…… these are titles often used to describe me.

I run The Property Styling Company a business designed to help you sell your property faster and for more. I can show you how to maximise your property’s potential, whether it’s for sale, to let, or to live in!

Having written numerous articles for other blogs, websites and newsletters, I thought it was about time to start a blog of my own.

Hopefully my passion for property, and effective property marketing, will come across in the articles posted here, along with guest blogs from those in related industries.  The plan is to add hints, tips and ‘other’ property and interiors related news.  Well that’s the plan, lets see how I do!  Thanks for reading so far…..

If you need advice on selling, styling or buying property and would like to discuss working with me … my main website can be found at www.propertystylingcompany.co.uk. Contact can be made through this wordpress site, by email or calling/texting: 07789 488446.

As the client, I am absolutely delighted. Not just by your own efforts, which are truly astonishing, but by your ability to pull so many quality businesses (and people) together at such short notice. To coordinate and keep everyone happy, then to deliver the desired outcome as forecast and within the agreed budget. Your keen eye for developing the right features and your attention to detail throughout are invaluable.

For anyone else reading this testimonial, I cannot recommend Helen from The Property Styling Company highly enough. If you are not getting good service from your estate agent (with regard to marketing the very best features of your property) you need Helen to step in to coordinate the process and provide the necessary finesse to bring this about. AJ Bramwell. Gloucestershire

Client Testimonial

The Property Styling Company..

It’s the weekend and I’ve been up since the crack of dawn packing my car with all sorts of gorgeous accessories, collecting fresh flowers, buying fruit and making sure every item on my long list is present and correct. Working on a Saturday or Sunday is something of an occupational hazard for me as that’s when most of my clients tend to be ‘at home’.

I love everything to do with Interiors and Design but my passion is really for ‘Property’; marketing, styling, selling and (when it’s called for) finding!

I’ve specialised in Property Marketing, you may know it as Home-Staging (but with a strategic twist) for years now and the thrill of achieving a great result for my clients is still unbeatable. Whether they’ve a property just going onto the market, a home they’ve been unable to sell for a while or a house they moved into but never really settled in, the starting principle is the same, a good poke around and a proper ‘fact-find’.

Today’s styling project is the culmination of a good few weeks of hard graft. 

The house is a substantial 5 bed (Victorian) period property in Bath.  It has been their happy, family home for approximately 25 years. Although their children have long since moved into homes of their own, it’s a big wrench for the owners to consider leaving the house behind. Ideally, they’d like to downsize, put a bit of money in the bank, move further out into the country, perhaps embark on a small renovation project and enjoy an early, well-earned retirement.

Our first meeting at their property was for me to appraise the house by analysing the property through the eyes of a buyer, find out their objectives, talk through strategies for attracting their target market and give them a winning edge over similar properties for sale. A great deal of our time was spent discussing Estate Agents; those considered suitable to sell the property and the price range my clients felt would be acceptable to them.

I took copious notes for the follow-up report and numerous photos as a reference for styling and staging. As it had been their home for a long time, they had, like all of us, built up a collection of ‘family treasures’ and found themselves custodians of larger objects like ski’s, framed posters, boxes of clothes, books and bits of furniture the kids still wanted but had “no room to store” in their own houses! They were also concerned about the decoration in some of the rooms, did they need to paint, re-carpet, dress the windows, fit a new bathroom or de-clutter?

As with many period properties the house had a few quirks and foibles but was essentially a well cared for, comfortable, elegant home. I’d spotted one or two (essential) minor upgrades on my initial look around but the majority of work was ‘clutter clearing’ (not that this was in any way a messy home) and redefining three (mostly unoccupied) bedrooms. Happy to indicate a small budget for upgrades and staging items, the couple were keen that any furniture and accessory purchases could be used again in their next home or agreed as part of a rental package (hired from me) if they so chose.

Having received my Home Sale report, they’d spent the intervening period working through my recommendations; sorting, storing, decorating and cleaning the house from top to bottom. Estate Agent valuations were booked and all that was left to do was the final room styling in preparation for the marketing photographs.

Where possible I like to work with a professional photographer, one experienced in commercial photography rather than family portraiture and preferably a patient photographer. I often spot something after the shot has been taken that I don’t like, need to change or “would be better over there”!

On site I meet up with Bruce Bolton, (www.lanternphotography.co.uk) he’s keen, early and I’ve yet to begin.  Luckily, he and the owner discover a passion for racing cars which allows me enough time to unpack and get started. We’ve allowed only 2-3 hours.

Much of the main furniture re-arrangement was completed in advance; we needed a new double bed for one of the rooms and some curtain poles put up elsewhere. Now also in-situ, I’d previously sourced bed linen, lamps and light-fittings too.

Concentrating on the Living room and Dining room first, I arrange flowers, hang pictures, re-position key pieces of furniture and decide which lights to leave on. Bruce is anxious to get ‘snapping’ so I move onto the kitchen. This room is the most contemporary part of the house, all gleaming surfaces and shiny glass. Already a very stylish space, other than deciding which accessories will further enhance the ‘lifestyle look’ there isn’t a lot else to do in here.

The patio and garden have previously been tweaked by the owners so photographs are taken of this area next. The sun keeps disappearing behind a cloud, not ideal but at least it isn’t raining – we want light, bright, shots, seasonal of course but sunshine makes a huge difference to the appeal of any property image.

