The lightbulb moment for LonRes was born out of sheer frustration. I’d just missed out on a deal and the postman was entirely to blame.
At the time, I had my own business and was renting a room from William (Carrington – now Chairman of LonRes). I remember William catching me just as it happened and mentioned to him that I’d recently heard about this internet thing which could do just about anything.
It could even search for properties which meant we wouldn’t have to rely on the postman turning up on time – or not!
As it turned out, William was equally frustrated. At the time, he specialised in enfranchisement and valuation work which involved long and onerous hours on the phone seeking out comparable evidence. Like me – and indeed the property world as a whole – he too was in in need of a searchable, centralised database. And that was the start of LonRes.
It was the very early days of the internet and there was a lot of trial and error along the way. At times, we didn’t think LonRes would ever happen – the delays and setbacks seemed endless. But fate is a strange thing and it later proved the slow progress was to work to our advantage.
Technology was moving fast and dial up, which was commonplace when we began, was slow and cumbersome. But then broadband came along and this meant that a set of property particulars could be downloaded in seconds as opposed to minutes. And that was critical. Broadband transformed everything.
From the very beginning, we had a clear idea of what we wanted. We both worked as agents in prime central London and knew exactly what was needed to make life slicker, faster and more efficient for others like us.
Transforming the dream into a reality, though, was time-consuming. But at the outset of the project William negotiated a fixed priced deal with the company building the LonRes site and this proved to be an astute move.
The technology was still in its infancy – so there was a fair amount of learning on the job – and William and I weren’t prepared to cut corners, which meant that the whole project became much bigger than any of us had anticipated.
I remember trying to explain to IT developers the flow of a house sale and them attempting to translate this into something that was both simple (to use) and workable too.
Without William’s contract, we would have undoubtedly suffered big losses and it’s questionable as to whether LonRes would have seen the light of day. In the end, it took 18 months from start to finish – we had been told it would take between three and four.
Behind the scenes, William had been quietly building an archive of sales particulars which meant that by the time we came to launch we had details of properties stretching back to 1979. A healthy archive of comparables. And in 2005 we added lettings.
A comprehensive back-catalogue of properties, a platform that replicated the day-to-day working practices of property professionals operating across prime London and simplicity of use lay behind the company’s success – something which still holds true today. LonRes essentially saves its users time and makes them money.
It was a pretty much a success from the very start and we moved into profit just six months after launching.
And we’ve continued to grow and evolve ever since. Today, LonRes comprises a network of over 6,000 residential property professionals working across prime London and the country.
Each subscriber has to be approved before they join. This is important because so much information is shared and having a trusted environment in which agents can work together is key to the company’s success.
We currently list some 12,000 properties for sale (worth a collective £27 billion) and 10,000 homes to rent.
Twenty years on, we’re not just in prime London but have linked agents in the capital with those in the country; we facilitate a discrete off-market service to a closed network of property professionals; provide a bespoke retained agents’ service and are at the forefront of anti-money laundering compliance through the acquisition of FCS Compliance (Financial Crime Services).
And then of course there’s data. LonRes has great data – it’s the most granular and detailed you can get on prime London. And it’s in real-time too. For subscribers, this means access to downloadable area market reports, briefing papers and personalised weekly area updates – all of which are designed to keep subscribers and their clients up-to-date with market conditions.
These additions have all come about as a result of staying close to our client base – really listening to what they’re saying, what they need. It’s a great testament to the company that 20 years on, we still – bar office closures and company mergers – have all our original subscribers. And of course we have added to these over the years.
I think it’s fair to say LonRes was one of the original PropTech companies. In fact, PropTech wasn’t even a thing when we began. Today it seems that PropTech companies come and go in a heartbeat.
There are many reasons why this may be the case but the success of LonRes and its longevity comes down to the fact that it offers a real solution to a real problem.
It’s questionable that LonRes would have succeeded if it hadn’t been shaped by people who worked and understood the property market.
We understand property professionals, listen and talk to them on a daily basis and we adapt with them. In contrast solving a problem that someone didn’t even know they had, is always going to be a tricky sell.
Property is a service business and we’ve always tried to provide great service to our subscribers. It’s not about operating remotely – we have an amazing team here who LonRes subscribers can call and talk to about anything from tech problems, data requests, to AML compliance.
And of course, William and myself are always on hand too. While this may sound glib being accessible to our clients is fundamental to ensuring that we’re really in touch with their needs – not just those things we’re getting right, but those we could improve too.
As one of our subscribers recently said: “I do (just) remember agency life before LonRes existed. The change it has made to the way all agent subscribers now do business cannot be underestimated, improving our working lives and, more importantly, our income streams. Thank you!”
*Anthony Payne is Managing Director of LonRes