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Alto Q&A - behind the scenes of a growing agency, with a family ethos at heart

Luke Thirkettle heads up the lettings division at Stratfords, a single-branch lettings and sales agency based in Milton Keynes.

Here, he speaks to Zoopla about the logistics of running an expanding family business, during one of the most challenging and busiest markets on record.

Can you tell us a bit about your agency - what areas do you cover and how long have you been operating?

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We’ve been running for around 25 years, and in the last couple of years we’ve grown to a team of seven.

I run the lettings side, my dad does sales and my mum does accounts. We predominantly cover Milton Keynes and Bletchley, plus all the surrounding villages.

How/why did you get into estate agency?

It was always going to happen.

When I came out of school, I wanted to do engineering but realistically I was always going to join the family business. I’d seen the family grow the agency over many years and I erred on the side of rentals because dad was doing sales. I’ve been here for 11 years now, straight from college.

What would you say are the three biggest challenges your agency has faced over the past year?

On the rental side, it’s been keeping in touch with people. Mainly communicating Covid-19 restrictions and keeping everyone up to date with what they need to know. 

The first period of working from home was a challenge. By that point most of our tools were cloud-based, so it could have been worse. But just before lockdown, we took on a new portfolio with a couple of new staff. So getting used to that and then having to transfer everything across to remote working was difficult.

The other challenge has been viewings, particularly for rentals. Tenants were reluctant to give access because of coronavirus concerns, but landlords wanted to keep properties occupied. Coordinating that and reassuring tenants that viewings were safe was tricky.

In the first lockdown, we did a few remote viewings and a lot of video tours, but we phased it out as quickly as we could. You can never replace walking through the front door and seeing the local area for yourself.

How has your agency coped with such a busy property market?

Both sales and lettings have been crazy.

The difficult part is simply trying to get the stock. We know that once we get it, it will sell. The other day we listed a property and it had ten viewings booked on the first day.

And it’s the same for rentals too. We’ll put a property on our site in the morning and by midday we’ll have to take it off because it’s so busy.

With rentals it’s cyclical. We get notice, we know when the tenancy will end, and although we get natural growth every now and then, it’s largely predictable.

However, on the sales side, when it’s sold you need another. And that’s a challenge when stocks are low.

How do you see the industry changing in the next few years? 

I can’t see anything drastic changing.

Rents will probably go up a bit. Sales prices might continue to grow too. But I can’t see any reason why there will be any catastrophic changes, unless Covid-19 restrictions come back into place.

The local markets in Milton Keynes and Bletchey haven't particularly changed either. We already had a good spread of independents including some larger ones and we know some big corporate groups are looking to expand their franchise portfolio in the area. But there hasn’t been a big influx of new agents.

It’s quite a saturated market, so you’d have to really bring something different to crack the Milton Keynes area.

How long have you been using property management software and how has it changed the way you run your business? 

We’ve been using Alto’s property software for about a year for the property management side of things. And for around three years for sales, lettings and appointments. We upgraded to accounts and property management in October last year.

The biggest advantage is the fact that accounting is cloud-based, meaning the whole team can access it from anywhere which is incredibly handy.

Also, if a landlord sells a property through us, or if a sold property becomes a managed property, we have all the information ready to hand. Having all those details in one place is a real time-saver.

What made you choose Alto, and were there any business challenges/problems that encouraged you to make the change?

We didn’t look around, because we’d already used Alto so much on the sales side of things.

We all knew that it made sense to combine and integrate everything into one system, so we transferred everything to Alto. We’ve never had any issues either, so we’ve never had a reason to look elsewhere.

What would be your top tip for other agents when choosing property management software?

Go cloud-based. We’d got to that point where all other software was cloud-based and we needed everything to be integrated. We’re now completely paperless, and I can access the software from home, the beach, send a contract, and do anything I want – anywhere, anytime.

Are you looking to upgrade to a new cloud-based property management software? You can book a free, no-obligation virtual demo with Alto today.

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    wish you well Luke!

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