spotlight for possible illegal price fixing cartels according to the Competition and Markets Authority.

In recent years the CMA has taken action against three examples of anti-competitive practice in the property sector and the latest warning, issued yesterday, was contained in a document outlining how companies can break the law even through ‘apparently innocent’ conversations.

The CMA highlights the case of five Somerset estate agencies which in 2017 were fined over £370,000 and saw four of their directors being subsequently disqualified.

The rival agents all fixed their minimum commission rates at 1.5 per cent and according to the CMA their rationale was contained in an email between some of the conspiring firms which said ‘…with a bit of talking and co-operation between us, we all win.’

Email evidence also explained how ‘the aim of the meeting…will be to drive the fee level up to 1.5%’ and ‘…it’s really important we all give it the priority it deserves (making as much profit as possible)’.

Each business took it in turn to ‘police’ the illegal agreement. According to additional email evidence obtained in the CMA probe, agents were to report any issues ‘to the policeman immediately and get the matter resolved rather than let it fester and risk the agreement falling apart!”

The CMA says the lessons which the agency industry should learn from this case include:

– being careful when talking business with competitors and being especially wary of any conversations about pricing, or about a shared approach to pricing. “Rival businesses must decide and set prices independently of each other” says the authority;

– being aware that competition law applies to small businesses as well as large ones – the agencies in this case were small local or regional businesses.

The authority also issues a warning to the industry in the document when it says: “The CMA has now taken three enforcement cases in the property sector and remains committed to tackling anti-competitive conduct in this sector.”

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Agency undergoes management buyout after 25 years

Agency undergoes management buyout after 25 years

An estate agency founded in 1995 has undergone a management buyout from two existing director.

Westcoast Properties is a north Somerset firm, now owned by existing director Nicholas Webber and associate finance director Lindsay Pickles.

Previous owners Martin and Kay Crees are to remain a part of the business, with Martin Crees taking a position as non-executive chairman.

Westcoast is an independent estate agency offering residential sales, lettings and property management services.

“Having both worked with Martin and Kay for the past 10 and 15 years respectively we were delighted to be offered this amazing opportunity to continue growing such a highly-regarded company.  We’re both immensely looking forward to the future” says Pickles.

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New portal reveals charges to agents plus extra for multi-listing service

New portal reveals charges to agents plus extra for multi-listing serviceThe new portal OpenBrix, which is powered by Blockchain, has revealed its fee structure ahead of its formal launch on September 1.

It’s going to charge £75 per branch per month, plus £1 per property upload fee. If agents then want to join a multi-listing system it will operate, they will be expected to pay another £55 per month on top.

“We think this is fair and transparent. Our pricing is sensible and affordable and provides justifiable value and, importantly, agent pricing won’t be hiked as we grow because the agent community controls that – not shareholders” claims chief executive Adam Pigott.

He continues: ”We are pioneering the UK’s first multi-listing service … This feature will be a significant hook to gain client instructions and will open up agents’ inventories to other agents as they so choose, and theirs to others, resulting in revenue opportunities that otherwise do not exist for smaller independent agents.”

Pigott – who boasts over 30 years in property and was the founder of CHK Mountford Letting Agents back in 1989 – goes on to say this makes OpenBrix “a great value platform that agents and consumers alike will love.”

It utilises blockchain to create a linked network of agents to upload listings, and to create a voting and decision-making structure so that all agents have a say in pricing and the direction of the portal.

Pigott believes this taps in to the current apparent dissatisfaction with ‘big’ portals.

Some months ago it was announced that former Countrywide lettings veteran John Hards was joining the new portal’s board.

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Here we go again – Help To Buy looks likely to be extended

Here we go again - Help To Buy looks likely to be extended

Government leaks to mainstream and building trade media suggest the controversial Help To Buy scheme will be extended beyond its end-of-2020 deadline.

An announcement is expected shortly.

Some suggestions say the extension could be just three months, to allow the clearance of as many as 18,000 H2B purchases delayed by Coronavirus, while other suggestions put the extension as considerably longer because of wider concerns about the economy and unemployment in the construction sector.

Either size extension would probably be controversial.

On the one hand, some agents and almost all housebuilders see the scheme as a means of improving their sales figures, especially to younger or first time buyers. Between its introduction in early 2013 and March this year – before the housing market was frozen – some 272,000 purchases had taken place via Help To Buy.

