The Interview

Climbing the Property Ladder with House

Andrew tells us why there is no place for Estate Agents on the High Street.

Andrew, one half of revolutionary estate agents, House spent a morning with us showing us around one of their latest properties to hit the market and tells us why we’re seeing the decline of the high street estate agent.

From the wilds of the countryside to the buzz of the city, we can all picture the typical estate agent. A typical estate agent, Andrew is not. Wearing chinos and a jumper, his relaxed manner and style makes you feel at ease immediately, one of the things that really sets House apart.

As we move around the house [you can view it here] we pause in the living room, the largest living room I have been in, Andrew tells us about how he ended up here, as things weren’t always so relaxed.

“The easiest way was to get there on a scooter - I don’t know how I didn’t die. ”

“I’ve been wanting to work for myself for years, but with a young family and a mortgage it was hard to step off that bus.

I started out at Knight Frank where I stayed man and boy. I used to run the buying side, working with lots of foreign clients in London who were buying property starting at £10m plus – there was quite a lot of pressure.

When I was in London I used to ride around on a scooter because we used to have to go and see houses. And the easiest way was to get there on a scooter - I don’t know how I didn’t die.

I then moved to Savills running the business in Guildford and asked David [Andrew’s now business partner] to come and join me. We had known each other for years and it was one day over a beer that we decided the time was right to go out on our own.”

There has been a huge change in the property market, has this affected the way that you set up the business or how you work?

“Purple bricks was starting to come along and people were realising that you didn’t need to be on the high street. If you look at recruitment and travel agents, you used to find them on the high street, now they’re nowhere to be seen and estate agency has to go the same way.

People don’t buy houses like they used to 20 years ago, people are buying houses at 7:30pm – 8:00pm at night on an iPad when the children are in bed. They’re sitting on the sofa with a glass of wine – that’s where people buy houses. This is why the lifestyle brand was so important as we had to stand out from the rest of the world.

We saw an opportunity to carve a small niche and went for it. We wanted to make a brand where it was about selling the lifestyle as much as it was about selling the house as this is what people are really buying into.

I think the best website for a lifestyle sell is Airbnb. They’re not selling a B and B, they’re saying; “you could be in the middle of Barcelona, look what you could be doing in Barcelona”. If we can translate that into houses then we’re onto a winner.”

So how would you describe what you do?

“There isn’t really a word for what we do yet and I can’t stand the word hybrid. We are a true, traditional agency in the sense that we are experts in each of our respective areas with real people handling each and every client. We simply don’t have the high street location, which means our overheads are lower and we can do a much better deal for people selling their houses.

We have set up hubs, so a small office away from the high street that is a base for each of our local experts. They can cover a reasonably large area, but are based in their hub so get all of the culture of the office, the brand awareness and everything that goes with that.

If you’re looking at an average estate agents on the high street you’re looking at well over £750,000 per year to run just the residential part of the business, not the lettings, not the new homes, and when you are making somewhere in the region of 1.5% commission per sale, that is a lot of property you have to shift just to cover your costs.”

You’ve been really innovative with some of your marketing, and promotion of your properties, what gave you these ideas?

“We’ve done 2 videos to date and we have a few more booked in.

We wanted to show everything about a property whilst keeping it interesting. We had a property that was 90 acres and we wanted to show the barns and the cottages etc. so thought - how do we show that? It would be boring if we simply used a drone shot so we put a storyboard to it. [you can view the video here]

Via Facebook we put the video over Monaco Boat Show in the summer and used social media to target the right buyers for that property. Whilst the Savills’ and Knight Frank’s of the world sit there saying “well everyone’s away”, actually we can target them whilst they’re away because we know they’ll be in the South of France, they’ll be in Ibiza, we know where they’ll be. So via social media we can chase them around the world and advertise to them wherever they are.

We don’t think they are going to sell the house, are they a very good way of promoting the house? Yes. But are they a better a way of promoting the brand? Yes, because no one else is doing anything like that. From our point of view it just gives us a point of difference.”

“I'm looking forward to our next project together, which we are just finalising.”

And what made you choose to work with Flourish?

“It’s a funny story, our accountant was walking home one night, and saw you guys. He Googled you and said that we needed to check out your work. We had just seen a couple of people down the road from you and they were super aggressive. Now, David and I are no shrinking violets, but we both left there asking ourselves if that was the sort of relationship we wanted.

We saw your work and thought it was great. As soon as we spoke to you we loved everything, the whole process has been brilliant. The team have been fantastic, even if we come up with ideas the team will challenge them and make sure that they are robust, and it has stopped us making some mistakes. It has been easy and that’s what makes it such a nice experience. I’m looking forward to our next project together, which we are just finalising.”

What about any plans for the future?

“We are opening a new hub later in the year, and this will change a lot of what we do in a really positive way. We will look again at our website as this is really important for people when it comes to selling their house as they want to know who they’re dealing with, it also allows us to show our true value.

If you look at Purple Bricks as an example, I think the technology is brilliant and I think what they’ve achieved is amazing. That said, what they have achieved in technology, they are missing in customer experience. There always has to be someone in between the buyer and the seller as buying and selling houses is very personal. Sellers don’t want to be offended by offers, and buyers don’t want to be offended by a refusal. On top of this us Brits are crap at talking about money - we don’t haggle - we’re not like the Europeans who will have a good haggle.

They [Purple Bricks] have “skilled negotiators” but they are sat in Birmingham, they don’t know the specific area being discussed. They are looking at pictures on a computer and they’re looking at a price. There’s no empathy to the system. It has flaws; the technology onto the human area is where the sweet spot is.

The biggest issue is that each representative is self-employed and are paid for each house they take on. They then aren’t invested in the sale of that house as they have earnt their money by listing the property. There is no incentive for them to get involved between the two parties.

You might pay a small fee up front and save a few thousand on your selling fees, but you could miss out on a higher selling price that far outweighs the money you have saved. That comes down to experience and market knowledge, something we pride ourselves on.”

As Andrew finishes speaking he casually slides his phone across the kitchen counter, showing us a house that they currently have on the market. “You’re looking to move aren’t you?” he asks. “You should take a look at this property, it’s brilliant – you’d love it.”