The slowdown in the property market and the growth of everything online could possibly lead to the end of the red socks and pointy shoe brigade of estate agents. This band of warriors can be found on every high street usually bunched together with not much to differentiate between them. They are entrusted with selling the most valuable possession in your life.
London Loves Business, the source of many good stories, reviewed a report from Moore Stephens, the Top 10 Accountancy Firm into the financial health of estate agents. They report that more than 7,000 UK estate agents are currently showing signs of financial distress and 153 have gone insolvent in the last year. Moore Stephens’ report comments that this is due to online competition, the dreaded stamp duty, business rates, staff costs, the list is endless. In addition a notable percentage of the population have had bad experiences with estate agents. Some estate agents have relied on letting to survive, but the Government has plans to ban letting fees with the bill going through Parliament and expected to be passed in the Spring of 2019. Soon estate agents will be joining the list of other retail staff looking for new jobs, maybe this is the time to invest in a retail online recruitment agency.
Not all estate agents fall into this category. Peter Wetherell based in Mount Street in Mayfair knows every inch of his patch and has probably sold most of the homes in the area. With just one office, Peter can really be the ‘eyes of the boss oil which wheels the business’ nothing gets past Peter. Out of London country estate agents can usually tell you much more about an area than you can find on Google. These are the agents who will survive and thrive in any downturn knowing the local population, their homes, dogs and children. They are respected, knowledgeable and needed when selling, even if their fees make you head for a gin and tonic.
Estate agent failures and more boarded up shops, just leads to more doom and gloom. How can things change and shoppers be encouraged once more to visit their local shopping malls and high streets? We asked David Bentheim who apart from his work in interior design also has a world-wide reputation for creating amazing exhibiting spaces. He believes we need something different and to turn things on their head. ‘Shopping is now secondary to the experience; high streets and shopping malls should be working with the community and businesses in the area. Museums are reporting increases in visitor levels by bringing artefacts from museums into shopping centres, display them properly, this can encourage people to stop shopping on line and come into the high street. For example, the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the V&A had the highest level of bookings as soon as it was announced, shopping centres could have encouraged their tenants to think ‘Mexican’ and theme the centres whilst the exhibition is running. It does not take much to do this, just a collaboration of all stakeholders, innovation and local knowledge.
The Art Fund, responsible for the highly coveted Museum of the Year award, commented “all museums and galleries do important work”, so the winner must be “a truly visionary organisation—one that readily rethinks established ways of working and offers great quality and ingenuity in all its activities”. This quote can easily apply to shopping centres.
Landlords get the blame for the decline of the High Street, but in the spirit of fairness, local authorities have to shoulder some of the blame. Increased business rates and increased parking, no thought for the small special businesses whose owners are passionate about the business but weighed down red tape and costs. The customers who should be the most important of all groups, are sometimes seen as another income generating scheme for the local authorities.
Well done Daily Mail for running a campaign to ‘Save our High Streets’ and we hope for all our sakes they succeed.
Shopping Centre image courtesy Lee Baron; All other images courtesy Wetherell/Grant Frazer.