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 Property Natter: what has 2018 brought so far?

First things first, I have to mention the World Cup. The dream is over, football’s not quite coming home (not until 2020, at least!), but it’s still been a remarkable effort by Southgate’s young, hungry, likeable squad. They have helped to reunite a divided country in a way that hasn’t been seen since the Olympics in London six years ago.

Waistcoats, Atomic Kitten’s Whole Again being reworked into a love letter to the England manager, penalty shootout success (at long last!), packed fan parks, endless memes and beer flying everywhere across the country – it’s certainly been a rollercoaster ride. And it’s been fantastic to read the excellent reviews of England games by various property people on EAT.

The whole tournament in Russia has been brilliant, but England making it to the semi-finals has made it that little bit extra special.

Anyway, with that out of the way, it’s time to take a look back at what the first half of this year has meant from a property perspective. As always, it’s been a busy, eventful one. 

Platt leaves Countrywide

Perhaps the biggest story of 2018 so far – and it only took place in January – was Alison Platt’s departure from Countrywide after three and a half divisive, controversial years at the helm.

Even her most devoted backers would struggle to say she had made a success of her time in charge, with Countrywide’s share price tumbling and its reputation tarnished. 

Experiments with online services and attempts to combine retail and agency didn’t help her cause; neither did the slow drip-feed of high-profile departures or the efforts to carry out wholesale restructuring. 

EAT was front and centre of this major breaking news story – from the early Sky News rumours to the confirmation of her golden goodbye. EAT editor Graham Norwood brilliantly explained the ins and outs of Platt’s reign in this in-depth piece

Since Platt’s goodbye, Countrywide has gone back to its roots, back to basics – scrapping its online services and bringing several former well-known names back into the fold. This seemed to do the job for a period, with the firm’s share price up 50% in April, but at the end of June its share price fell drastically again – down by more than 20% - after a surprise announcement revealed it was cutting its expected income forecast for 2018. 

Paul Creffield, Group Operations Director at Countrywide, and part of a three-man senior management team running things day to day, outlined in an exclusive interview what the future was for Countrywide – we’ll have to wait and see how much of that comes true in the months and years to come. 

A hybrid battle

Another major story to break this year – and an unexpected one at that – was the £100 million merger between hybrid agencies Emoov.co.uk and Sarah Beeny’s Tepilo. The deal also included the incorporation of Adam Male’s Urban.co.uk, one of the UK’s biggest and longest-established online lettings agencies.

In one fell swoop, Purplebricks – comfortably the market leader in the hybrid/online marketplace – had some serious competition. Emoov said the merger ‘positions us as the second-largest digital estate agent in the UK’, with ‘three powerful brands’ joining together to ‘pioneer the future of estate agency with transparency, technology and empowerment at the heart of everything we do’. 

The merged business has received significant funding and advertising from Channel 4 and Northern & Shell (Tepilo’s largest shareholder), which will allow exposure on Sky, Channel 5 and the Express and Mirror newspapers.

Everyone’s favourite property commentator, Russell Quirk, is heading things up as CEO, while the management team includes people who previously worked in senior positions at Just Eat, Bookatable.com and Groupon.com. 

A recent survey found that more than 15,000 households exchanged after listing with an online agent in the second quarter of 2018, some 8% of the total market. While others have put the share of the online market at 5% or so, there does seem to have been some growth in this area with the rise of Purplebricks, Emoov, Yopa and others. 

Talking of Purplebricks, it has continued to divide opinion in the first half of 2018 – whether through its ‘commisery’ TV adverts, its attempts at international expansion, the significant investment being pumped into it or the controversy surrounding its glut of positive reviews on Trustpilot. 

We’re on the road to Brexit…sort of, maybe, at some point

Yes, the B-word continues to dominate many aspects of life. Just as things looked to be moving forward in a positive direction after the recent meeting at Chequers – where the government appeared to agree a negotiating position – the newly united front, which came after months of internal squabbles, turned out to be a sham. First, Brexit Secretary David Davis went, followed by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, followed not long after that by two junior ministers.

Brexiteers aren’t happy with what they see as a betrayal of the referendum result via a move towards a soft Brexit, while Remainers want to see a softer Brexit than is currently on the table.

All this continued uncertainty is, of course, good for no-one – for business, for people living on the Irish border, for the property industry. While the property industry has done a remarkable job of remaining robust in the face of the big Brexit question – something which the high street in general has struggled to do – there has certainly been an impact, particularly in London and the South East, where house prices and confidence have both suffered.  

It’s in the interests of everyone for a clearer picture to emerge of what exactly Brexit will mean, but that seems to be beyond our esteemed politicians just at the minute. The drama on Monday also had a more direct impact on the property market, with Housing Minister Dominic Raab hastily promoted to the position of Brexit Secretary, while Kit Malthouse was hastily parachuted in as the new Housing Minister, just the 17th one we’ve had in the last 21 years!

Ten years of Estate Agent Today

As the last Natter outlined, 2018 also marked the ten year anniversary of this very website. We also took a look back at how the agency world looked in 2008 and how it might look in 2028. We might be on to our 50th Housing Minister in 31 years by that point!  

This round-up can’t do justice to everything that happened in the first half of 2018, but other things that deserve a quick mention include the continuing rise of PropTech, ZPG being bought by US private equity firm Silver Lake in a £2.2 billion all-cash deal, the ongoing debate over letting agent fees charged to tenants, the first digital mortgage deeds signed by Land Registry and, of course, GDPR.

That’s that from me. Until next time…

*Nat Daniels is the Chief Executive Officer of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.

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