Next week ludlowthompson celebrates its 25th anniversary. Here, I catch up with Stephen Ludlow, co-founder and now executive director of the 11-branch strong London agency, to find out more about how it all started, what the future holds for the capital’s property market and whether reviews really matter.
Without further ado…
ludlowthompson is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary – how did the company come to be in the first place?
ludlowthompson began as a start-up in 1993, a 3i Group venture capital-backed company founded by Harry Thompson, David Thompson and myself. It established the brand with two outlets in The Oval and Tower Bridge and assimilated lettings portfolios through acquisition and then became a sales and lettings agency with a specific emphasis on buy-to-let in the late 1990s. This focus on buy-to-let proved to be ahead of the times.
What do you think the industry will look like in 10 years?
While I expect there to be fewer agent outlets on the high street, I think reputable brands that continue to embrace and develop their ‘bricks and clicks’ offering will thrive. Our customers still find it reassuring to have a physical point of contact, so we will remain on the high street in key locations.
Progressive high street agencies have historical data about customers and thus long-term relationships with them and it is these firm roots established over many years that are the envy of and the differentiator between us and purely online competitors.
I think the industry is likely to be more regulated by the government in the coming years and I fully embrace this.
What does the future hold for the London market?
With London’s population set to grow to approximately 9 million by 2020, the long-term fundamentals of the supply/demand imbalance in the capital look set to continue. With the near-continuous development of ‘always-on’ transport links in London, the property markets across the capital are witnessing a boost in value. The Night Tube, Crossrail and Cycle Superhighways are making it easier for people to look to rent and buy in areas they may not previously have considered.
Have you embraced the ‘PropTech’ boom?
As one of the first estate agents to put its offering online, ludlowthompson has always embraced tech and the opportunities it can provide. By operating a ‘bricks and clicks’ model, high street estate agents can do everything online-only businesses offer as well as delivering clients strong customer service and monitoring feedback. Extensive online reach must be backed up by knowledgeable local property experts that clients can actually talk to in person.
You’re currently ranked number 1 on allAgents – how important are reviews and can they be trusted?
The numbers are now such that 90% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business, 88% of consumers now trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, 86% of people will hesitate to purchase from a business that has negative online reviews, and customers are likely to spend 31% more on a business that has ‘excellent’ reviews – so it’s a must.
The trust element is making yourself open across a number of platforms to widen the review network and in addition to our catalogue of 5,800+ 5 star reviews on allAgents, we are linked with Feefo, a global Google Partner giving the customer another place to search for independent reviews of the company.
How important are professional standards and training in the industry?
In an industry built largely on professional knowledge, personal relationships and customer care, it’s very important - ludlowthompson are members of all of the regulatory bodies including ARLA and NAEA Propertymark and TPOS.
We only promote internally, have fully embraced the government’s apprentice scheme and train all our managers to extremely high professional standards. All of our Directors have MBAs, and we hold Investors in People Gold Accreditation.
How do you see Brexit affecting property?
As expressed by Theresa May, London will always remain attractive and open for ‘the best and brightest’. Ultimately, strong employment prospects in London mean large numbers of people moving to the capital. Any Brexit deal that gets made will likely be ‘London-leaning’, with a settlement on UK and EU citizens’ rights expected to be closely tied in with any trade deal.
Recent figures show that take-up of Central London office space increased by 4% last year. This confirms that European and international companies are continuing to invest and build their presence in the capital. The UK property market is extremely transparent, with a well-functioning Land Registry, so it remains one of the securest jurisdictions for overseas investors, particularly from emerging markets.
How did your tie-up with homeless charity Centrepoint first come about?
Originally our partnership started with us making a small donation every time a current customer referred someone to us and increasingly we found we had a common cause with CentrePoint – improving young people’s accessibility to London. It has since grown to a major partnership – as of today our total donations are in excess of £150,000.
We collaborate annually with Centrepoint on a number of different projects with many of our employees participating in Centerpoint’s ‘sleep rough for charity’ held each November both in London and Birmingham. Others including myself have completed marathons, five a-side football tournaments and obstacle course challenges.
What do you make of the proposed ban on letting agent fees and the proposed three year tenancies as standard?
The ban is coming in and, within it, we’ll work to maintain the highest of standards and duty of care for tenants and landlords that we have always had. Landlords see rigorous referencing as a KPI of the letting process and in a competitive market tenants are happy to comply so it is a cost that will need to be met through landlords’ letting fees and progressive rents.
Regarding three year tenancies, we already recognise the demand for them as our average letting time currently stands at 29 months. However, there will need to be a mechanism for shorter tenancies to be available if both tenants and landlords want one.
Shorter-term tenancies, 12-18 months are necessary to keep ‘discretionary landlords’ – those renting a property out if they are not able to sell at the price they want – on the market as this facility has stabilised the property market generally in times of economic correction.
What is the importance of a strong brand and name? What was the thinking behind ludlowthompson being in lower case?
Having a strong and attractive identity is crucial to ensuring a business instantly communicates the correct personality, and differentiates itself from competitors.
We want customers and prospects to see ludlowthompson as an approachable, trustworthy, modern company that communicates in a simple and straightforward manner. Our visual identity is peppered with signals as to the personality of the brand. One is the brand icon symbols that highlight the ludlowthompson core values (Performance, Communication & Trust).
The company name is always reproduced as a single word in lowercase only, in the style of a URL. As an early-adopter to digital commerce, ludlowthompson were something of a pioneer in using the internet to improve efficiency – this style of writing the brand name is a nod to that heritage and helps position the company as a forward-thinking outfit, not hung-up on tradition but agile and alert.
Great answers, Stephen. Thanks very much.
Time to be a champion…
The Premier League is nearly back, which also means the country’s obsession with Fantasy Football is coming back too.
If you haven’t already seen, we’re running an Estate Agent Today and The Valpal Network league for the property industry on the official Fantasy Premier League website, allowing you to channel your inner Pep or Jose to beat the rest and be the best. We currently have almost 100 agents and property professionals signed up, so what are you waiting for? Get involved!
Some spectacular team names so far, too – my favourites being Bacuna Matata, Oldman Asthmatic, Panic at the Isco, Blink 1 Eto’o and Lallanas in Pyjamas.
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.