Thankfully styling the rest of the house goes smoothly. The cushions I’d purchased for the Master Bedroom are such a perfect match to the owner’s originals anyone would think it had been planned in advance 😉 I’m very pleased with the overall look and feel of this room.

The only space that proves a bit tricky is the bathroom…. It’s quite small and trying to find an angle that isn’t all ‘bath’ or mainly a shot of the window is difficult.  I managed to source towels in pretty soft shades to go with the colour scheme and found some perfectly coloured accessories but unless we take a photo directly of them (which to show off the styling is fine) this room could look a bit bland.

In the end all rooms are photographed and we even manage to capture the front of the house with the sun shining! The result is exactly what I had hoped to achieve and thankfully my clients are thrilled.

Before I leave, my owners get a mini coaching session on how to conduct a perfect viewing.  Showing a 3 storey property can be confusing – do you start at the top of the house, in the middle or out in the garden?  I want to ensure they can successfully show the house to viewers (and the Estate Agents) without having to double back anywhere; ensure where they start creates the most impact and that they finish on a high to give them the greatest chance of achieving a faster and more profitable sale.

Back home, the worst part of the job…unpacking! I have to decide if I’m keeping any of the unused purchases for another project, re-wrap the delicate items, store all the bags and boxes and finally sit down to analyse the day.

Post Script:  All 4 estate agents that came to value were really impressed by the presentation of the property and dead keen to get the instruction.  By being proactive and having the house ready before they called in the agents, my clients could make informed decisions about the timing of the sale, negotiate fees and capitalize on marketing ideas.  

They sold quickly, for a great price and are now happily involved in turning their new house into their home!

Thanks to Bruce at www.lanternphotography.co.uk for use of his images.

Effective property marketing will make a big difference to how quickly you can sell your property .. whatever the current market’s like. 

After all, you are trying to ‘sell’ and achieve the maximum market price… you probably take care to present goods/products for sale on sites like Ebay in the best possible light; so why wouldn’t you make sure your home is marketed correctly?

Trawling the property portals for more examples of  ‘How Not to stage ‘ I’m afraid I came across so many underdressed, overdressed, ‘couldn’t careless whether we sell or not’ styles of presentation that I probably have enough property pictures to fill several large books!

In most instances, the home owners ‘could do better’ if they really wanted to cash in on their largest asset but I also came across some excruciatingly bad marketing by a number of estate agents!

Many of them chose to shout about the property putting the whole of the opening description in CAPITAL LETTERS, very off putting to a reader.  A few described houses as “deceptively spacious, must be seen” – only to use a picture of the front of the house or view of the garden (not a single image of the inside) for their advertisement. Others chose to use the space for their vendors property images as a chance to promote themselves .. one showing an image of the front of the house followed by 3 images pertaining to their business; an awards image, logo, contact details etc before showing any further images of the property for sale?!

A subject for another blog perhaps .. so before this turns into a rant;

Here are another 5 classic examples of what not to do if you want to sell your home fast.

1. Don’t neglect your outside space; whatever the size, make the most of it.

2. Never use plastic covers on anything or if you do, take them off for photos and viewings.  I can’t locate the image of two lovely red sofas and a chair I saw covered in thick plastic but if you’re reading this you know who you are…get rid of them!

3. Always leave room for your buyers to circulate.  Edit some of the furniture to allow buyers space to move around.

4. Clear the clutter but don’t strip out all the personality; think warm and welcoming not too austere.


5. Avoid confusion; defining the ‘dumping ground’ adds value!  Make sure the buyer can easily see the room as a bedroom, conservatory, living room etc.

So there you have it ..5 more examples of how not to stage your property for sale.  If you’d like to know more about what you should or shouldn’t do.. please do contact me or keep checking back here for more help and advice in the next coming weeks 🙂

There’s a huge difference between a ‘Staged home’, a ‘Show-home like home’ and a (developer’s) show-home but that’s another blog!

Subtle use of really good property styling is a property marketing dream.  It helps a potential buyer to visualise your property as their new home and it helps you to clinch a faster sale.  Bad styling gets a property noticed by the viewer …but only for its use of unreal and theatrical staging.

Here are my pet hates/top tips on how NOT to stage a house for sale:

1. Don’t formally set the kitchen or dining table; limit use of candles, china and glass wear – unless you live in a museum.

2. Never put a tray with champagne flutes or teapot/cups on the bed; even if it is at a jaunty angle – unless it is a show-home.

3. Keep towels in the bathroom; don’t stack them on the end of the bed – unless you’re selling a holiday home or B&B.

4. Always light the fire in a big hearth; for photos – unless it’s the height of summer also light for viewings.

5. Dress the master bed with cushions properly – don’t ‘scatter’ them about – EVER!


In part 2 I will give you some more tips of ‘How NOT to stage’ .. and maybe even some examples of  exactly ‘What to do!’

Assuming you are a motivated seller, actually want to sell your property fast and not just ‘test the market’… perhaps now is the time to take a long hard look at the ‘detail.’

A staggering 93%* of property buyers search the internet first, before they even contact an estate agent.

Which means that your home has to stand out from the crowd, from day one.

It appears only a few homeowners thoroughly check their online property details, preferring to leave ‘that side of thing to the agents’.  Most never think of looking at their property to see whether their ‘advert’ could be improved.

