Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Property Fables

I saw this great piece of marketing from pacific poker the other day and thought it would be fun to produce one for the property industry. I neither have the time nor skill to do undertake such a task so imagine story/fable book music and footage and put the following words to it.

The hibernating bear - property market

Once upon a time there was a bear (the estate agent) he didn't care too much for the Internet, he had a Rightmove website after all so what could go wrong. He thought the bad climate was merely winter coming early and it would all be ok next spring so he went to sleep for a slightly longer hibernation. When he woke and breathed in the spring air all had changed, the high street looked different, everything was happening on the Internet, his security blanket looked frail and so he had to go in search of food very quickly before he starved.

Unfortunately, the wise owl (no pun intended) had eaten all the food and the bear was using up so much energy looking for food he collapsed. Fortunately, a kind hunter came along and offered him some free food and the opportunity of more food (new portals) and he survived, prospered and never relied on one food source again.

If anyone has the time and skill it would be great to see it.

Property Live portal - coming soon?

We all know that when a tech says it will be ready in a week, this means you double it and add a bit for good luck. But where is Property live?

I am not sure I can bear the image of the man in a bad suit for much longer! Any news guys, I know you are reading?

Rightmove listings on their way down

Rightmove listings are on their way down. Is this just the time of year, the current economic climate, both, competition, agents waking up to other possibilities or something else?

The Negotiator posts on Rightmove House Price Index, which shows just 23,141 new listings this month compared with 30,341 during the same period last year and 30,792 in September 2006.

Some in the industry claim these figures support their view that agents are leaving rightmove on mass. Whilst I share their optimism, I doubt very much this is the case. Indeed, given the current climate, the closure of many agents will account for much of this drop in listings and the simple fact that house sellers are not selling in their droves must be common ground.

To this end, it must be reasonable to assume that the next 5 months will see similar reductions and whilst I don't want to be seen as a Rightmove advocate, one can't hold these figures aloft and claim the revolution is well underway. It has started, but like all good revolutions it needs time to build momentum.

viva la revolution

Monday, 29 September 2008

Blog Followers

A new widget from Blogger provides for bloggers to follow their list of blogs, whilst at the same time allows these 'followers' to build and display a profile about them and their company (see small thumbnails on the right).

A great opportunity to market we think. Indeed, I can already report that having run the heat map over the blog, our three intrepid followers are receiving the lion's share of 'heat'.

Anyway, we wanted to say welcome to our first followers and also encourage our agents, friends and associates to do likewise. It is free, quick and easy and may just lead to some traffic/business coming your way. NB. Make sure to include your web address within your profile!!

Globrix Blog

The Globrix Blog is coming to life.

We look forward to seeing the developments and we were trying to leave a nice welcome message (akin to delivering a cake to a new neighbour) but the spam checker (please enter these random letters tool) was driving us insane. It is a two word affair that didn't seem to like us and after the sixth attempt we gave up and resorted to a post.

An earlier Globrix post suggested it was great having a large tech team always free to develop new widgets, so please ask them very politely to change the spam checker to a more friendly one. Cheers.

To answer one of our reader's comments who challenged whether Globrix Blog was, in fact, a blog as it didn't have a rss feed, I guess you can say it is now and perhaps voting in our poll will pick up for them.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Is it better to buy or let?

I was put on to this great tool which compares the costs of buying and renting over a period of years.

It has sliders to allow you to change the rate of rent increase and the rate of house price increase (ha!), the slider only goes down as far as -10%.

It is USA based, but universal in nature.

EPCs for Landlords - Energy Performance Certifcates coming on 1 October 2008

Given the resounding success of HIPs the government has forged ahead with plans to introduce EPCs for Landlords and the deadline for compliance by Landlords to have an EPC in place looms on 1 October 2008.

Chapter and verse on EPCs can be found at Directgov and there are a number of issues for having one/not having one and they only apply to new tenancies after 1 October 2008, but it is likely that the only real question is what happens if I don't bother getting one?!

Well, apparently the legislation states (I did start to read it....) that if you do not have an EPC you could be reported to the Local Trading Standards and even the Office of Fair Trading. These authorities have been given a range of powers including loss of the right to operate (whatever that means in this context) and a fine up to £5,000.

If HIPs (as voted by you) for residential sales are a waste of time, then I doubt EPCs for landlords will even get as far as becoming a waste of time.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

HIPS closures - Openbook close the book

Further to the poll we ran last month, which showed that the vast majority of you feel HIPS are a waste of time, it will come as no surprise to some that one of the leading HIP providers, Open Book, have gone to the wall.

Reported by Mortgage Strategy, Openbook was one of the fore runners in the business and follows hot on the heels of the Hipstar closure.

What is poignant/ironic is that Openbook was part of the pilot scheme in 1999 and reported to the Cross Party Parliamentary Select Committee and the House of Lords in 2005.

We had a good relationship with these guys who are also part of group of companies to which Hometrack belong. Sad to see this happen, but judging by the feedback we are getting it is not surprising. Will more follow? Indeed, will the entire industry implode?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

New Poll - top ten UK industry Blogs

Continuing the theme of Blogs, we thought we would run a poll and ask you what were your favourite Blogs.

