It’s time to take a pause, to reflect and put into context—and what a year it has been for our industry with perhaps an unparalleled number of upheavals and shocks.
From the raft of legal changes to the lettings sector, through two major stamp duty reforms within 12 months, to a hugely-controversial online estate agency flotation, and the launch of a portal that has perhaps been more a distraction than a disruption, this has been a year of unprecedented upheaval, uncertainty, excitement and good old juicy news.
It’s been a pleasure to report on all of this – so we kick back and try to make sense of what has happened, here are my very personal winners and losers of 2015.
1. Rightmove: Some 110 million visitors a month, a healthy share price, growing revenues and an ever-louder presence in the industry. Rightmove is the key to sales and lettings today – and is there any other innovation since the Millennium that has had such a profound influence on our industry? Ironically its 2015 high has been produced by high-end agents who wanted their own rival to kill Rightmove stone dead. That worked well, then.
2. Countrywide: Am I mad to say this is a winner, given its volatile share price and wholesale reorganisation – laced with high-profile leaks about casualties which provided Estate Agent Today with many of its best scoops in the past year? My guess is that this is the pain it must go through to become a 21st century fit-for-purpose estate agency. It’s had the balls to do what others merely talk about – that looks like a win to me.
3. Purplebricks: Here’s my riskiest bet: its share price may turn out to be its downfall but until it was said to be worth £240m, it looked a shoe-in for my shortlist. It’s got more stock than any other online agency, a higher brand recognition than its rivals and is genuinely rattling some traditional agents at the sharp end of suburban high streets. So it’s a winner – but I’m not ruling out some share price wobbles in the future.
4. Letting Agents: 2015 was the year when amateur landlords must have discovered that buy to let is so complex, so regulated and so financially-volatile that only professional agents can keep across the management of properties and tenants. But what agents must do as a priority is convince the public that the growing red-tape tying up the sector is the very thing that makes letting agents necessary – and worth their fees.
5. Brandon Lewis: The housing minister has walked a tightrope this year, without falling off (yet). On the one hand, he is genuinely popular and knows his stuff: most of the industry likes him. On the other hand, his government has given ordinary landlords the kind of battering previously reserved for victims in a Tarantino film. If he truly succeeds in getting far more homes built by 2020, of course, he will be forgiven by everyone.
1. Landlords: No surprise here – need I really list the attacks? But while buy-to-letters have become George Osborne’s whipping boy, the Chancellor and other critics can only get away with such treatment because landlords have become deeply unpopular with the wider public. A New Year’s resolution for the NLA, RLA and individual landlords must be to somehow show they are ordinary people providing a genuine housing service.
2. London’s Property Players: No, I’m not particularly sorry for prime central London owners or investors who lost a little in 2015: no one seriously thinks they will lose out in the longer term and they’ve enjoyed a very long bull-run anyway. But many agents in London find it increasingly hard to justify the high costs, the few British buyers, the leave-to-let blocks and poor doors that now characterise a once-great housing market.
3. The Conservative Party: When a high-end buying agency, Property Vision, says some may think the only thing worse for the housing market than a Labour government is... a Conservative government, then you know things have gone awry. Landlords, property entrepreneurs, estate and letting agents are (I would contend) natural Tory backers. Who knows whether they will be that keen to vote for Cameron, or Osborne, next time?
4. Most Online Agents: Don’t get me wrong – online is here to stay and in 2016 I believe there will be online mergers, perhaps another stock market flotation and at least one huge high street agency group setting up an online service. But after Purplebricks, Tepilo, eMoov, easyProperty, HouseSimple and Hatched, most of the other onliners are too small, lack the marketing budget to get traction, and won’t lift off as their rivals have.
5. Private Tenants: There’s enough evidence to show that most tenants are happy with their home’s quality and cost to counter the endless flow of ‘rogue landlord’ stories. But every indicator, bar none, suggests demand for homes to rent will grow far faster than supply, with one inevitable consequence for rent levels. Build To Rent isn’t expanding fast enough and Buy To Let is under government attack – and it’s the tenants who suffer.
*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting all things property @PropertyJourn