Once you’ve noticed your home showing up on Rightmove or Zoopla what do you do, sit back and wait for a sale?

When presented with a client’s ‘problem’ property, one of the first things I do is study the online information to see what it does or, in many cases doesn’t reveal.

Imagine you’re searching for a new home to buy, what would you like to see?  In my case the kitchen, living space and the master bedroom are top of my list.

So just how effective is your property marketing?

Take 5 minutes out of your busy day, sit down with a cup of tea and really look objectively at the way your house has been presented… to the world!

Did you even notice it amongst the 1000’s of similar properties for sale on the property portals?


Hiding something?

More importantly, would you want to view it?

Full frontal!

Any property can benefit from a good declutter and bit of tweaking here and there (I should know!) but if your online and printed information is less than perfect, your smart, clutter free hallway may remain forever unseen!

*Statistics from HMT Report, Property Academy (October 2010) )

Funny old thing PR … you can spend ages banging on doors, sending off articles, thinking up ideas and getting nowhere.  Of course, if it’s your own business, you are bound to be biased – ‘why wouldn’t they want to write about my styling work, feature my home-staging projects, call on my property expertise?’ – every company wants an injection of free publicity… don’t they?!

So, to get an email or call out of the blue from a “National” publication is always a thrill.  It’s a kind of validation that you are an ‘expert in your field’, do know what you are talking about and have the knowledge to contribute to the article.  Also, secretly, everyone hopes that a mention will open the floodgates and propell you (and your business) to the forefront of everyones minds … for a day or so at least!

Nothing is ever guaranteed, not even the journalist is ever sure it when or if it will make the papers and rarely, as you’re just the one providing the information, do you get to know which bits of your interview will actually get published. 

But twice, in the last couple of months, I have had a call or, as the case this week, an email from a ‘National’ 🙂

I’m flattered to have been asked to contribute to a number of websites, blogs and newspaper articles.  Usually, these have come through getting to know the business owner or journalist via friends and networking connections.  Then, when a topic has come up for discussion or, they need a piece on property marketing, they already know what I do or how I can help and a quote ‘from me’ has been included.

This time though the email was from a stranger, working for the Daily Mail!

The email led to a phone interview and further emails, as information was exchanged and questions asked.  I waffled on about case histories and how amazing property styling could be, what a difference it could make to the value of a property, how people buy homes with emotion not logic, the importance of correct online marketing and how selling empty (of furniture) properties is a complete no no…………..

I am sure the guy requesting the information was bored rigid but he was very polite and, enthusiastically thanked me for my efforts and assured me that if he used any of my quotes/information The Property Styling Company would get a mention. Result!

Well today, Friday October 7th 2011 ‘we’ did get a mention in the Property Mail section of the paper.   I got a name check, the website got published and a telephone number included (thankfully no photo!) … I can now use the quote “As seen in the Daily Mail”

My mother was convinced that with all the time I’d spent talking to him and exchanging emails I’d “practically written the whole article for him” .. and if you see below, yes Mum I practically did 😉

And if you can’t read what it says above … >> a transcript follows below

HOME STAGING

Helen Silver, of The Property Styling Company (07789 488446, propertystylingcompany.co.uk) believes sellers can add at least 10 per cent to the value of their property by employing a professional stylist.

She decluttered and restyled a four-bedroom home in Swindon valued at £275,000 — now it’s on sale for £320,000.

Quite a challenge don’t you think?
However, the question posed by ‘What House?’, a site that promotes the best new homes in Britain, was looking for constructive advice for First Time Buyers.  People lucky enough to have made it onto the housing ladder but perhaps struggling to achieve the ideal home interior they really desire.
Asked to supply a couple of quotes for an article (published on their site yesterday), I put my thinking cap on and yes, … I do think (appliances aside) it is perfectly possible, with a bit of creative thinking, to furnish a fab, first, new home for less than £600!  Read the full article below with thanks to Natalia Gameson.


How to furnish your new home for less than £600

Deciding how to furnish your new home is undoubtedly one of the most exciting parts of the homebuying process. But the reality may different to what you originally imagined – especially when you start putting pen to paper to work out your budget.

“It’s tempting to splurge on contemporary furnishings and accessories,” says

property styler Helen Silver of The Property Styling Company (www.propertystylingcompany.co.uk). “But give yourself some time to get the feel of your new surroundings. You may have spent months drawing out on paper where you’ll put the sofa and TV, or choosing colour for feature walls. But the reality is a limited budget could put paid to your original plans.”

Plasti-kote coloursFirst things first – know your palette, and pick one or two simple colours to form the basis of your home’s colour scheme. “Buying an expensive sofa or a dining table could be a mistake if you dislike the colour in a year’s time,” Helen adds. “Choose neutrally toned pieces, and add splashes of colour with bright cushions or rugs.”

Asking family and friends if they’ve got any excess furniture to get rid of is a very good starting point. And after you’ve assembled a small collection of cast-offs, it’s time to hit the internet. Second-hand furniture (or to give it its more glamorous pen name, “vintage”) is booming, with sites like Gumtree (www.gumtree.com) and Freecycle (www.freecycle.org) featuring free key pieces, such as tables, chairs and even TVs and surround-sound systems – all potentially essential items for your new home that you can snap up for nothing except transportation costs.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for online, then second-hand furniture shops and charity shops can be great resources to hunt through, particularly if you’re after everyday china and cutlery, glasses and picture frames.

