A great resource for anyone looking to sell their property

Episode 35 – Philip Tottenham –  Aubrey & Finn Estate Agents, St.Albans, Herts.

"A theatre for someone's life...."

Be in no doubt, photos sell homes. First impressions last.

If the images any agency create are less than favourable, it's always going to be a struggle.

Our guest today, Philip Tottenham, had an early career in photography. "Enthusiastic to the point of O.C.D " is how he frames his passion for photography.

Photos have to present a true reflection of a home and bring the property to life.

"It's important to me that I 'get' what makes this such a beautiful home".

Rightmove and Zoopla are littered with examples of agencies that care little for the image. It is vitally important. As is much of the work that goes unseen in high-street estate agency.

The more I listened to this episode, the more detail I uncovered. About the agency. About our guest.

I hope you enjoy

Side Effects May Include……

Side effects may include.....

.....a feeling of loss.  Both financial and emotional.

.....a feeling of being ignored.

.....feeling frustrated by others inability to communicate.

.....temporary or permanent delusion. Believing it was a good decision. Despite evidence to the contrary.

....feeling annoyed that you hadn't thought his through.

Apparently. They've found a cure.  A remedy.

For anyone wishing to avoid those expensive, high - street estate agency fees'

It's painless.

It's risk free.

You're safe in their hands.

So they would have you believe.

But, of course, there are risks.

You're not safe and it can become very painful.

A nagging ache that reminds you how gullible you were.  How trusting of this new breed of agency.

The online estate agency.  The equivalent of signing the consent form for a personality by-pass.

No emotion.  No sign of competence.  A soulless experience.

Safe to say, this 'new-age' remedy has proven to be anything but.

An estate agency in name only.  Most, yet to make a profit after years of trying.

The worrying evidence, however, is that the online estate agency virus has now been found in other forms.

When a virus is overcome by the body immune system, it sometimes mutates into a different form.  Causing further havoc.

Online agency has mutated into a newer version of itself.

The hybrid.

Just as worrying, but in most cases, more expensive if you catch it.

As an off-shoot of the soon to be eradicated online agency virus, hybrid manifests itself in several different disguises. Some less worrying than others.

Most threatening is the PurpleBricks strain.  Side effects may be abundant.

Centralised head office with three hundred plus agents.  Some individual agents covering a region of nearly fifty square miles.  Hardly qualifying themselves as 'local property experts'.  But, what the heck. They're cheap and funny.  Especially funny.

A self-appointed antidote for the high-street estate agencies, this hybrid model might on the surface appear innocuous.

Research, however, has uncovered a few home truths.  Read the label on the packaging and a feeling of malaise soon becomes apparent.

Here are some reviews on TrustPilot, courtesy of the Twitter site, #conmisery

" All that glitters is not purple"  

"My daughter has been with PurpleBricks since January, in London where houses sell quickly.  PurpleBricks have been useless - they had a buyer, she wasn't checked out and as a result the sale fell through and solicitors fees were incurred.....The bottom line is that once they get their money, they have nothing to lose and couldn't give a monkeys....

Side effect One:  If you instruct any hybrid such as PurpleBricks, beware the additional costs if a sale falls through.  In this case, solicitor costs add to the fee that your are obligated to pay.  Even if your home doesn't sell.

"Be Aware"

"Be aware of the terms and conditions.  If you don't choose to pay upfront, you have no choice but to pay their own conveyancer....they are double the quote of other conveyancing firms....My point was ignored and was told I should have read the terms & conditions."

Side effect Two:  The option to defer payment of the fee is heavily touted by local PurpleBricks agents. "It's a no - brainer is how one agent has described it.   Be aware that if you home does not sell, there WILL be a cost in nine months time. And, you will have paid far more for the conveyancing than is available on the open market.

"Stay Away"

"Where do I begin?.To be honest, there just isn't a good thing I could say.  All negative.  A company that lie. and do not offer the service that you pay for. Have to(o) many hidden fees and rules...the agent will be friendly and approachable at the first meeting, then that's it.  Hand over your keys, hard to get hold of, worryingly always off sick when there's a friend who used them at the same time had the same problem"

Side effect Three:

PurpleBricks are effectively a collection of 'one-man bands'.  If that 'local' agent is genuinely ill, or on holiday, your property will not receive the attention it deserves. Or that you have paid for. There is also a question mark over whether these agents, being self-employed, are trading illegally with respect to H.M.R.C and other regulations.

The reviews, if you search deep enough, are compelling evidence of the chaos that can occur when you choose an agency based on cheap fees and T.V exposure.

Are high-street agents any better?

Short answer is that there are some equally poor high street agents, out there.  There are also some, just a few, decent and honorable agents that for the moment are associated with online/hybrid.

