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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

Estate agency as it used to be - EAT looks back at 2008

Estate Agent Today is 10 years old this weekend. We hope you’ll agree that’s a cause for celebration and a great opportunity to look back to see how things were.

If you’re going to choose a good year to launch an estate agency publication...well, 2008 probably wasn’t it.

This was, after all, the depth of the housing, mortgage and financial crisis. I’ll let Nat Daniels, chief executive of Angels Media - EAT’s publisher - explain how and why the launch happened in a separate article over the weekend. 

My job is instead to take a little time out from usual up-to-the-minute industry news and remind us all of what the agency and property world was like in 2008.

It’s not a pretty sight - remember, 2008 was the year that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, literally thousands of UK agents lost their jobs, mortgages became harder to get and millions of people fell (at least temporarily) into negative equity. 

Yes, it was a brave time to launch what has become the leading industry publication for estate agents.

So sit back, and remember all this...

Agencies in trouble: By late 2008 a report from the National Association of Estate Agents struck some very dark notes. It claimed that some 20,000 of the 80,000 individuals employed by agencies in early 2007 had lost their jobs, with some 4,000 agency branches - that’s about one in four of the overall total - shutting their doors permanently. 

At the same time Land Registry data suggested the number of sales had dropped by over 50 per cent in one year, with a RICS survey claiming that agencies were selling an average of just one property per week.

A Daily Telegraph report gave a flavour of the panic, saying Hunters started 2008 with 300 staff in 22 offices before dropping it to 180 in 16 by year end; Halifax, then an agency, cut 204 branches to 151; Connells had cut staff by 850 down to a total of 4,000; in London, 

Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward cut its staff from 620 to 470.

Although the downturn after 2008 was not as disastrous as some feared, at the time Estate Agent Today was launching the Centre for Economics and Business Research think tank forecast that 46,000 workers in the property sector could lose their jobs by 2010.

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House prices plummet: The price of a home by Christmas 2008 was £159,799 according to the Halifax...that’s 16.9 per cent less than a year earlier. In December 2008 prices fell 2.2 per cent in one month alone, previewing the fact that worse was to come in 2009. 

We all felt pretty damn sorry for ourselves in England, Scotland and Wales - until we realised that in Northern Ireland, prices had fallen 34.2 per cent in 2008 alone.

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Interest rates - weren’t they high?: The Bank of England Base Rate started 2008 at 5.5 per cent, dropping to 5.25 per cent in February, then 5.0 per cent in April, 4.5 per cent in October, down dramatically to 3.0 per cent in November and 2.0 per cent just before Christmas. Now in mid 2018 it’s a mere 0.5 per cent (so don’t complain). 

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Early days of online: By the time EAT arrived we had Rightmove (since 2000) and Zoopla (2008) of course, and for high-end properties (at the time considered £500,000 and above) there was a little separately-owned something called Primelocation, which was struggling to become an agent-led portal (now where have I heard that more recently?).

In terms of online agencies, by 2008 we had HouseNetwork (2003), Hatched (2006) and HouseSimple (2007) - interestingly, all going relatively well today. We were still one and two years off, respectively, the launch of Tepilo and Emoov. 

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Hip hip hooray (Not): Remember Home Information Packs? By the time you read your first edition of EAT they had been phased in almost completely, over the course of a year - although that in turn only followed a decade of wrangling, with much of the agency industry strongly opposed.

In 2008 HIPs contained a series of mandatory documents, including an index (yes, the pack was likely to be that big), plus a then-new Energy Performance Certificate, a Sale Statement which would include search material, and evidence of title documents. For leasehold properties there were also copies of the lease and other relevant documents.

Extensive lobbying by the NAEA and others ensured there was no survey in the pack, but what got the goat of the industry most in early 2008 was the then-Labour government’s insistence that the pack (which some feared could be 200 pages long) be complete before the property was marketed. That measure was changed in May 2008 and the pack merely had to be commissioned - the property could be marketed while pack preparation went on.

Interestingly some agents have recently hinted HIPs were not as bad as some felt at the time, and the Conservatives flirted with a HIPs-lite pledge at the 2015 General Election.

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Regulation: From October 1 2008 all agents had to be a member of an approved redress scheme - a provision of the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007. However, much of the regulation at the time was the light touch of the Estate Agents Act 1979.

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations legislation came in to effect in 2008 - although we didn’t know at the time how that would be applied to agencies.

Politicians come, politicians go: Although David Cameron and Theresa May have been enthusiastically propelling the housing minister merry-go-round in recent years, the trend of having a new one every few months began under former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

When EAT first dropped into your Inbox, Gordon Brown had been PM for around a year and for most of 2008 the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was John Denham; the minister for housing and planning was John Healey (who is now the shadow housing minister in Jeremy Corbyn’s team). 

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First time buyers: If you think today’s Help To Buy is a pioneering scheme, you clearly don’t remember the strenuous efforts a decade ago to encourage first time buyers. 

Back in 2008 there was Homebuy Direct (an equity loan funded by the government), New-Build Homebuy (purchasing a 25, 50 or 75 per cent share in a new home) and then Rent To Homebuy (allowing you to rent for up to five years and then buy the property). 

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Self-build: Oh how we thought this was going to help solve the housing shortage... In 2008 around 20,000 units a year were self-built, and Conservative MP Grant Shapps - then shadow housing minister - was promising a ‘self-build army’ who could build on plots alongside the mainstream developers. That went well, didn’t it?

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Overseas homes - remember those?: In 2008 many estate agents in the UK had a corner of their High Street window reserved for overseas properties, usually ones in Spain or France, as the decade leading up to that time had seen a surge in deals.

There were whackier locations too - many firms flirted with selling homes in Bulgaria, Savills marketed properties in Cuba, and buy to let opportunities for Brits included new build units in places many potential investors probably couldn’t find on a map... Zagreb, Moscow, Dubai, Las Vegas to name but a few of the more unlikely destinations.

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And finally... what about the things we’ve lost since 2008? 

That was probably the final year people casually ‘traded up’ to a larger home - a term you just don’t hear any more; we lost some of the strangely-named early property websites (0800 for Homes was a cracker of a title, wasn’t it?); self-certified mortgages started to disappear; so have those ‘emerging markets’ - remember when you were made to feel like an under-achiever if you didn’t have a buy to let in Leeds and one in Abu Dhabi too?

On the upside, for all of today’s uncertainty and disruption, we have a healthier agency industry than a decade ago and a stronger housing market than many would have predicted at the depth of the financial crisis.

Oh, and one more thing - Estate Agent Today didn’t just survive....it has flourished, and much of that is down to our loyal industry readers and subscribers. Thank you.

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