We catch up with Mike Jones, Aspire Residential’s Director of sales to find out why he co-founded Aspire, what his thoughts are on current market conditions and why he’s so passionate about Aspire Residential's values. We also ask him to tell us a little about what the future might hold for Aspire Residential.
Mike - You took a big step to co-found Aspire Residential, what was your motivation?
The estate and lettings industry is going through a period of considerable change at the moment. There is increased regulation and legislation and more pressure is being placed on estate agency margins. Unfortunately, a by-product of this is that that many agencies are becoming increasingly focused on numbers and statistics, and losing the "customer service" mentality.
At the end of the day, while we transact in property, we deal with “people” and I think that they just want to receive good old-fashioned customer service. We help people make one of the biggest financial decisions of their life and as far as possible, we want to take the stress out of the process and ensure we are empathetic. I see this as a huge opportunity to differentiate Aspire Residential from other local agencies.
Is that why you think the on-line estate agents are struggling to make traction?
Absolutely! The concept of “on line” agency is interesting but, as noted above, the reality is that when people buy and sell their homes, they are making one of the biggest financial decisions of their life. Clients want to be able to talk to their agent and sit in front of them to understand how the sale is going and what the feedback is from potential buyers.
And, the need for effective agent-client communication doesn’t end when the property becomes subject to contract. Data shows that the fall out rate of transactions between offer and completion is now pushing up to 40%, which is up nearly 10% in the last 2 years, so its really important that the agent stays on top of the sales progression process. Again, clients just want to come into the office and understand what is going on and what we are doing to manage the process. It’s hard to give great customer service "on line" through a computer.
Why the name “Aspire Residential”?
I actually wanted to call us “Michael Jones and Company”, but I think that might have caused a problem with another local and well-established Estate Agency!! But seriously, the name “Aspire” was kind of obvious in a way. The Cambridge dictionary describes Aspire as “a desire to achieve something or be successful”. I think this reflects what we are about as a Company and how we want to make our customers feel, irrespective of their position as a buyer or seller.
What’s your take on current market conditions?
2018 was an interesting year for many reasons. In one way, we had the “perfect storm” in that we had the Football World Cup, followed by a really warm summer, followed by increasing uncertainty brought on by the "B" word - Brexit. All of these things had the potential to keep buyers away from the market. Under the circumstances, the market turned out to be pretty resilient. The first half of 2019 has been steady and certain parts of the market continue to perform well. Current stock levels are low, but with a healthy number of buyers out there, selling prices are holding up to adverse political and economic headwinds.
You mentioned Brexit, so what has the impact been??
I actually think that as time goes on, the impact of Brexit is less and less. I think it’s fair to say that “Brexit fatigue” has set in for many people. I am no longer frequently asked about the issue when I undertake valuations for clients or viewings with potential buyers. Who knows what will eventually happen, but I think it’s fair to conclude that a “no deal” Brexit in particular might create enough of an economic shock to affect the housing market. The Bank of England issued some research suggesting that house prices could be negatively impacted by upto 30%, but I just can’t see that happening.
Is Worthing still good value?
Worthing is still very attractive, particularly for people who are willing to live in the town and commute to Brighton and London. Data from the Office of National Statistics indicates that house values in Worthing are still priced at a discount of approximately 30% compared to Brighton. Also, research carried out in 2018 puts Worthing in the top 10 most affordable commuter towns for London after taking account of property prices and commuting costs. We receive a significant number of enquiries from "out of area" buyers who see Worthing as being well priced and a good lifestyle choice.
Is legislation and regulation having much of an impact on the industry?
Yes, the impact is very significant, particularly for lettings. The Tenant Fee Ban will take £250 million of fees out of the industry, meaning that letting agents are going to have to become more efficient. Also, the introduction of further health and safety regulation for landlords, increased taxation of investment property and potential changes in areas such as S21 repossession rights are completely “shaking up” the buy to let market.
Research indicates that almost half of landlords are considering selling part of their portfolio due to some of the changes being introduced. This could have a very significant impact on the sales market in the later half of 2019 and into 2020. Buy to let investments have had a tough time over recent years, but notwithstanding the pressure that tax and regulatory changes have placed on yields, when you factor in potential capital growth, property still represents an attractive asset class for investment.
Aspire Residential is built on the values of Service, Expertise and Accountability. What do these mean for you personally?
When we set up Aspire, it was important that we built it from a solid set of values. Service is the cornerstone of what we are about as a Company, as everything we do is fundamentally about dealing with people. While you can teach an agent to make a cold call or undertake a viewing, you can’t teach someone to “care”. Caring has to be part of a person’s DNA and at Aspire, everyone that we employ has to have service deeply engrained into the core of who they are. I have previously worked with agents who wanted to “care” about the transaction and the people, but were so heavily driven by data and statistics by their seniors, that they eventually lost sight of client service. At Aspire, we put people first. We believe that If we look after people, the numbers and the statistics look after themselves!
To me, expertise is about ensuring clients have good quality information. Our team has an average of over 10 years local market experience per person, so clients know they are getting quality advice. We believe that people make the best decisions when they are “informed” decisions based on quality data and market knowledge. Estate agency should not just be about showing someone around a house or flat, or putting a listing on Rightmove. Quality estate agency is about recognising that clients are about to make one of the most significant financial decisions of their life and acting as a trusted advisor in support of that decision.
In terms of accountability, it’s pretty simple. At Aspire, our clients get to deal with the owners and Directors of the business. We don’t shy away from accountability, the buck stops with us.
So, what’s next for Aspire?
I don’t want to give away too much of our game plan, but I have been really pleased by the markets and clients response to our approach to business and our focus on customer service in particular. We want to grow, but we don’t want to lose the “personal touch” which is so critical to what we are as a brand.
The logical next step for us is to introduce a Maintenance Division to support our Lettings and Management business and we are currently recruiting for this position. After that, we will probably look to open a second office. We already have some preliminary plans in place, but more on that over the coming months.
And outside of work, what does Mike Jones do?
Well, its turned out to be a busy time at work and at home. I recently got engaged to Cassie and she is certainly keeping me occupied planning a wedding for some point in the not too distant future. But by nature, I am one of those people that can't sit still for very long and I am at my best when super busy. Even with a new professional venture and a wedding to plan, no doubt I will soon find some further project to occupy my time.
Want to know more?
Aspire values are further discussed in our interview with Rob Gamon, Director of Lettings and Management.