Nowadays, you don’t have to settle for the original design or hue of what you collect. PlastiKote (www.plasti-kote.co.uk) Super Spray paint is a fun way to revamp old furniture (see picture above), and can be sprayed onto most surfaces, and dries in under an hour. Available in 60 different colours and finishes, it retails at £6.95 for a 400ml can.

The bed is an area where it’s best to invest – after all, you’ll be spending a third of your life in it, so you may as well get comfortable. Hyder Living’s Dorchester bed frame is £300 (www.hyderint.com), and is stylish and easy to style up with a funky bedspread – Curtain Wizard’s range is particularly affordable (www.curtain-wizard.co.uk). Buying a new sofa is also important – Sofas World has classic design models starting from £200 (www.sofasworld.co.uk).

If you’re considering buying a new-build home, there’s no time like the present to make an appointment to visit a show home on a new property development. It’s also a great way to pick up the latest style trends. Among the great new homes schemes for sale at present with inspiring show homes are:

Twilight at Water Colour in Redhill, Surrey, from Linden Homes (full story here)

Royal Arsenal Riverside in Woolwich, London from Berkeley Homes (full story here)

Rosewood Farm in Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, from Bloor Homes (full story here)

Gainsborough Court in Kelvindale, Scotland from Mactaggart & Mickel

via Property News – New homes decoration | New homes interior design | Interior design for new-build homes.

Looking to sell your property quickly, for a good price and with minimum hassle? Of course you are but usually that means having to engage …………..an ESTATE AGENT!

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a conference alongside 50 odd (no pun intended ;)) estate agents. 

Whatever the public perception of estate agents, they have a job to do, businesses to run and livelihoods to support just like the rest of us.  Frustratingly, some agents still appear to be in the dark ages and to survive, definitely have to ‘up their game’.  Encouragingly, although the conference was an opportunity for many to meet up with old friends and sparing partners, some had come along to learn new tips and tricks for (hopefully) taking their agencies forward.

One of the reasons I’d been eager to attend, was of course to network my own business, (an outsider on the inside so to speak!) nevertheless, I was also interested in listening to a couple of the key speakers.  In particular, Julian O’Dell, who I’d come across on Twitter, as @agencytrainer a year or so ago and been a keen follower of ever since.

As well as being a partner of Thomas Morris estate agents, Julian runs another business (training estate agents) TM training&development.  A few of my contacts had heard him speak and some had even raved about his training courses.  For me, this was too good an opportunity to miss.

Most of my clients have estate agent stories (or sagas) to tell; some good but mostly, unfortunately, bad!  Although I too am in the business of ‘helping to sell houses’, I’m usually called in when clients are fed up with the agent, or at their wits end when the property isn’t selling as quickly as (they think) it should be.  Selling is a stressful and emotional time, some agents get it right, some obviously don’t!  I have firm views on what you should expect from your agent, the level of service they provide and how they should market your property.  So pencil in hand, I was ready to take notes.

Julian is an extremely engaging speaker but generally what he said was all common sense.  Most of his ethos is what ‘we’, the public, want or should expect to get from our agent, so why did he need to spell it out to them?

Luckily he had time to chat afterwards and although I’m no roving reporter, agreed to answer a few of my probing questions….….

Julian, I’ve given a brief description of your ‘day job’ above but perhaps you could you summarise your business and background for those that don’t know you?

In 1983, I began my estate agency career with an independent company in Olney, Bedfordshire. After spending a number of years with legendary British estate agency Ekins, Dilley & Handley I accepted a Senior Management position with the newly formed Prudential Property Services – taking a keen interest in personnel issues and staff training.

I eventually became disillusioned with corporate life and in 2000 was invited to become a Partner with trailblazing company Thomas Morris – a firm that in 2001 went on to win the  coveted Cendant Cup – and with it the accolade of the ‘Best Independent Estate Agent in the UK’.  In 2002, alongside my estate agency interests, I established TM Training & Development who have coached and trained teams and individuals in numerous countries throughout Europe, including Italy, Spain, Wales, Scotland and Germany. I was joined in 2007 by Peter Chapman – ex Managing Director of central London agency, Chestertons.

I’m now a regular speaker at industry conferences and about to undertake my first engagement on the African Continent in the form of the South African Fine & Country conference.  I’m also a contributor to a number of the UK’s leading property publications and sit on various industry judging panels. My proudest professional moment was when TM training & development were awarded the Sunday Times Gold Estate Agency Supplier of the Year award in London in December 2010.  In the same year, Thomas Morris Estate Agents won three industry awards including “Best Independent Estate Agency Chain of the Year” at The Negotiator awards.

My interests include my family, music (particularly from the 1970s), football (I am former PA announcer and a lifelong fan of Luton Town), foreign travel and anything to do with property.

After so many years in the industry, what is it about the role of an estate agent that still interests or excites you?

The role of a diligent agent in solving people’s problems by helping them sell and/or buy successfully is still an important one.  In the current market, most people who move are doing so because something in their lives dictates that they have to – often something problematic.  High quality agents identify those issues and suggest and supply the right course of action to their clients.  The right advice and action from the right agent can genuinely make a difference to the quality of life of many of their clients.