On the other hand, a slew of reports and analyses suggest that H2B does little to improve the quantity of housing stock and possibly increases prices – ironically making homes less affordable rather than more.

Last year a National Audit Office analysis revealed that 63 per cent of people buying a home under the scheme could have afforded to do so anyway; more households with incomes for £80,000 and above purchased via H2B than households with less than £30,000.

Bruce Burkitt, founder of the Property Experts consultancy, wrote last year in Estate Agent Today: “Developers are aware that Help to Buy is a closed market, and many properties are sold for premiums of 15 to 20 per cent, a surprising statistic that may come to harm first time buyers perhaps more than it is helping them.”

Recent figures suggest that the average price paid for a H2B property across the UK is some £307,000.

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Faster conveyancing? Land Registry accepts electronic signatures

Faster conveyancing? Land Registry accepts electronic signatures

HM Land Registry is now accepting witnessed electronic signatures on documents for the  transfer of ownership of property, the creation of leases, and on securing mortgages.

It says this should allow a substantial simplification and faster execution of conveyancing – although it warns that some electronic signature providers may need to make some minor changes to meet its security requirements.

It will work like this: a conveyancer must  upload the deed to an online platform which sends a link to the signatories.

Once they have completed the necessary authentication checks, they would then ‘sign’ the document electronically in the physical presence of the witness who then also signs.

The conveyancer is then notified that the signing process has been concluded and, once they have effected completion of the deed, can submit the completed deed to HM Land Registry with their application for registration.

In every case the online platform would need to include two-factor authentication to authenticate the signatories and witness accessing the deed and provide assurance that unique individuals have signed.

A link to the document is emailed and then an authentication code sent to the individual’s mobile phone.

“What we have done today is remove the last strict requirement to print and sign a paper document in a home buying or other property transaction. This should help right now while lots of us are working at home, but it is also a keystone of a truly digital, secure and more efficient conveyancing process that we believe is well within reach” explains Simon Hayes, the Registry’s chief executive and chief land registrar.

“The more sophisticated qualified electronic signatures are a part of that vision and encouraging those is where our attention will be directed next” he adds.

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Is the housing market really storming ahead as some say?

Is the housing market really storming ahead as some say?

Agents have almost unanimously been reporting a big surge in business since the reopening of the housing market, but new figures from HM Revenue & Customs suggest there is still some way to go before normal volumes are seen.

A total of 68,670 residential properties were sold in June according to HMRC data.

While this was predictably a huge 50 per cent up on May, it was still 31.5 per cent down on the same month a year ago.

The figures obviously pre-date the stamp duty holiday and other purchase tax changes in different parts of the UK, introduced only this month.

“Transactions, not more volatile house prices, are always a better indicator of market strength. These figures show activity is moving in the right direction but will clearly take time to be reflected in the figures as we emerge from lockdown and associated restrictions” notes former RICS residential chairman Jeremy Leaf, who also runs his own London estate agency.

“Nevertheless, we have noticed at street level that many buyers and sellers are bringing forward moving decisions to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday and continuing lower interest rates. There is still concern that improved conditions will be relatively short-lived as economic news deteriorates and furlough support falls away” he adds.

The chief analyst at online agency Yopa, Mike Scott, says it’s possible that these HMRC figures may be worse than reality.

“Note that these are provisional figures. Transaction data may be being processed more slowly than usual due to the effects of the pandemic, which means that there may still be more June sales to be reported and the true year-on-year fall may not be as bad as it is in this report” he suggests.

And Tomer Aboody, director of property lender MT Finance, says: “We are still below last year’s numbers, which in turn were down on the previous year, but confidence is creeping back up.

“If the government increases capital gains tax on principal home sales, it will push us back again so any progress made  by the stamp duty reduction will be swiftly lost. We need more stimulus via reduced stamp duty to the upper end of the market and hope for this in the autumn Budget.”

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Portal says mortgage applications much faster with new software

Portal says mortgage applications much faster with new software

The mortgage arm of a regional property portal has launched pre-approval software which it claims will significantly speed up the initial stages of the mortgage application process.

PropertyPal Mortgages says the software works “in a way never done before” and within minutes can complete an ID Check, credit check, affordability and eligibility checks across multiple lenders.

