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Property: Estate agency Alex Neil sees rental demand drive lettings and sales

Area manager Georgia Nailard takes the market’s temperature and looks to the year ahead

Alex Neil area manager Georgia Nailard
Alex Neil area manager Georgia Nailard image Matt Grayson

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Much was written over the early months of the pandemic about the inevitable, lasting effects a period of home working would have on the nation.

Cities would become hollow doughnuts as workers fled areas dense with people to work permanently and remotely from desks in rural houses, meeting colleagues only via Zoom and completing assignments via broadband.

Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg’s dream of a Metaverse – where we’re all constantly online, virtually popping in and out of each others’ lives from wherever we are in the world – will come to fruition. But perhaps not.

Far more likely is that genuine, real-life human interaction will once more reassert itself as the dominant preference for work and leisure.

Before Omicron pressed the pause button and Delta was all we had to worry about, workers had flooded back into Canary Wharf – not forced to be present, but eager to meet, work and, crucially, socialise with colleagues and friends.

There was buzz, industry and colour and there will be again. 

I’ve already read at least one columnist’s account of her abortive move to the coast followed by a return to London and all its delights, having discovered life beyond the city has serious limitations. 

While a sample size of one isn’t much to go on, this anecdote fits with a trend in the local property market as demand surges for rentals.

Georgia Nailard is area manager covering estate agency Alex Neil’s operations at its Bethnal Green And Bow and Canary Wharf offices.

She said: “Throughout the lockdowns no-one went to work. At first that was exciting, but it wore off pretty quickly and most people and businesses have realised how important it is to actually be in the office with other people.

“Working at home five days a week can be very isolating – going to the office isn’t just for the company’s benefit.

“Ultimately that realisation means people want to rent in close proximity to places like Canary Wharf.

“What’s happened in the last couple of months in the run up to Christmas has been quite dramatic – the rental prices we have been able to achieve are very different from six months before that. 

“In some cases we’re getting more for them than we would have before the pandemic, which is amazing and something landlords may not be aware of.

“There has been a slight shortage of rental properties coming back to the market.

“There has been a lot of uncertainty over the past 18 months and some tenants have been signing up for longer tenancies, meaning ultimately that there aren’t as many places available to rent.

“But the demand is there – usually we’d expect the market to slow down in December and we didn’t see that in 2021. 

“With the market like this, it means when a new property becomes available we can do a large open day for viewings and we’ll usually receive multiple offers, sometimes going over the asking price.

“Doing these events means we also build up a lot of prospective tenants for properties coming onto the market. 

“I expect similar trends to continue in January and throughout the year, I don’t see that demand slowing down.

“There are often changes of circumstance for people around the Christmas period too, so that may bring even more tenants looking.”

That demand is also benefiting the sales market as canny investors see the return of profitable yields to be had in Docklands, while house prices are driven by people’s increasing desire to live on the Isle Of Dogs and nearby in east London.

Georgia said: “The way the rental market is going at the moment, there are investors out there who have cash, don’t require a mortgage and will see the opportunity Canary Wharf presents – the yield on property in the area is unbelievable at the moment.

“As an agency we’re experts in marketing property and, with our international package, that’s where we offer something quite different.

“As well as being on all the main UK portals, we make sure the properties we sell get maximum exposure here and across the world, which is really important.

“It’s about making certain that we’re angling each property at the right buyer, thinking outside the box, being proactive and educating buyers.

“Right now investors are looking for quality rather than quantity.

“It will take time for the sales market to fully recover from the pandemic, but we are starting to see some positive signs, with the numbers of applicants rising and many people looking to sell.

“Ten years ago, I think people saw the Canary Wharf area as a place to rent, but now you are seeing buyers who want to move here for the foreseeable future, with existing residents looking to upsize.

“People want to stay here because of how much it’s changing – the pubs, restaurants and bars that are opening, for example.

“The quality of the buildings here is fantastic – they have so many facilities and many of the older developments are located right on the Thames with great views.”