We have limited it to the UK for reasons of space if nothing else. Indeed, there are some leading Blogs in the USA that we all follow closely, but we had to try and limit the field. We are also aware of other UK Blogs so apologies if you haven't made it onto the voting platform. Please let us know if you feel you should be there.

Anyway, results will be published in all the normal press. Good luck to all.

Would you believe it! Property Owl appears to have 100% of the vote currently :)

Rightmove shares

More news on the Rightmove share price, which as you know we have been following closely. Property Portal Watch posts on the news that UBS has recommended Rightmove as a 'sell' option, down from the 'neutral' recommendation previously provided.

In a nutshell, the move followed advice that rightmove is intrinsically linked with the housing market and therefore a continued downturn in housing would mean rightmove also udnerperforming. PPW reports UBS as stating “The recent results were clearly strong, but Rightmove has a lag into the downturn and we expect it to lag into any upturn. Its fortunes are very much tied to any housing market recovery and with transactions likely to be lower in 2009.”

Rightmove share price bounced around a little following this news and closed at 296.25p. Not as low as it has been, but perhaps the beginning of another slide downwards.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Richard's son Jack

We are delighted to announce that Richard, founder and CTO, is a proud father of young Jack George. Richard's beloved, Nicola, gave birth on Saturday 13 September 2008 to a healthy baby boy of 9lb 11oz and around 58cm long. Mother, father and baby are all well.

Congratulations and those that know Richard are all invited to the wetting the baby's head session in a few weeks. Those who do not know Richard are also invited as it will be one not to miss!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

100 today

Our 100th post today!!

An average of around 13 posts per month and I guess as we have all been discussing blogs recently, what is a good average? From experience, about 3 to 4 per 7 days feels about right. More than one per day is hard for everyone to keep up with and how anyone finds time to write even one per day needs a medal!

Anyway, blogs work and with all this speak of blogs and their worth for the property industry I am considering launching the Property Owl blog awards.

We have all been posting on blogs and how they can work for the property industry and the larger portals are waking up to what we have all known for years. So I was thinking it was about time to run a competition for the best blog and set an industry benchmark if you like, a bit like the Oscars, only better!

I am thinking this could be any property industry blog and if we get enough, perhaps a few categories. Naturally, there would be a prize giving evening for the winner(s) in a top London establishment, hosted by a celeb of some note. Of course there would need to be free drinks for all! All I need now is a sponsor. Any takers?

In the meantime, I am waiting for the postman to deliver my telegram from the queen.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Brighton estate agent boards - ban them?!

Is there a future for estate agent boards? Should they follow cigarettes and be banned from public places?

The Negotiator reports on Brighton & Hove City Council's idea to extend an existing ban on estate agents’ boards beyond the city’s historic areas. They are already partly banned in some parts of Brighton and Hove and a ban would mean permission would need to be sought from the council if one were desperate to erect a board.

So another government department would be created for applications and policing, but other than that would people miss them. Indeed, do agents actually need them? What would this do for the board business and the text board business, which claims to be gaining momentum?

Given near on the majority of the house searching public start the process online there is argument that boards are not required. Indeed, with mapping and mobile coming together at last and additional property information available, finding the property once searched is becoming easier.

It begs the question, would flags be banned (such as the developers use), window stickers, etc?

Monday, 8 September 2008

Sarah Beeny - Completing Chains

Sarah Beeny is backing a new service called completing chains, found at www.completingchains.com

Now, I am going to begin by saying I don't understand this model at all and if anyone can explain it in English that would be a great help. Indeed, if Sarah or any of her team is reading, the website does little to allow people like myself to report upon it. Indeed, the 'how it works' page changed as i was writing this post (removed some complex figures and calculations)

The basic principle appears to be that first time buyers can't afford a property (ok, with them so far), it then gets messy and the following is from the site:

'...completingchains works in a really clever way to help estate agents build chains without first time buyers until the very end of the process. At the very last stage once all the buyers and sellers are in place, the chain is matched with a first time buyer. In order to complete the chain the registered agents work together with all the sellers in the chain to release just enough equity to make the first time buyer home affordable and get everybody moving...'

That is it, that is the entire explanation about this revolutionary idea that will save the property industry?! There are of course many questions, but one point that strikes me as a real deal breaker is an element of their idea that appears to underpin the whole concept. They would appear to be inviting all estate agents in the chain to openly share their databases with each other. It is a nice idea, but maybe a few years too soon. Many agents are only just embracing the Internet!

Further, how does this help a buyer who is not in a chain? How many property transactions are in chains, what percentage and what is the average chain length, how will they ever get all estate agents, solicitors, buyers/sellers, mortgage providers in a chain to agree. I can only surmise that this was dreamt up by lawyers, as it strikes me the legal complexities will involve a few contracts along the way.

What I can say is that the website needs some work, both in terms of content and general structure.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Don’t panic, the housing market is saved!

