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Out with the old, in with the new (homes)

Property journalists, and more than a few estate agents, are beginning their annual autumn ritual – forecasting what’s going to happen in the coming 12 months. 

Some big names, notably Knight Frank and Savills, have already given 2016 forecasts for London, although with less of the hype that has surrounded such forecasts in the past. Many others will do the same in the next two months, getting their column inches in return. 

Like other hacks I will be grateful for such predictions providing filling for stories. 

But the real meat of the future won’t be revealed by an agency soothsayer forecasting the market up 2.5 per cent or down 1.3 per cent – that’s just a load of crystal balls, really. 

No, the real meat is to be found in what agencies are doing to prepare their businesses for 2016 and beyond. And the future, it seems, is in new homes. 

It’s obvious when you think about it.

The government has made much political capital, during the election and at the Conservative party conference, of its determination to build up to a million homes by 2020. Starter homes, in particular, are at the forefront of David Cameron’s ambitions.

Council planning powers have already been relaxed a little, the Permitted Development Rights allowing redundant offices to be converted to residential with little planning interference have been made permanent, and the new Housing and Planning Bill promises a much greater emphasis on consent for homes being made more straightforward.

Help To Buy is in place until 2020 at least and the problems which beset new homes construction a few years ago – a labour shortage and difficulties in obtaining some materials – are now being eased according to most volume house builders.

So as it’s full steam ahead with building new homes, cannier estate agencies are gearing themselves up to act as land agents, consultants and sellers of the end product. And in the process, they are providing a fascinating barometer of the market which may be more accurate than a few research departments juggling with decimal point market movements. 

Look at what some agents are doing.

Hunters, the franchise chain operating at the low- to mid-range of the sales market, is setting up offices in London and Manchester with a lot of strategic skills – land sourcing and acquisition, consultancy, and the management of sales and marketing campaigns in the UK and overseas. 

In London Douglas & Gordon, a mid- to high-end chain in central London, is also setting up a team, while one of its direct rivals, Marsh & Parsons, has bought in an experienced new director to reinvigorate its existing residential development division.   

Hamptons International has been across this for some while. Its recent acquisitions, mostly in the Home Counties, have been complemented by the establishment of new homes experts in offices. 

Now Hometrack – the residential sector information company which already advises developers, councils and estate agents – has recruited an ex-Zoopla and ex-Rightmove new homes business analyst to become its new manager of data analytics.

Not every agency, of course, can afford a new homes team. 

The investment requires perhaps six people at least, and in some cases many more, to provide maximum support across the chain of new build activity from land identification for prospective developers to managing the show homes at point of sale. 

But those who can afford such an investment appear now to be jumping in, with both feet. 

It strikes me that this will be one of the biggest trends and stories of 2016, and beyond. My guess is that this will be a precursor of a real change in Britain’s housing and our industry in the next few years. It’s going to affect all of our country and all of our industry. 

Is it a bit ‘serious’ for most journalists or commentators to get a handle on? You bet. 

But frankly, it’s a good deal more important than yet another seminar on what’s happening to prices in Prime Central London... 

*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting all things property @PropertyJourn

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