Georgia says she always wanted to be an estate agent
Georgia says she always wanted to be an estate agent image Matt Grayson

Georgia said Alex Neil’s role was to make moving home as easy as possible for all concerned, whether that was for buyers, sellers, landlords or tenants.

She said: “I grew up in Brighton and my dad was a car salesman – he was always selling something and had that motivation.

“We moved house quite a lot when I was younger and I loved going on viewings, so I grew up wanting to be an estate agent.

“I love working with people and helping them move – it can be one of the most stressful times in someone’s life as property is usually their biggest asset – so we try to take the stress out of things.

“There are so many emotions involved with the process but we try to make it as smooth as possible, making sure everyone’s happy at the end of it. 

“The best way to do that is to be honest and to set everyone’s expectations at the start, rather than raising them to the point where they are unrealistic.

“We always tell people how we’ll start from ‘x’ and end up at ‘y’. For sales, that means from viewing to completion.

“A lot of people haven’t bought or sold for a good number of years and forget the process. In that time there may have been changes in technology or with other parts of the transaction.

“Everyone is different, so we have to adjust to each person, making sure they understand exactly what the process is and what the steps are, from signing the terms of business to completion.

“Leaving questions with someone will only make them confused so we try never to let that happen.

“It’s the same for lettings – we aim to make letting out a property as simple as possible, because it can seem quite overwhelming.

“That’s why we’ve developed a checklist so landlords know exactly what they need to do and what they must have at every stage of the process.

“That’s what makes us stand out in the market – we’re the experts and we’ll help you every step of the way.”

Read more: Hamptons launches new office in Canary Wharf

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Property: Why Alex Neil believes estate agency must be international and local

Matteo Congedo, regional manager for Canary Wharf and Docklands, talks service, sales and lets

Alex Neil regional manager Matteo Congedo
Alex Neil regional manager Matteo Congedo – image Matt Grayson

First established in 1984, when much of Docklands was still a derelict industrial wasteland, estate agency Alex Neil has stood the test of time, embracing the challenges of regeneration while growing and nimbly evolving to serve its ever-changing market.

Walk through the doors of its Canary Wharf and Docklands branch on Westferry Road and beneath the grey and copper of its branding you’ll find a business marketing properties in 65 different countries via 94 online portals – the kind of reach that would have been impossible 37 years ago.

“When we represent a vendor or a landlord, we do the very best we can to make sure they get maximum visibility in terms of marketing,” said regional manager Matteo Congedo.

“Because of Brexit and the fluctuations in the value of the pound, people overseas have seen that as an opportunity to invest in London and Canary Wharf is seen as one of the best places to be, so we’ve invested heavily in marketing all the properties we have internationally. That’s not something many agents can offer in London.

“But we also like to have a local presence – for example, we send out 300,000 printed supplements in the areas we cover as well and that reaches a different audience.

“We’re a modern agency, but that means using a range of different methods to make sure we cover as wide a demographic as possible. 

“One of the mistakes agencies make in terms of marketing is that they think one thing is going to work and they invest all their time and effort in that – social media, for instance. But what about people who don’t look at those platforms?

“What we’ve seen with video tours of properties during the pandemic, for example, is that because people are potentially committing themselves to a home for 30 years, they’re not going to do that if they only see it on a screen.

“It’s not like buying something on Amazon where if you don’t like it you can send it back. So during the pandemic we made sure we could continue physical viewings, equipping our staff with PPE, minimising time wasted.”

Operating from three locations in addition to Canary Wharf – Chiselhurst And Bromley, Bow And Bethnal Green and Rotherhithe And Bermondsey – the company covers Docklands, Kent, Essex and east and south-east London, marketing properties both to buy and rent.

Matteo said: “The sales market is very interesting at the moment because the only two things people were thinking about a couple of months ago were buying a place and working from home.

