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Property: Why it’s the right time for My London Home to launch a lettings business

Jay O’Dell hails rare opportunity to build systems and processes from the ground up at estate agency

My London Home’s Jay O’Dell – image Matt Grayson

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“I see it as a unique opportunity to build something new, to learn from my experiences and to launch a lettings and management business within a successful agency that has been trading for 20 years and has done very well,” said Jay O’Dell.

My London Home’s director of property management is relishing the task in front of him. It’s one his whole career has prepared him for.

“After university I needed a job and I found one at a lettings agency,” said Jay. “It was in Cambridge and, outside of London, you work as a combined agent and property manager. 

“After working there, going travelling and returning to that role, I moved to the capital and joined Farrar And Co on the Fulham Road – a small independent business.

“At that point I had to make a choice because, in London, the business forks into two, so I became a property manager and was there for nine years.

“After that I moved to Strutt And Parker to head up its property management department for six-and-a-half years. It was a really good company with great people and I learnt a lot.

“However, it went through some really significant changes after it was bought out three years ago by BNP Paribas – the fourth biggest bank in the world. 

“I’ve never wanted to work for a huge corporate company, it’s not where I feel at home. Strutt And Parker had been the perfect middle ground – a big company but a partnership and one where you still got to talk with and influence the decision-makers. 

“So I decided it was time for a change. I was very clear I didn’t want to swap my job for a similar one at another giant firm. I wanted something new and exciting and that’s when I saw My London Home was advertising.”

The well-established hybrid estate agency, which has offices covering Westminster, South Bank, Battersea, Hong Kong and, of course, Canary Wharf, was embarking on a project to launch a lettings business, having sold its previous operation to another agency a few years ago. It was looking for someone to take the lead.

“I applied and was lucky enough to get the job,” said Jay. “It feels like the right time for My London Home to be launching a lettings business.

“We’ve had a chance to look back at the market while we’ve been out of it and we haven’t seen anybody doing anything very differently, so we think we can bring that to the table.

“The agency is very successful and that gives us an advantage from the start.

“It’s incredibly rare that you get an opportunity to build something from nothing, to develop a new set of systems and processes and to structure our teams to reflect exactly what we think people need today and the way things should be done.

“In my experience, it’s very difficult to change those things once they are established at a company – that’s the same whatever industry you’re in.

“There can be real resistance and that’s a shame because there has been such a lot of positive change in the lettings industry over the last 10 years with some really good tech-based solutions.

“Being able to put things together at the outset and to get them right first time puts us in a really good position in the market.”

Jay says technology plays a key role – image Matt Grayson

My London Home recently launched its lettings operation with a clear emphasis on the benefits of technology.

Jay said: “The advent of proptech has made a massive change to the industry and the way you are able to run your business. That includes compliance, administration and designing how you’re going to do things as a company.

“In setting up the lettings operation at My London Home, I’ve been very much guided by the proptech I wanted to work with and have then built all our processes around it.

“That puts us in a position where we can utilise all of the packages to their full capabilities and, while we are not unique in using them, all the other agencies are bolting them on to an existing service and process and that’s not always going to be a good fit.

“You’ll also have resistance there, where staff won’t want to change the way they’ve always done things.

“To get the most out of proptech, you need your team, tenants and landlords to buy into it. You don’t get the full efficiencies if you’re using existing processes and just diverting into a digital portal as an add-on.

“What we’ve created is a truly streamlined service with the pinch points taken away.”

So what does that look like from the point of view of a tenant or landlord coming to My London Home?

“From the tenant’s point of view, the way we’re structuring the back office is different to the way other agencies do it,” said Jay.

“Typically in the industry, the lettings manager deals with landlords and tenants in the front office, the deal is then passed to a progressor whose job is to sort out the tenancy agreements and referencing and then the tenant is passed on to a property manager who is responsible for looking after the property.

“Then you might have a third party firm looking after maintenance.

“That can lead to tenants constantly being passed from person to person and, unless your internal communication is really on point, people won’t necessarily know where they’re at.

“That process is inefficient and means you look like you have a disjointed company.

“What proptech allows us to do at My London Home is to change that. With us you have our front of house team who deal with the negotiation and then a tenancy manager.

“As soon as the deal is agreed they become the sole point of contact until the tenant leaves the property.

“Lots of agencies talk about offering this, but in reality few, if any, do. The reason we can is because we have the right technology embedded in our processes – onboarding, rent profile, referencing and tenancy agreements.

“An example would be that we’re using PixFlow to streamline the maintenance process as well as a company called HelpMeFix, which is pioneering video technology to help resolve issues with properties.

“Engineers use video calls to diagnose problems and talk tenants through fixing them if it’s safe to do so.

“That might be something like repressurising a boiler and it’s a win for both tenant and landlord because the issue is resolved more quickly.

“Also, the tenant learns how to fix the problem, so in future probably won’t even need to contact the agency if it happens again.

“That means the landlord, rather than paying a call out fee for an engineer, will pay significantly less.

 “We’re also using The Depository, a revolutionary piece of tech for the end of tenancy process. It allows one person to manage the whole life cycle of a tenancy.

“Tenants should look at renting through us because we’ve designed our processes to be pain-free.

“The systems we have in place should enable you to go from making an offer to signing your agreement on your phone without having to look at a piece of paper along the way.

“We also have a tenant rewards programme that we’ve introduced in conjunction with a company called Vaboo, which offers discounts of between 5% and 10% at more than 700 national retailers. There’s also a monthly competition to win a month’s rent. 

“Even if tenants only engage with it once – to buy half-price cinema tickets, for example – it’s still giving something back as an agency and offering something positive.

“These platforms are also a great way for us to gather feedback to ensure we can make our operation even better.”

Jay said landlords should consider renting their properties through My London Home for a number of reasons including the various service levels available.

“We’ve decided to offer a Platinum Management Service, which has been designed to simplify the billing process for landlords,”  he said. 

“It means they’ll know exactly what they’re going to earn and covers all administration fees over a tenancy.

“That means no hidden costs and, while the percentage a landlord will pay is slightly higher, we think it offers true clarity so they can plan into the future.

“Our let only fee is 11%, let and manage is 15% and the Platinum Management Service is 17% of the rent and that includes hundreds of pounds of admin costs. 

“For accidental landlords it also means the up-front costs of renting a property are drastically reduced as it can be challenging to transition from being an owner to renting a property out.”

Jay said a strong market and the complementary role of My London Home’s sales business made it an ideal time to launch.

“Lettings and sales work hand-in-hand and benefit both sides of the business, because you have the opportunity to pass clients between both sides of the business, but retain that income for the company,” he said. 

“It makes our offices more dynamic because, the sales process can take months while the lettings team will be doing multiple deals in a week.

“That means you have that activity, which is good for morale, as well as the repeat income as a business. 

“The market is strong right now as the economy recovers from the pandemic.

“Listings typically aren’t on the market very long. There are still issues with the amount of stock, but we expect that to ease over the next six months.

“I think that people are still in homes having hunkered down over the last couple of years – lots haven’t moved.

“The increasing cost of living coupled with fewer people upsizing means you’re not getting the usual turnover of properties coming back onto the market that you would expect.

“As we come out of what appears to be the end of the pandemic, confidence will return and people will start thinking about the next few years of their lives.

“They will start to consider what they want from life, where they want to be living and I think this will fuel people moving more freely and that will bring more stock back to the market.”

Read more: Malmin Dental set to launch in Canary Wharf

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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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