After a turbulent year for London’s luxury housing market, local real estate agents are looking forward to what they hope will be an active 2018.
Even the end of 2017 was busier than expected.
During what was a “messy” year for London’s luxury real estate, some buyers and sellers waited until the last minute to finalize transactions, said Becky Fatemi of Rokstone Estate Agents in London. That had agents working double time over the holiday season. And many think the new year will see more volume in sales, if more modest prices.
Ms. Fatemi said that “a little more clarity on Brexit” has given both buyers and sellers more confidence and stirred the market. Now that the March 2019 date has been determined for the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, it’s easier for people to make plans. Because of that, Rokstone is “preparing for a busy next year.”
Inquiries were up 30% from the end of the year last year, Ms. Fatemi said. That includes a lot of action on the rental side as well, she said.
“Unsurety makes people look toward rentals,” she said. Rokstone is recruiting more agents to help on that side of the business in 2018. The company is also bringing more clerks on to help decipher tax structure for buyers and sellers.
Even if business isn’t exactly quiet, the slower winter months are still a time for firms to work with buyers and sellers to make their properties as appealing as possible. That means freshening up properties and making sure the price is right.
Rokstone is also working with some clients whose uncertainty had led them to take their listings off the market in the past, Ms. Fatemi said, but are now ready to try their luck again.
“We will re-photograph, redress, create new PR and marketing strategies and new house launches and events,” Ms. Fatemi said.
A facelift for some properties
“Redressing” can mean anything from changing the curtains, reducing clutter or slapping up a new coat of paint. Ms. Fatemi and her team recently whitewashed the living room in one of her central London listings; it had been a lovely shade of bright lavender.
Mark Pollack, director and co-founder of Aston Chase, also recommended that sellers “make minor improvements or stage their homes in order to enhance the prospects of an early sale in the new year.”
Mr. Pollack agreed that these days there isn’t really an off-season, “as in recent years the market has become quite unpredictable.” Still his agency has some strategies for preparing for 2018.
“Immediately post the Christmas and New Year period, we will be liaising with vendors to discuss their objectives,” Mr. Pollack said. “We will be re-listing certain properties which were effectively withdrawn from the market over the holiday period…. It is our experience that serious inquiries tend to surface early in the new year when buyers and sellers effectively start to implement their plans, vision and objectives.”
Important to set the price right
One thing Aston Chase agents are talking to their clients about is pricing. Specifically, not setting the price too high.
“In a challenging prime and super-prime market, with higher volumes of stock available and fewer serious buyers, we are strongly encouraging vendors not to flirt with selling but to price competitively and realistically from the outset,” he said. “In this climate, those that are buying are very focused on value for money.”
Plus, not being realistic about the original asking price can mean problems down the road.
“Vendors who ask unrealistically ambitious prices can often find themselves effectively chasing their own tail,” Mr. Pollack said. In some cases, “a below-market price [has] to be accepted as the property languishes…[and] new ‘exciting’ stock comes to the market.”
Paul Cosgrove, director at Finlay Brewer, also thinks convincing sellers to set the right price is key.
“Estate agents can help in the coming year by focusing on realistic pricing… and being firm with over-optimistic vendors to ensure an efficient and successful sale that works for all parties,” he said.
Mr. Cosgrove predicted that this could turn the market around, encourage investors to return and could potentially break the “stalemate” in London real estate.
“2017 saw the number of transactions in London fall, as Brexit caused buyers to prevaricate and hedge their bets,” he said. “The softening of prices will encourage buyers across all segments in 2018 and give the market a real boost.”
He sees the most successful properties in 2018 as “those of the highest quality and largely turnkey, which I predict would continue to sell for a premium.” This type of luxury housing has attracted local and foreign buyers alike in recent years, as it provides a simplified and comfortable lifestyle.
New marketing strategies for the new year
Agents agreed that new innovative marketing was an important factor as well. It’s important to stay relevant but not oversell, said Peter Wetherell, founder and chief executive of Wetherell Estate Agents, which specializes in the London neighborhood of Mayfair.
He said he is looking to do “more indirect marketing through referrals and brand ambassadors” in the coming year.
But perhaps the biggest factor in strengthening London’s market has as much to do with politics than other aspects. As the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union become more clear, agents said they’ve seen a burst of activity.
“A little of bit of optimism kind of opens in the floodgates,” Rokstone’s Ms. Fatemi said. “People have held off until now, but now at the end of the year, they realize things haven’t really changed. There’s still a lack of supply in London and there will always be.”
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