“At that time, because of the restrictions, buyers didn’t really have much opportunity to do anything else. With the easing, we’ve seen a bit of a drop in terms of viewings but a rise in terms of the quality of applicants – more serious buyers.

“Before we had people who were just looking around because there wasn’t much else to do.

“Now, as society opens up to other things – you can see family or friends you haven’t seen in a long time – those people who weren’t seriously committed to buying are doing those activities instead, rather than  searching for a property.

“That’s good for owners, because the time between putting a property on the market and getting an offer has fallen as a result.

“The way I see it, the average age of Canary Wharf residents is likely to drop. 

“Over the past year, families have started to be more open to other areas.  This area is great to live in but potentially doesn’t offer as much in terms of schools as some others. That’s what’s driven a lot of families to move to the outskirts of London.

“But, if you want to live in a cool place, walking distance to the office and the amenities of Canary Wharf and you want to be able to do lots of activities then it’s the place to be.

“I’m a true believer that Canary Wharf won’t struggle. Yes, over the past 15 months we’ve been through a lot and we’ll need a bit of time to adjust, but what Docklands offers is unparalleled compared to any other place in London. 

“People don’t want a long commute, especially if they’re working in financial services or for a big company where they’re doing very long hours in the office.

“The last thing you want to do after that is to go on a depressing journey on the Tube. It’s dark and dingy, especially in winter – an increasing number of people want to live close to work. 

“Also, what the buildings here offer in terms of facilities is very attractive – you have cinema rooms, swimming pools, concierge services and business hubs. The lifestyle here is completely different to how it was 20 years ago. 

“In terms of what’s popular, the older developments are really holding their ground because they offer a very large floorplan and that’s what people want. Then there are a lot of youngsters attracted by the new developments.”

Matteo says the rental market will book in September – image Matt Grayson

Matteo said the rental market locally had been through a rollercoaster of a year with the pandemic initially seeing tenants leaving the area but predicted a recovery would follow widespread return to offices.

He said: “We’ve seen Canary Wharf Group move into the build-to-rent market – a prime example being the Newfoundland building, which is just across the road from our office – that’s evidence of the demand for package deals where those renting pay a fixed price with bills included.

“We’re dealing with the Circus Apartments at Canary Riverside, which is another build-to-rent scheme  of 46 apartments, all offering luxury living because that fits with the calibre of people the area is attracing at the moment. 

“When people were not allowed in the offices, we did see a migration away but things are picking up and I think we’re going to have a boom around September when a large proportion of Canary Wharf workers are expected back in the office.

“That’s what we’re preparing our team for. It’s reassuring because there’s a huge buy-to-let market locally with many investors putting money in from abroad.”

Matteo was also keen to stress that, while Alex Neil is very much a company that looks outward, its heart is firmly in the communities it operates in, donating a percentage of its fees to a chosen charity each year and welcoming collaboration with local organisations.

He said: “Estate agency is a people business. The agent should be someone embedded in the community – it’s very important that every viewing we do, every person we speak to, we give the best possible level of customer service because you never know who you’re dealing with.

“The tenant of today could be the buyer or the landlord of tomorrow. Because we’ve been here such a long time, we have people who perhaps began renting through us but are now looking to buy and are looking only through us because they have an expectation – they know we’re going to do the best we can.

“In the industry, you see a lot of pop-up shops, businesses that start up and then close down after a couple of years because they don’t really offer a service. We’ve been established since 1984 and that says a lot.

“This year both me and the firm’s director David Hatch will be running the London Marathon to raise money for Guy’s And St Thomas’ Kidney Patients Association. We’d love to raise as much money as possible. As a company we try to do as much for charity as we can.

“An estate agency should be part of its community –  a point of contact if you need anything. 

“For example, we just bought a greenhouse for a girls school in Chiselhurst so they can grow plants. It’s about giving something back to people locally.”

Call 020 7537 9859 or go to alexneil.com for more information about properties in the area or to pledge your support for Matteo and David’s efforts in the forthcoming London Marathon

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