But as Frank Voehl points out:

" When a good person meets a bad system, the system always wins"

PurpleBricks do not disclose numbers when it comes to the turnaround of their agents. But, the success of any of their 'local experts' is always determined by how many homeowners they manage to convince.

The PurpleBricks system is geared to convincing vendors to pay a fee.  Essentially to advertise the property.

It is not geared to the often lengthy process that follows an agreed offer.

We've heard stories of high street estate agents that have called Purplebricks customer service for a sales progression update on a chain that involved both parties. They've been fobbed off with "You need to email your query". After three attempts, they were told that all queries are dealt with in chronological order.

It is this flippant disregard for any normal standard of customer care that will eventually be the downfall of this particular business.

Not only does it impact the vendor, who has no clear indication of when their home will eventually complete.

If at all.

It also affects the very small number of good 'local experts' that work under the PurpleBricks umbrella. "When a good person meets a bad system, the system always wins".

The key point here is that if a high-street agency doesn't provide a service - they don't get paid.

PurpleBricks and other opportunist hybrids get paid.  Regardless.

Because their business model isn't dependent on providing a good service - they don't.

So, whilst the temptation is to try this 'cure'  for excessive high-street estate agents, the side effects can be very severe.

There is nothing new. Nothing advanced about these hybrids.

They claim to be at the 'cutting edge' of technology.  But,

"Technology is dominated by two types of people. Those who understand what they do not manage.  And those who manage what they don't understand"  - Archibald Putt.

The hybrids fall very neatly into the latter half.

When they first burst on to the scene, they were not offering anything revolutionary.  They were not offering a better service.  More qualified agents.  Better negotiators. Dedicated customer service teams that would jump through the proverbial hoop to ensure your home sold for the best price.

They were offering cheap.  

Where they went wrong was not in being cheap, but in being less than transparent about what the vendor got for her money.

Around 50% of the homes with PurpleBricks never sell.  Those unfortunate vendors that have paid out a not inconsiderable sum have been misled.

We've said before it's about competence.  And character.


Some hybrids are missing one or the other.

Some are missing both.

High-Street estate agencies.  For all their faults are the better option.









Slow,Quick, Quick, Slow.

Slow is good.  Quick sometimes even better.

At the right time.

Consider this though:

Online estate agencies, in fact, just about every agency, follow this mantra:

95% of property searches start online.  That's why we feature your home on all the major portals.

Now, I'm not one to denigrate the powerful impact that property portals have achieved.

I use them religiously to search for our next pied-á-terre.

But my gripe is with estate agencies that devolve all responsibility for the marketing of a vendors home to these portals.

"We, as consumers - individuals, companies and governments - are greedy, impatient and lazy. We want the latest technology at the cheapest price, with the latest communication and the least hassle. We need deep changes in the hardware and software we use - but also in the way we humans behave."

Edward Lucas -  Author of Cyberphobia


The author goes on to say that

"Not everything has to be online.  Already some intelligence agencies are returning to paper records - typed with carbon-paper copies on mechanical typewriters - to reduce the cyber-attack risk."

Banks, airlines, the N.H.S are just recent examples of online chaos that evidence his opinion.

Estate agency seems like it might follow suit.

For this very flawed assumption -  the greater the reach, the better the chances of attracting a buyer.

There might just be that someone, out there, that is looking for a home. Just like yours. We need to find them.  They reason.

And so agencies spend a not inconsiderable sum every month on paying Rightmove, Zoopla and their like to spread the word.

On the world-wide web. To a considerable number of targeted buyers that have little or no interest.

Fact:  most homeowners move within the area they currently live.

If you're a serious buyer, intent on moving to a particular location or just staying locally, it requires more.

More diligence.  More tenacity. More constancy.

Seth Godin, in his excellent book,  All Marketers are Liars,  recounts a realtor in up-state New York  that always drove his potential buyers around the area.

Told them stories of a particular home, a particular street, or some of the interesting local businesses.

He made sure the buyers were genuine.  Before he even mentioned the homes his agency had on their books.

A realtor that knew how to connect emotionally with buyers. And to make sure that the home they were buying was 'perfect' for them.

Not a realtor that would 'hustle' and pressure the buyer. Not a realtor that would focus on the portals. To the exclusion of all else. Said differently, a realtor of an age before portal surfing became the norm.

There seems to be this headlong rush into quick solutions.  In all walks of life, not just property.

In Search of Slow is an intriguing book by Carl Honoré.

He defines SLOW as doing everything at the correct speed: quickly, slowly, whatever works best.

The Economist magazine told its readers:  Forget frantic acceleration. Mastering the clock of business is about choosing when to be fast and when to be slow".

He says that only by slowing down can you live life to the full.  If you are always rushing, you only skim the surface of things.