Why do you think estate agency gets such a bad press?

Estate agency gets a bad press for many reasons – a few of which are sadly justified.  Having moved recently myself I was shocked and disappointed by the lack of professionalism and customer care displayed by many practitioners.  Poor communication, lack of listening, slack attention to detail and broken promises are not uncommon judging by my own experiences and those of the mystery shopper exercises we conduct.

Agents are also portrayed in soap operas, sitcoms and television dramas as wide boys or bumbling buffoons which perpetuates the perception of the public.  Our cause is not helped by stories of dishonesty that rear their heads in the media with predictable regularity. Just this week, a number of London agents have been found guilty of obtaining parking permits in central London through fraudulent behaviour – a few bad apples spoil the reputation of the whole industry.

In reality, the majority of agents I work with on the training and consultancy side are well-intentioned, honest, hard working and ethical in their approach.

What does it take to be a good estate agent?

As a firm, high standards of behaviour and conduct which are monitored and ahered to, aligned with a dynamic brand and great marketing are a great start.  Appropriate staff recruitment, reward, retention and training are crucial.

As for individuals, there are numerous key criteria under the three umbrella headings of knowledge, skills and attitudes.

Knowledge includes that of the relevant legislation, local and national market, property stock, amenities, facilities, benefits of living in your catchment area are all important.

Key skills include communication, questioning, listening, rapport building, prioritisation, time management, objection handling and many more. Training and coaching in these skills accelerate and maintain effectiveness and set individuals apart from the competition.

The paramount attitudes are a will to win, positivity, flexibility and a good team ethic. If these are in place from the start, individuals have the raw materials to be successful. The missing knowledge and skills can then be bolted on through training, coaching and mentoring.

Which common mistakes do you see happening time and time again?

Lack of attention to detail is a personal irritation of mine – just today I have seen an estate agent’s website description of a property that reads “Viewing recomended to avoid dissapointment”. Furthermore, the property apparently had an “enterance hall” and a vent for a “tumble dyer”. These basic careless errors show a poor approach to quality and accuracy and are a reflection of the care and pride the agent takes in their work.

Lack of listening is a constant bugbear too. So many friends, family and acquaintances have bemoaned the experience of receiving entirely irrelevant property information. My wife and I were sent an expensively produced glossy brochure of a property recently. One of our criteria was that our next property needed to be within a maximum 25 miles of my wife’s workplace. The property in question was 64 miles away – an utter waste of everybody’s time. 

There is also an over-reliance it appears on technology and a loss of focus on people skills.  Agents spending money on ipads and QR codes would be well advised to invest in the development of staff skills.  A medicore valuer provided with an ipad does not become an excellent valuer…. they become a mediocre valuer with an ipad.  That does not mean their results will improve.

Do you think estate agents will ever stop being vilified by the public?

Possibly, but we still seem to appear at or near the top of the list of “least trusted professions”.  Until practitioners across the board conduct themselves in an entirely open and honest fashion, the industry will struggle to shake off the stigma. 

There is no entry barrier to becoming an agent and the introduction of entrance examinations and licensing would be a healthy step towards improving the public’s perception. In America, such an approach leads to “realtors” being widely respected in the community and to client relationships more in line with those that we have in the UK with our accountants and solicitors.

Is there one improvement (all) agents could make immediately to better their service?

Improve the quality and frequency of proactive communication. The biggest criticism of agents that I hear is that they do not keep in touch with their clients and customers. The better agents I have dealings with contact their key customers weekly by telephone to develop and maintain trust, rapport and loyalty. 

Apart from keeping you gainfully employed, why do you feel estate agent training is so important?

The market size in terms of transaction numbers has reduced massively since 2007 and agents who want to survive and outlive the competition long term need to improve what they do to grab a bigger slice of available action. This does not happen through mere willpower – improved knowledge and skills have to be in place. Training makes this happen!

The current news for home sellers (and therefore agents) is pretty bleak, what are your thoughts on the market at the moment?

As previously stated, the market size has fundamentally changed. In 2007, there were 1.6 million sales transactions in England and Wales. That figure is likely to be no more than 0.6 million in 2011. 1 million transactions disappearing represents a huge challenge, particularly in light of the fact that there has been nowhere near a proportionate reduction in the number of agents competing for that market.

There are numerous factors that suggest no change to that number of annual sales for the foreseeable future. Many first time buyers can’t or won’t buy, investment buyers seem to be hesitant about putting their money into property in a big way, despite the lack of interest it is earning in the bank and/or the massive risks involved in stocks and shares.

Transaction numbers are the most important element to agents. Whether prices rise or fall is somewhat of a red herring, although I believe they will reduce further before they recover.  

The agents who will be best positioned to thrive in the short- and medium-term property market are highly likely to be those with robust and successful lettings and property management operations as there is a culture shift toward property rental in the UK.

How do you see the world of estate agency changing over the next few years?

There will doubtless be changes as the years roll on, but although online agency has its place and offers an alternative to the traditional approach, I believe that due to the size and importance of property transactions, a person to person relationship will always play a massive part in the moving process. For that reason, I do not see a huge dying away of high street agency nor a surge of popularity for online agents.

I hope, as previously stated, that entry criteria will be introduced and that malpractice and dishonesty will fade away. 

With the advent of sites like Tepilo, do you think people are more determined to try and sell their homes without using an agent – particularly to save themselves huge fees? 