“With the added benefit of only leaving a soft footprint on the credit check, the outcome is essentially a multi-lender indication of acceptance” says the company, which works with the eKeeper PropTech firm to develop the product.

PropertyPal is a Northern Ireland-focussed property portal.

“We wanted to build software that would allow users to accurately establish how much they could borrow and at what Loan to Value band they will likely be accepted for a mortgage. Now we can essentially obtain a very accurate indication of pre-approval across multiple lenders within minutes” says the portal’s mortgage managing director, Owen Peden.

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Government set to finally kill off the High Street

Today could be the final nail in the coffin for the High Street, which has been slowly withering away for the last 2/3 decades, firstly due to increasing losses to out of town shopping malls, then increasing loss of business to online stores and finally the lockdown. Matters have been made much worse of course as unscrupulous local authorities have used town centres as their personal cash machines, charging motorists more and more to park. Instead of incrementally reducing the number of long-stay parking spaces to force workers to gradually adapt, making more short-stay spaces available to shoppers for free, they have exploited it so much that shoppers have abandoned town centres in their masses.

On top pf that, the gradual increase in business rates has not helped, along with the number of Charity shops, Banks and large chain stores which have nothing more to offer than other stores in easier to reach, locations. Taking Northampton as an example, the closure of British Home Stores and Marks & Spencer had a massive impact in the town centre, but these enormous buildings still sit there empty.

A few years ago, they even had ‘Mary Queen of Shops’ out to rescue the High Street for a not insignificant fee, but in reality, it is not rocket science. Town centres need to go back to their roots, lots and lots of small shops that local shopkeepers can afford, units of between 200 & 1,000 sq ft that are so affordable, that they could even be run by one person single-handed. That is when we would see a ‘Tea-Pot shop’ a ‘Bonzai Shop’ and all the interesting shops that would attract people, but no, instead they have decided to bring in the commercial Guillotine.

The government is tearing up planning red tape from today to allow boarded up shops and abandoned offices to be turned into homes without the need for full planning permission, under new laws being introduced today. Changes to the planning system will make it easier for business owners and developers to ‘repurpose’ premises that are no longer needed and bring them back into use.

In a further move to support town centres, families will be offered a new fast-track system allowing them to add up to two storeys to their homes. The rule shake-up will mean full planning applications will not be required to demolish and rebuild unused buildings as homes, allowing commercial and retail properties to be quickly repurposed, according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The latest changes, which will come into force in September, are designed to help breathe new life into high streets hit hard by the lockdown, as well as opening up a new route for housing provision. At present, firms need full ‘change of use’ planning permission to convert a shop or office into a new type of business or into housing.

From September, they will be offered a fast-track process for approval. Developers will also be allowed to demolish vacant buildings for new purposes without full planning permission.

This will open the floodgates for inner-city ghettos, centred around hastily converted monstrosities with little more than profit as their motive, which does beg the question, who will benefit most from this urban suicide?

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Big day for Leasehold reform as Law Commission issues reports

Big day for Leasehold reform as Law Commission issues reports

It’s a big day for leasehold reform today with the Law Commission due to publish three residential leasehold and commonhold reports.

They will be formally launched at an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Leasehold and Commonhold Reform taking place at 10am.

The Commission’s brief, given to it by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, was to conduct a full review of enfranchisement law and procedure.

The reports today are expected to build on one issued by the Law Commission in January, and still said to be “under consideration” by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.

The January report gave three options for the future of leasehold, each using a different method to determine the price of enfranchisement and – in the words of the commission to allow further reforms to make the process simpler and to reduce uncertainty.

That report made much of using simple formulae – such as a multiple of ground rent – in delivering reforms

Alongside the three schemes, the Law Commission put forward a range of other options for reform. These included:

– Prescribing the rates used in calculating the price, to remove a key source of disputes, and make the process simpler, more certain and predictable;

– Helping leaseholders with onerous ground rents, by capping the level of ground rent used to calculate the premium;

– The creation of an online calculator for determining the premium to make it easier to find out the cost of enfranchisement, and reduce uncertainty around the process; and

– Enabling leaseholders who are collectively enfranchising a block of flats to avoid paying “development value” to the landlord unless and until they actually undertake further development.