From an estate agency perspective, it is all to easy and quick to upload property details to a portal.  

Sit back. And wait. And wait some more.

From a buyer perspective, it is all too easy to skim through the portals.  Reject those homes that have no immediate appeal.

The fact is, however, that there are homes on the market that do meet your expectations, but a cursory glance on Rightmove isn't sufficient to ensure that you are looking in the right place.

Many, many agents have a number of 'off-market' properties on their books.  They also have a number of very interested buyers with whom they converse.

Whenever something suitable crops up.

It is a half-truth that an estate agents database is largely irrelevant  

Usurped by the power of the portal.

Or, that every serious buyer will be registered on the database of every agency in the area.

They won't be.

Finding an agency that has 'old-fashioned' values.  That does things at the speed they should be done.

That takes the time to understand the buyer and the potential vendor.

Computers, the portals and suchlike have made everyone's life easier.  But it's sensible to stand back and look at the bigger picture.

For security issues, such as transfer of funds to a third-party, slow is better.

To truly find the house of your dreams, slow is better.

To find the very best #estateagency, slow is definitely better.

Technology is a wondrous thing for the property sector.  Provided we do not become dependent.

"Cheap and convenient, but fatally flawed. That is the world we have created with our dependence on computers."  is the conclusion of Edward Lucas.

Despite what the technology geeks would have us believe.  That the future of selling and purchasing a home will be conducted online.  That convenience and speed is desirable.  That all it takes is for us to sit back and enjoy the ride. That nothing will be subtracted, only added.


Despite all that, selling a home is an emotional experience.  Requiring a service provider that connects emotionally.  And one that, after all is said and done.

Puts your needs before their own.

The online agency, like the computer, won't slow down.










Not Who You Think They Are..(part 2).

Best Estate Agents

These agents are not who you think they are.  They're not a commodity.  They're among some of the very best in the U.K.

Listen in and discover why.

First up on the #Needle&Haystack podcast (2) was:James Wilkinson, Director of the Winkworth  branch in Highgate, North London. Winkworth, N.6


James espouses the virtue of "treating everyone as they themselves would wish to be treated".

We think Winkworths Highgate branch has it spot on.

Another James was our next guest.

This time, James Morton, from Newmans Estate Agency in Leamington Spa.

The business emphasis was on devolving authority and allowing the staff within the branch to think for themselves,  thrive and over-achieve.

Mark Brinkley, of Bennett Walden Estate Agents in Southgate, North London was our next guest. What did we get from our chat with Mark?  The feeling of their care, compassion, perseverance, empathy and patience.  What's not to like?

From London, back again to the Midlands.  This time, Matthew Moore from Edwards Moore Agency in Aldridge, Staffordshire.

"Local people buying from local people".  That's Edwards Moore.  In a nutshell.  The power of COMMUNITY.

Adam Walker, of Walkers People & Property. was next in line.

The boss of this Essex based agency has clear ambition. To be the very best agency in their immediate area.  We think they achieve it.  An inspiring conversation with an estate agent that a vendor referred to as "The House Hero".

Back to the Midlands and this next episode featured new agency founder, Carl Hemmings from Ginger Property in Balsall Common.

Carl has extensive property experience and only opened his agency office June 2015.  A daunting task that required strong belief in the benefits of having a 'high-street' presence.  Two years on and we notice instructions gathering pace at this detail-oriented agency.  No surprise.  We think -  an agency to watch.

If you have a home that is 'unremarkable'.  One that is the same as many others in your road.   One, where similar homes are sold on a frequent basis.  Then, getting an accurate valuation shouldn't be too difficult. There's plenty of 'comparable evidence'.  But, a home that is a little bit different?  Perhaps even unique?

That's where many agencies struggle to determine its true value. Not so our next agency head, Simon Stone.  His niche is to be found in just such properties.  The more interesting and unique, the better.

Our conversation with Simon on provided a fascinating insight into how his agency, The Unique Property Company, markets some truly stunning homes.

Our scheduled conversation with Walton & Allen Sales Manager, Phil Williams couldn't  take place, but it was an absolute pleasure to chat with Joe Newton, the agency valuation expert. .

One might think this cutting-edge, hi-tech agency could be 'online' or 'hybrid'.  Not a bit of it.  Slap bang in the middle of Nottingham Lace Market. Great insights into the agency and its culture from Joe.

Two agencies next up from London.

The excellent Donald Collins, Director of Ealing agency, GoViewLondon.   A passionate advocate of independent estate agents and then Neil Sloam, Director of respected Holland Park agency, Kinleigh,Folk & Hayward.