The perception of saving money by using sites like Tepilo needs close scrutiny. On the face of it, marketing your £200,000 property for free or next to nothing via such an approach will save the customer between 1 and 2% of the sale price (i.e. £2000 to £4000 in this case). An attractive option surely?

Well maybe not…  A dilligent, trained, proactive estate agent will have a vast band of registered, qualified potential buyers who will be vetted according to their motivation, ability and needs.  If none of these existing batch purchase the property, the agent has the a range of marketing methods including advertising, high street presence, boards, website and portals to attract a new wave of enquiries.

Negotiating the best price takes skill and training. Agents are equipped for this task and their experience and knowhow can make an enormous difference to the level of offer encouraged from interested parties.  Finally, the hardest part of the job is often the cajoling, chivvying and careful management of the progressing of the sale. Some transactions can take weeks or even months of blood, sweat and tears to nurse through to completion. Without a calibre agent involved, sales can fall apart at all sorts of key points in the process.

If your property fails to realise the best possible price or your sale fails to reach exchange of contracts, the fee you pay is of far less relevance and a low fee or no fee can very quickly become a completely false economy.

As the online phenomenon grows, do you think we will see the end of the high street agent? 

See above!

Should agents consider changing their opening hours – I mean with most of us working longer hours, is it still feasible to operate a branch Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm?

The best agents I work with already open all day on Saturdays and Sundays in recognition of their clients’ needs and lifestyle. This approach is often combined with late night weekday opening and phone lines that are manned until 9pm or even later.

This flexibility of “opening” hours coupled with the 24/7 availability of information on the internet is definitely a route which proactive agents will continue to opt for. 

What key factors should a home seller look for when asking an agent to value their property?

Research into which agent to employ to sell your home is extremely important and directly linked to your chances of achieving the best possible price in the shortest possible time with the minimum amount of aggravation en route.

Vendors should look for evidence in local newspapers and online as to an agent’s track record at dealing with properties like their own. Examine closely how they will market your home – are floor plans, internal photographs or video tours employed?  Have a drive around the local area and look at the board presence of the local estate agents. But be careful with this exercise – it is not simply the amount of boards that is important, but rather the proportion of the total that read “Sold” or “Under Offer”.   It is this ratio that can illustrate the effectiveness of an agent’s sales operation.

Finally, visit or contact the office in the guise of a potential buyer. A little time invested in “mystery shopping” will demonstrate an agent’s level of customer service and sales skills. 

All agents are not the same.  It is a vendor’s responsibility to establish the differences before entrusting any of them with one’s most valuable asset.  Another method of research is to visit sites like www.allagents.co.uk to see what previous clients have to say about the agents in the frame.  

Assuming they typically select 3 agents to value, how does home seller choose which estate agent to instruct – select the one with the highest valuatio or the lowest fee?

See some of the answer above. In addition, it is vital that vendors recognise that some agents overvalue simply to get the business and then work on the client to get the price down over forthcoming weeks or months. This typically leads to an excessive lead time to secure a buyer and in many cases at a lower selling price due to the property becoming stale or having the stigma of being a difficult one to sell having been on the market for so long.

Pricing correctly is of paramount importance in the current market, Buyers shop around and have easier access to available properties than ever before via the internet. If a property does not compare and compete sensibly on paper with others of a similar nature, there will be a shortage of enquiries and viewings.

Low commissions are the approach of agents who do not have a service proposition to justify anything other than cheap fees. As in most walks of life, the customer gets what they pay for.

A vendor should take a close interest in the services on offer in terms of marketing and communication. If you pay an extra £1000 on commission but in doing so you appoint an agent who secures a quality buyer at the asking price who exchanges contracts in 4 weeks, then clearly that extra money has been very well spent.

I feel it is no coincidence that on my travels around the country, I have yet to visit a place where the cheapest agent is selling the most property.

Beyond this, clients should request visual evidence of sales success in the area. Any agent can talk the talk, but in the current market it is critical to select an agent that can prove they walk the walk!

Are there any major mistakes sellers make when putting their homes up for sale or when enlisting an agent?

See above!

 

In your opinion, what is the best thing about being an estate agent?

The challenge, the variety, the fact that no two days are the same, that one never stops learning as new situations present themselves regularly and that it is genuinely an industry where hard work, honesty and professionalism reap rewards.

Despite the fact that moving house is regarded as one of the most stressful experiences in life, an exceptional agent can alleviate vast amounts of that stress and help people fulfil their dreams and aspirations. Thank you cards, chocolates and wine from satisfied clients give me the same glow of pride as they did 28 years ago when I first started in the business. 

Apart from recommending my services 🙂, what else should agents do to help their vendors sell more quickly and for the best price?

Retain the relationship of trust that has been created at the point of instruction by ensuring regular informative communication and reviews. Be assertive enough to suggest changes to the property, the marketing and/or the price whenever necessary, and work with the client as a team who have the same objective in mind.

Get specific feedback from all viewers as to why they are not offering on the property. Ask for a price opinion from each viewer – even if the property isn’t for them, it is likely they will have an idea of the appropriateness of the asking price. A property is only ever worth what a buyer is prepared to pay for it, so it makes sense to establish that figure from all viewers to pass on to the client.

And obviously, more importantly, employ the services of one H Silver!