You will have seen that Gordon Brown gave the housing market £1.6bn. Well, not quite, he announced a package of measures to boost the collapsing housing market. Oh great, ‘a package’ and we all know what that means!

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development didn’t think it would help one jot and cheerily claimed we would be the only major world economy in recession this year.

George Buckley, of Deutsche Bank, appears to share these sentiments and was reported in the FT as saying the government could not hold back “a strong undercurrent of negative sentiment” in the housing market.

The prime minister for his part insisted that his package would help a “resilient” UK economy withstand the global downturn.

What is the package? Other than a one-year stamp duty holiday on house purchases of up to £175,000, which doesn’t help anyone within or close to any of the country’s capital cities (the majority), there are additional shared-equity schemes with developers. This does not of course mean the government will actually ‘buy’ £1bn worth of housing. Indeed, Downing Street was unable to even say where the money would come from to fund this rescue package.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Rightmove interim results

No recession/credit crunch/downturn for Rightmove.

Like the gas companies or train companies announcing interim company financial results, Rightmove have just announced their story of happiness. Indeed, whilst the estate agency world suffers, rightmove shine.

How have they achieved this in a depressed market? A number of reasons, namely, they have put prices up, they benefit from agents only spending with them and dropping other portals (thus increasing market share), an increase in lettings and accordingly putting their subscription rates up.

The FT reports at the weekend that Rightmove charge a modest fee for their services. I would recommend the columnist who wrote that piece (Lombard) have a long hard look at what is modest. £400 odd per month, per branch is not modest.

I am still amazed by their share price flucuations over the past few months and have been searching for answers. I smell a rat!

So it is all good news at Rightmove?! Well maybe not. Have a look at the Estate Agent Today rightmove survey. Current results say that 74% of agents will not renew their rightmove contracts. I am not sure about the numbers of people polled and whether they are all strictly agents, but the stats are worth a look (see below).

HIPs - A waste of time

It is official, 77% of our readers say that HIPS are a waste of time.

Given the current decline in the housing market, what would happen if the entire HIPS market collapsed?

I am not scaremongering, but there has been much debate about HIPS since their launch, which could not have come at a worse time. Many agents are simply not bothering with them and the punter is of course only interested in one thing, getting their property sold. The market is too vast to police and it is not difficult to see a market place in 12 months time where the larger agents use HIPS and conform with the legislation and the smaller agents simply don't bother.

So, consider the impact: 11,000 out of work DEAs, thousands of HIP provider staff out of work, millions lost by the HIP providers, knock on effect to those supplying the HIPs industry. Not a great picture, but one that is not beyond belief and some might say inevitable.

Where would they all go, what would they do, what impact upon market? All too much for a blog, but DEAs are already expanding their talents, taking pictures, floor plans and the like so why not go the extra mile and become an agent, simple website, simple back end system, loads of personalised service and you have to go to the property in any event - the one stop shop! We have been saying this for some time now and hope that it doesn't take a HIPS crash to bring it around.

One thing is sure, the government will not be coming to the rescue. indeed, the predicted change in government may even go one stage further and scrap them altogether. The HIPS crowd are a powerful lobby, but I for one can not see them persuading the government to rescue the industry. Indeed, any rescue package really relies on an improved housing market and the changes required to stimulate the market are too bold for current or future governments.

These are desperate times for the HIPS market and they are constantly chasing us to encourage more use of HIPS by our clients. I tell them that (a) our clients are not actually selling that many properties (have they not seen the news) and (b) shock of shocks some of them are simply trying to get shot of properties to feed them and their families and HIPS are way down on their list. I have sent these results to some of those HIP providers and will report back with any feedback they care to offer.

Thanks for voting and watch out for the next poll.

Online maps and the Cartograhic Society

Mary Spence, president of the British Cartographic Society, complains on the BBC that online maps are destroying the rich geography and history of Britain off the map.

Now, whilst I have the greatest respect for paper based maps (I actually really like them) I have to disagree with Mary Spence. Indeed, type into google maps 'Stonehenge', click on satellite view and wow there are the stones, surrounding countryside and a very clear idea of how far your b&b is from the stones. With road maps on top, it couldn't be better and yes I get a good idea of the landscape.

As for saying that online maps have little use in other areas, I would again disagree and go so far to say that mapping in the online property industry is now an essential element of the search process. Indeed, online maps, offer options to view: council tax bands, tube stations, schools, pubs, etc. You can draw an area from within which to search. How would you do this on a paper map? In days of old we would look at a paper map, draw a big circle around the area of our choice and then look online for estate agents. We would then try and guess where the properties were situated. Online maps provide a real, useful benefit to the user.

There are a 101 other benefits in many other industries and to say online maps are of no use is a rather negative, archaic viewpoint. I love paper maps/atlases and don't want to see them disappear and yes online maps have probably had a significant effect on their business, but to say they are wiping out geography and history of the UK is a little strong.

Anyway, if you ever have to go to the Cartographic Society for a meeting, you may have to consult your paper map as their contact us section has no online map!