Donald's persistence and dogged determination, to close deals when others might not, shine out from this episode

Neil has a long career history at Kinleigh,Folk & Hayward.  His natural enthusiasm and leadership qualities are so obvious from just listening to this short conversation.  Sadly, the technology interrupted our chat half way through, but Neil's relaxed style still made an impression.

Finally, we chatted to Perry Power of Power Bespoke about his values and beliefs.  This is an estate agent that doesn't just sell homes.  He lives and breathes the process.  From 12 years of age, this was all he ever wanted to do.  And he did it.  An incredible agent that shares so much valuable and free information.  You'd be foolish not to heed his advice.

Needle & Haystack

Eleven great #estateagents.  Our search for the U.K Best Estate Agents goes on.

It's quality rather than quantity.  Vendors deserve only the best.

Hope you enjoyed listening to these episodes.  We learnt so much from each and every one.  About the process.  About the competence.

And, above all, about the character.




When Time Catches Up With Vendors.

"When Time catches up.  And, it always does."

The brilliant writer Seth Godin can always be relied upon for sharp observation and the following short extract is, in our opinion, one of the most apt. To explain why homeowners so often get it wrong when choosing an estate agency.

" Bad decisions happen for one of two reasons:

a):   You're in a huge hurry and you can't process all the incoming properly. 

But more common....

b):   The repercussions of your decision won't happen for months, or years.

A bad decision isn't only bad because we're uninformed, or dumb.

It can be bad because we're swayed by short-term comfort and ignore long-term implications.

A bad decision feels good in the short run, the heartfelt decision of someone who means well. But there's a gap when we get to the long run........Our job is to elevate the long run, on behalf of those we care about, regardless of how hard the marketing and tribal the noise around us encourages us to fall prey to instant comfort." 

Those words should be framed on every homeowners wall when the time comes to instruct an estate agency.

Let's deconstruct the message. In terms of estate agents and vendors.

Bad decisions happen too frequently in choosing any estate agency. Estimates suggest that over half the vendors choose the wrong agency, first time, and have to choose again before they finally sell.

"You're in a hurry? And, can't process all the incoming properly"

The pressure of everyday life: work, family, commute, entertainment.  There's a long list of demands on your time.  Choosing an estate agency should be simple.  They're all the same, aren't they?

Even those great agencies that provide all the information you require.  About the market.  About their agency.  About the process of selling your home.

Making the right choice

You probably still haven't got time.

Bad decision. It could cost you 'the game'.

Make time!  It's really a matter of priorities.  Achieving a premium price for your home should be near the top of any list.



In the long-term.

It will matter.

"Then, more commonly, the repercussions of your decision won't happen for months, or years."

It's fairly easy to assume that if your home doesn't sell in the first month or so, there's something wrong with the market, the valuation or the home itself.

A good agency will have advised, not just the valuation, but on all three. Especially those agencies whose fee is dependent on them getting it right.

Get it wrong and the agency doesn't get paid as quickly.  Or, not at all.

An agency, for example, such as PurpleBricks might persuade vendors to instruct them. They're cheaper, after all.   Promise vendors they won't have to pay the small fee, until the home sells.

Or, 9 months later.  Whichever comes first.

"Of course, we can sell you home in nine months.The power of the internet, etc.etc."

There are many examples, however, of homes that haven't sold within 9 months, via PurpleBricks, and other fixed fee agencies.  The bad news is that, if you didn't pay up-front,  you now have to pay.

They make sure of it.

The worse news is that your home has been on the market for 9 months without selling.  For whatever reason.  And, the potential buyers have disappeared.  Into the purple haze.  The agency has their money (they had it from Close Bros. a long time earlier) and their share price continues to rise.  Thanks to vendors that seek the instant comfort.

Easy isn't always best.

What seemed like an easy decision, brought about by the "marketing & tribal noise" of T.V ads, press releases and social media, has tuned out to be a bad decision.

The better scenario is one where your home does actually sell.  Short term comfort.  Perhaps a few thousand pounds less than we had hoped.  But, no harm done.  We apparently 'saved' on the fee by not using those high street agencies.

Bad decision.

That few thousand, however insignificant it might seem now, will seem a lot more so.  In the long-term.

As the house price index rises at an alarming rate, a few thousand now is likely to be worth considerably more in a few years time. The extra 'few thousand' that you got when you instructed a great high-street agency has, in the long-term, enabled you to move up rather than increase borrowing.

Short term, instant comfort then.   Now,  doesn't seem so comfortable.

The moral of the story should be evident.

If you're happy, making uninformed, or dumb decisions that will seriously disadvantage your financial position in the long-term, focus on the now. Never mind the long-term.

If it matters.  That you achieve a premium price for your home and manage to enjoy the experience, then some short-term thinking has to be avoided.  It's hard.  But the right agency will help you achieve your long-term goals.

As Seth Godin says: " Time always catches up".








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