Many thanks to Julian for taking time out from his busy day to give an insider’s view into the business and for his candid responses to my questions.

How about giving your Estate Agent a helping hand?

Perhaps, they need help to sell your home faster!

Perhaps, you think, they should have sold your home by now, been inundated with offers for you to choose from …. Or, at the very least, shown around a viewer!

I agree, if you’ve a property to sell, if your home is on the market and let’s face it, most of us enlist the help of an Estate Agent when selling; they need to do their job.  They must market your home, advertise it, promote it, show your property, attract a buyer, get you a good price, sell your home, liaise with solicitors, stay on top of the transaction, calm any nerves, and (this is very important) keep you informed!

So, what if you’re struggling to sell, what if you aren’t getting any viewings, is it all down to your agent or could some of the responsibility lie with you too?!

Assuming your home’s currently on the market and you are having problems attracting a buyer – take action now.  If you have to or want to sell quickly and for the best market price, you need to be geared up to promote your home too.

Stop quibbling about dropping the price (in fact… don’t rush to drop the price) focus on the marketing message you (and your home) are sending out. Use these simple ideas that to help you sell your home faster;

Read your property details.  Thoroughly read them, in print and online. Are they describing your property accurately? Is there a floor plan, clear room sizes, has anything been missed off or described incorrectly? Does the thumbnail photo of your home online stand out amongst the crowd?

Study the photos.  Have your agents captured the best rooms, the best aspect? Do the photos highlight your home; are they too dark, too light? You know your home better than your agent; if you don’t feel the photos are representative don’t be afraid to say so.

Keep it seasonal.  If your property has been on the market a while and winter has turned into summer, make sure your photos reflect that.  Refresh and renew as necessary.

Is the price realistic?  Did you go with the agent who gave you the highest (but not necessarily the most sensible) valuation? Or, perhaps you were adamant your home went on the market for ££££’s more than your neighbours because you have a conservatory, and next door hasn’t.  Most property will sell if it’s correctly priced.

How is your property presented?  Would you view your own home? Does the outside make you want to come in or drive by; are the rooms cluttered, have you washed up, is the toilet seat down?!  Many small improvements will cost little but add (high) value.

Ask for feedback.  If you are getting viewings, insist on regular feedback and act on it if you can.  Ask your agent for Rightmove statistics, to see how many have looked at your home.  This is a good indicator of how appealing your property is, how well it stands out/gets noticed online.

Accept criticism.  If for example viewers are saying the 3rd bedroom looks small, can you do anything about it; is this the room that’s currently housing 10 years worth of treasures?!

Banish the animals.  Not forever but please remove the food bowls, litter tray, dog bed, cages, smells and the animals for the duration of the viewing.

Let the agent do the viewingswithout you at home!  Leave before the viewers arrive and stay out until they have left.  Don’t turn up with kids and dog in tow crowding into the hallway to catch a glimpse of your possible new purchasers – what the viewers might have decided was a lovely spacious home, will suddenly have become small, cramped and not for them in that very instant!

Be ready – for viewings.  If your agent calls to arrange a viewing do you keep putting them off; have you got people staying, are you holding a dinner party, wanting a lie in, cant be bothered to tidy up? There are times when rearranging a viewing makes sense (if your home really does look like a bomb’s hit it or the cat’s left you a present in the living room) but, if its something you tend to do regularly, potential buyers will simply move on to the next house. Stay prepared, make the beds, take out the trash, clean the bathroom!

Make friends with your agent. I don’t mean you have to invite them to dinner or call them all the time.  However, you chose them, interviewed them (or you should have), trusted them to sell your biggest asset.  Keep in touch, keep things friendly, ask their advice, and push for feedback positive or negative.  Challenge their sales methods, viewing techniques, marketing details etc (sorry EA’s!) if you feel they’re not right.  Let them know they have a motivated seller on their books.

Don’t be afraid to change.  So, if you have done all of the above and you’re still not happy or don’t feel you are getting the right sort of marketing advice for your home, then yes, much of the problem could lie with your current agent.

Perhaps it is time to change …. Or at the very least, lend them a hand 🙂

Two weeks ago I drove to Devon to see some clients.  I’d been to their house before, not because they were thinking of selling but to advise on the sale preparation for another property they own.

During my previous visit they had shown me around the house.  We briefly discussed what an easy sell it would be if they ever chose to put it on the market but I hadn’t really looked at it with my ‘viewing’ or ‘buying’ head on.   Now however, it was on the market and after 7 viewings they hadn’t even had a sniff of an offer!

This house was meant to be their forever home, a property they had only recently finished refurbishing and fitting out to a very high spec.

A light, bright, modern living space, designed to make the most of  fabulous, far reaching views over the Devonshire countryside.  Fold-back doors, glass balustrades, and a swish bathroom, definitely gave it the ‘wow-factor’.  And, its eco-friendly touches; including a rain water harvesting system made it a very cheap and efficient house to run too.  So much so, that when most of us needed to turn the thermostat right up in the depths of the snow and ice last winter, they didn’t even put their heating on!

Although this property ticked all the boxes for my clients as far as contemporary ‘town’ living was concerned, they were also lucky enough to own another wonderful, more traditional property, in a fairly rural and equally beautiful part of Devon.  After much soul searching, ‘country life’ appealed to them more for a while at least, and they’d decided to sell.

