Friends Michaela Sanders and Abby Wheeler left high-street estate agency behind to start their own all-female, independent Heart + Home agency, aiming to bring a more personal, hands-on touch to the way homes are bought and sold.
They have no office and operate from their homes. But by deliberately limiting their client lists, they vow to take buyers on the whole journey from house hunting to the key handover, and even help sellers clean their homes before viewings.
“We are looking to change the way estate agents are perceived and shake up the industry,” said Abby.
“We won’t be just putting the property on the market and hoping for the best, we will be guiding clients on staging the property – after all, first impressions are everything!”
And their approach seems to have paid dividends so far, with the pair reporting business has been “crazy” since they launched in March, with 30-plus house viewings in a single day not uncommon.
But the chancellor’s extension to end the stamp duty holiday in the spring budget created something of a local housing frenzy, they say, causing the 20-plus per cent house price rises reported by the Herald this year.
Michaela added: “We’re living in a little bubble in Surrey and Hampshire, and I expect to continue to see house prices rise as long as people continue to want to move here.
“It ultimately boils down to supply and demand. There are double the number of buyers to the number of sellers, and because people are prepared to pay over asking prices, that is pushing prices up. While that is the case, prices are not going to slow down.”
Michaela and Abby have also noticed a change in the demographics of people seeking to buy homes.
Abby said: “We’re seeing younger people looking at houses – and with heftier deposits, too. For one of the properties we’ve just sold, we took it to the market at £340,000, we had 50 viewings and about ten offers. I would say of those 50 viewings, the majority were first time-buying couples in their late 20s and early 30s.
“If you’re looking at a £340,000 house, then you want to have a £34,000 deposit minimum, which seems a lot.
“When I first started an agency, the first-time buyers I would be selling to were all looking to buy one-bedroom flats. But now we’re seeing people staying with mum and dad a little bit longer, and saving up for a bigger deposit.”
So why have they chosen now to go it alone now?
Michaela said: “We saw the shift that has happened in London.
“So many agents from the big, famous firms are stepping away and going, ‘hang on, I know I’m a very good agent, why do I have to do it under the umbrella of a big corporate when I know I can do it myself and grow it ourselves?’
“We’re seeing it happening a lot in London, and it’s already the way they do it in America and Australia, so we thought ‘right, we need to be the ones to do it in Surrey and Hampshire’.
“We believe estate agency should be more individual. We don’t really see ourselves as an estate agent, we’re more like ‘property professionals’.
“And unlike with most high-street estate agents, if you’re looking to buy or sell a property, we’ll come with you and give you impartial advice the whole way.
“We want to hold the hands of our clients from day one to completion.”