Estate agents are in a unique position – we handle the meeting of people’s aspirations probably more than any other profession. But we may be about to indulge in a major programme of social engineering as we alter the way some people think.
How so? Because the people who come to us are either trying to get on the property ladder or move up it, seldom the other way. The big question for them now is do they need to move up? Should they move sideways or, perish the thought for social climbers, even descend a rung or two?
In Portsmouth, where my Town and Country Southern estate agency mainly operates, the city is awash with terraced houses that are not even as wide as the average car is long. If a new owner moves in who owns a car, it is literally a plague on everyone’s houses. And, believe me, people fall out far more over parking space than they do over noisy kids! There’s the notion that you have the right to the road outside your house and few people will give way to this.
The current inflation/recession cycle we have entered doesn’t seem to have affected the residential property market too much at present but then we have yet to hit the third OFGEM price cap introduction and feel the full effect of both inflation and the war in Eastern Europe on food prices. The pain will come and it could hit our businesses quite hard.
In a recent comment piece for The News, the Portsmouth area evening paper, I suggested to readers that maybe it was time for at least some of them to change their approach to home buying. True, those who seek the properties registered with my Fine and Country business are never going to swallow this pill, no matter how much it’s sweetened, but the Town and Country Southern clientele may be more amenable to having their aspirations micromanaged to turn them in a different direction.
“Do you really need a house with a garage or driveway?” was one of my challenges along with asking them to consider their current home against their existing budget and working out whether in the long term they would be better off moving to somewhere that was a better financial fit.
Working from home is now so normal that car ownership might not be an essential anymore. There are car clubs to service occasional but regular use and car hire can cover holidays. With the current demand for used cars, selling the existing family motor could even release capital while simultaneously reducing ongoing costs.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out but helping people think differently about where they live, getting them out of this habit of moving up because a bigger house is a status symbol, and making them consider their home is a place to live rather than an “investment” might also help slow the inexorable rise in house prices.
Journalists, in their bid to be more loved than estate agents, try to suggest that we hike prices to earn more commission. Well, let’s stand that on its head so we remain more loved and believed than them! We might even give politicians a run for their money in the honesty stakes although, to be fair, that’s not too hard at the moment. Beer or a slice of cake, anyone?
*Colin Shairp is director of Fine and Country Southern Hampshire and Town and Country Southern. He is also the south eastern regional representative on the Fine and Country National Advisory Council.