Although we had talked about the property over the phone and I had looked at the particulars online, I hadn’t given the sale of the house much thought.  The Estate Agent was ‘confident that the house would sell quickly’.  The owners had moved out but left the house mostly furnished and, armed with some tactics I had shown them on another property, they weren’t overly concerned about its saleability.

A few weeks on though and with the start of the summer holiday season, the Estate Agent had started murmuring about reducing the price for a quick sale!

Hang on a minute, this was an ‘easy to sell’, stylish, well presented property… What was the problem?

The agent’s viewing feedback had been positive, there were a couple of small issues, nothing major but equally no one was desperate to buy it either.

I thought back through our initial conversation when the house first hit the market, about the advice the agent had given and the reasons my clients thought the house was sticking.  I looked again at the property photos and details and.. ‘ta-da’ … had a ‘lightbulb moment’!

It was arranged for the Estate Agent to be there when I arrived.  I was keen to meet him; to extract any feedback information that perhaps he had neglected to pass on and also to see what he thought of my suggestions.

We discussed at length the appeal of the house, how much promotion it had been given in the press, the marketing details and how the viewings were conducted (i.e. which room they started with and which way around the property they showed viewers).  When he started to talk ‘price reductions’ I challenged his thinking – ‘Why reduce now if this is the quiet season and ‘very few’ are looking?  Surely you’d wait until September if it really was the right thing to do, otherwise you’d risk having to reduce it again wouldn’t you?’

Both he and I were of the opinion that the 3/4 bedroom house should appeal to a wide range of buyers, professionals, young families, and older couples.  And it would.  However, the reality was, that most people viewing or equiring about the property were in fact downsizers!  

Downsizers, ok, forget reducing the price, I had a better idea. 

Downsizing buyers are (usually) leaving a much loved family home, an acre or two of garden and lots of room to swing a cat (if so desired!).  Although they want (or need) to downsize, they often view with an image of their large rooms and big furniture firmly at the back of their minds. “How will we fit our huge wardrobes in there?” “Where will we have our music room?” etc. etc.  When people are buying a home they buy with their heart, not their heads.  To secure a buyer for this house we needed to ensure viewers would buy into the ‘lifestyle’, could appreciated the versatility of the rooms and more importantly, could imagine themselves (and perhaps some of their furniture) actually living there!

Firstly, we needed to improve the details.

To me, the brochure didn’t show the reality of the roomy, light interior.  The main accommodation looked small when actually it is a brilliant party house.  Re-taking some of the interior shots from another angle would still show the views from the windows, whilst at the same time reflecting the EA’s description of a spacious open-plan home.  I also felt there should be a vendors comment.  Perhaps describing how efficient the house was to run or, explaining a little more about the property’s ‘eco-features’.   After all, not many would have come across ‘rainwater systems’ or ‘high spec insulation’ and buyers definitely wouldn’t understand the benefits… unless they were explained to them.

Secondly, some rooms required further definition. 

The very large hall area, I thought, could be utilized as a ‘valuable’, useful, living space, rather than a place to simply hang your coat and dump your post.  Stylishly presented, this area challenged the dining room for size, yet other than a room to meet and greet it wasn’t really being used.  One of the main rooms downstairs also needed a minor re-jig but, it was upstairs that I really hoped my ideas would make an impact.

Upstairs in the property there was a beautifully styled and furnished bedroom but to all intents and purposes it was really Bedroom 2 – not a bedroom many buyers would see themselves occupying.  The so-called Master bedroom was across the hall and, completely empty

I could see why my clients had left furniture in the other room, it had huge windows, stunning views and a ‘summery’ feel.  However, in my opinion, leaving the Master bedroom empty left viewers failing to find and visualise a ‘room of their own’.  This room also had great views but (according to the agent) most viewers didn’t stop to look at or appreciate the space, it had just become a way to see and access the en-suite!  Styling the ‘Master Bedroom’ was key.  It would complete the picture, allow viewers to appreciate the size of the room, identify their own space and ultimately get them to stop and realise (daft as it sounds) that this ‘walk-through’ was actually a bedroom!

None of my ideas were costly, in fact apart from a couple of accessories for the bedroom, the owners had everything in-house to make the necessary adjustments.

Under strict instructions not to let anyone view the property until everything was completed, I left my clients to implement the changes and skipped off to impart more property marketing wisdom 😉 to other Devon based clients.

The next people to view, gave us the feedback we wanted! They loved the house, thought it was bigger and the rooms more spacious than it appeared in the brochure, they lingered in the Master bedroom, appreciated the separate study/computer area and could really visualise themselves living there.  Fantastic!  The only problem was, they hadn’t sold, their own home wasn’t even on the market ….

All was not lost though.  The second viewers to look round after our changes also loved it.  Downsizers again, they came from a very traditional cottage but totally fell for the contemporary look and lifestyle my clients property offered.  Better still ..this time they were proceedable 🙂

After the usual too-ing and fro-ing, I’m thrilled to report that an offer was agreed at the end of last week.  Hands have been shaken on the deal and the couple in question who were so ‘sold’ on the overall package, even enquired about buying many of the furnishings.

My client comments;

“7 Viewings with no offers. You came and worked your magic 2 viewers who wanted it and an offer, higher than expected, in the quiet season, from a sale agreed buyer! Excellent :)”

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