Firstly, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Lockdown 2, as it’s being known, is now with us, but fortunately for all of us in the industry the property market is staying firmly open this time around.
Our esteemed editor Graham Norwood broke the story to the industry (and many of the wider public it would seem), with a staggering 164,000-plus reads at the time of writing. Graham and the EAT team will be on hand to keep you up-to-date with all the latest housing market news in the four weeks of lockdown ahead.
Now, to the main point of the article, and a series we are going to be running over the remaining months of this year. We are aware that the bedrock of our readership on EAT and its sister publication Letting Agent Today is made up of small, independent, local agents who keep the market ticking along year in, year out.
We’re also aware that said agents sometimes go under the radar, and don’t receive the wider coverage they deserve, as the focus is often on the biggest corporates, franchises, major online operators and portals.
In an effort to redress that balance and shout out about the great work local agents do, we are dedicating the next few Natters to profiling those who don’t usually get the column inches.
First up, I spoke with Danielle Lanthier, marketing & project manager at London agency Paramount, and Spencer Lawrence, the firm’s MD of lettings, to get the lowdown on what the agency offers.
When was the agency founded and by who? What was the thinking behind the name?
Danielle: Paramount was founded in 1989 by Mark Greig and Rosh Pathman in a Primrose Hill basement. Originally, Paramount Properties was set up as ‘Investment and Development’ valuers. In 1990, they moved to a small windowless alleyway office on Broadhurst Gardens in West Hampstead as that’s where most of their business was.
In 1991, they moved to our current location on West End Lane, where they set up our residential sales and lettings businesses. Spencer, our managing director of lettings, began with Paramount as a lettings consultant over 20 years ago.
The name ‘Paramount’ comes from an early phrase that Mark would use – ‘Paramount importance’. We wanted to change people’s perceptions that ‘estate agents are all the same’. We wanted to do it better - much better. And we knew the way to do that was to begin with the customer experience. It should be about them, not us, right?
How many branches do you have? And how many staff?
Danielle: We are a single office in West Hampstead that handles the volume of three branches of some of our bigger multi-branch competitors.
We aim to offer everything a person needs in their property journey under one roof in a bespoke, personalised way, which means we have many specialised interconnected departments. This includes lettings, sales, property management, move-in support, accounts, marketing, maintenance and refurbishments (including project management).
Our goal is to be ‘your’ agent, in the same way that you have ‘your’ hair stylist or dentist. We want to be there for our clients from their first rental, through to their first home purchase, refurbishment, when they start building a property portfolio - wherever life takes them.
We have just over 30 staff members.
Which of the portals do you use?
Danielle: Rightmove, Zoopla (and Prime Location), OnTheMarket, and Movebubble.
Do you make lots of use of social media?
Danielle: We do - via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. It’s one of the best ways to connect with our community. It helps us get to know each other and find out what’s important. We’re a small team, and we get great feedback on posts that help people get to know us as individuals.
How has Covid-19 impacted Paramount’s operations?
Danielle: The restrictions of the first lockdown made us realise we had a choice - to bury our heads in the sand and hope things blew over, or to take this as inspiration. We’d been operating in the same way for too long, and things needed to change.
Since then, we’ve been focussed on completely overhauling the client experience. We want to use the technology that’s available to us to digitise the property journey from start to finish. And when the technology isn’t available yet, we search for who we need to work with to make it happen!
We began with property video tours. We worked with a company to create a unique, interactive style of video tour in which you can pick the order in which you view each room (you can seem some examples here).
Covid has changed our outlook. We're committed to constantly evolving, making improvements for our clients wherever we can. If there’s a better way to do something, we’ll explore it! We’ll never have a ‘set it and forget it’ mentality again.
Where do you see estate agency and the property market in five years' time?
Spencer: The digital experience will become all-important. With technology like 3D printers becoming more accessible, it’s possible that in the future occupants might be able to resolve some issues for themselves.
Diagnostics will improve. For example, it may be possible to diagnose anything with an electric circuit with a plug in without having to physically attend a property.
As drone deliveries become more common, what provisions will owners need to provide at their properties?
In the last six months, we’ve learned location matters less in terms of proximity to transport, but matters much more for proximity to nature. People will shy away from living in studio flats/smaller flats for any period of time.
There’s movement towards shared facilities like Build to Rent developments with gyms on site and a concierge. People want to do classes and be social with other people rather than being divided away in smaller units.
From the agency perspective, people will talk about ‘bossing the patch’, but maybe now is the time to think about other areas. People will be more transient.
Turnaround times, hoops you need to jump through as an applicant, will change and improve. From an owner’s perspective, it’ll be easier to find trusted applicants as the referencing/onboarding process will improve. The middle section in sales between wanting to buy and buying will be digitised.
What makes Paramount different from other agencies?
Danielle: We're very passionate about setting the bar higher for our industry. It's all about doing the right things and focussing on the customer experience for us. Since earlier this year we've been looking at how we can completely change our customer journey - how to make it better and more convenient by creating a seamless digital journey.
We're a long way off from the goals we'd like to achieve, but as a start we've developed an interactive style of video tour that gives people all of the information they need about a property in a really easy format.
We're also aiming to give people the information they need when they need it, by including detailed furniture lists on every property, and including an honest review from the most recent tenants about what they loved and what they would change. We feed the information about what tenants would change back to the landlord, and in many cases the landlord will do the work, which results in their property being let faster the next time around!
Brilliant answers, Danielle and Spencer. Thanks very much for your input!
As mentioned above, this will be an ongoing series. We have a number of names in the pipeline, but if you feel like your agency deserves its moment in the sun, please get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time…
*Nat Daniels is CEO of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.