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James Cole


The Housing Bubble explained

This weekend’s Independent on Sunday contained one of the clearest explanations of the 2000 – 2008 Housing bubble that I have read.  Two simple graphs: one showing the spike in ‘House price to average earnings ratio’ between 2002 and 2008 and the other showing a corresponding spike in ‘UK Net mortgage lending’.

The relationship between a huge net lending increase (credit creation) and house prices seems undeniable.

I won’t add any value with additional commentary so head over the the Independent website to read the full article:

Hamish McRae: Glimmers of light on road to ‘normality’

In fact print it off and keep it in your purse/ wallet and hand it to any bubble deniers you encounter.

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James Cole


Internet Marketing for Estate Agents: Google Places

In my last article on internet marketing for estate agents I introduced PPC or Pay Per Click advertising using Google Adwords to put your business at the top of search results.

Today I’m going to be explaining how you can use Google Places to do the same thing – but for free!

The fundamental aim of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is building your website’s credibility in a way that Google sees fit to place it at the top of its search results for a given phrase.  For example if you are an Estate Agent in Knightsbridge and you think you’re customers are looking for estate agents on the web by typing in ‘estate agents in knightsbridge’ then you want to be top of the search results for that term – don’t you?

Luckily for small businesses Google has changed the way search results appear in recent years and we now see videos, news and other types of media streams within search results.  One introduction is Google Places – essentially the information about busiesses or places stored on Google Maps now finds its way into search results – and generally ABOVE natural search results for ‘localised’ searches (like ‘estate agents in Knightsbridge‘).

Google positions business listings for google places high in search results

Click the image above to view full size

So a Google Places entry can put you at or near the top of search results and help clients find your website in this way.  But Google Places results will display a number of estate agents in your area, and you want to be top!

Here we go again – more optimisation to get to the top of search results.  Read on to find out how (it’s easy).

Firstly – do you have a Google Local listing?  If not create one here.  If you do, have you claimed it?  This means you identify yourself as a representative of the business so you can edit the listing.

Second, add information to your Google Places business listing.  This will not only help Google decide to place your business higher in the search results but it will increase the number of visits from customers who instinctively click the business listings with more information.  The more photos and videos (yes videos) the better.

Third, reviews.  Yes its a dirty word in many quarters and many business owners shudder at the thought of disgruntled customers (yes at some point every business will have one) ranting about a poor experience online.  But you have lots of contented customers too – right?  Why not ask them politely if they’d submit a positive review of the experience and let other potential customers read about how great your service is?

I hope you enjoyed this basic introduction to Google Places, of course there is more to it than this but for now – go and claim your listing and add information!

To join my private email list to receive SEO tips for estate agents by email (not published on this blog) send me an email using the contact form entitled ‘Estate Agent SEO Tips please’.

Or, use the ‘subscribe by email link below’ to receive articles from this blog by email.

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James Cole


Localisation – local knowledge moves online

As more of us start our home-buying search online there is a growing need for sources of local information.

The last few years have given us instant access to objective information such as sold house prices, bus routes, school catchment boundaries and distances from shops, restaurants and train stations,  but we now have an appetite to digest the subjective information online as well.

 a hand drawn map of an area

Local Knowledge: Invaluable

Not only do we want to know the house prices trends for the area and what our target property sold for last time around but we want to get a feel for the area itself, and we want to hear it from people who live there.

Internet people call this ‘user generated content’ and it means that we write for each other.  No more do we consult the a restaurant guidebook written by a professional critic but we ‘Google’ the restaurant and read reviews written by other diners.  Word of mouth moves online.

The same applies to local area knowledge.  We want to read what residents are saying about an area to put some depth and colour behind those dull statistics.  Yes there may be 12 restaurants within a 10 minute walk – but are they any good?  Has the map eaten there?  The software? Perhaps the website dropped in for a coffee and croissant?  I don’t think so.

The merging of mobile phones with personal computers has really put the ‘location’ into location-based search.   Rather than typing a postcode into your office based computer you can, in theory, use an ‘app’ on your phone that already knows your exact location – and provides information relevant to it.  You can be standing outside a flat you’re about to view and access the Ofcom score of the local school or read what residents think of the local library.

Property websites have recently woken up to the power of localised information, not only because house-hunters are demanding more access to it, but because the internet’s Chief Whip Google demands it.

In Google’s quest for localization, the search engine has started giving precedence in search results to websites that show that they have local relevance to queries.  This means a search for ‘Hotels in Glasgow’ is less likely to return a list of national hotel booking websites and more likely to return a list of actual hotels in Glasgow, represented by the business’ own website.

Likewise a search for ‘houses for sale in Brighton’ may, in the future, be more likely to reveal the websites of estate agents in Brighton than a national property portal website.

To stay relevant and retain the enormous footfall they (we) receive from property-related search queries, property portals are developing local strategies online.  In Rightmove’s case by developing a place to share local knowledge and reviews: Rightmove Places.  Zoopla were ahead of this game with their AskMe! feature where you can ask and answer location-related questions and their recent acquisition of will allow them to give customers access to sold house price data from the Land Registry should they so wish.  Personally I could never buy a house without knowing how much the previous owner paid for it.

Rightmove places Logo

The property search engine Nestoria has a number of data sources that add flavour to the home search, if not colour – giving census information, healthcare facilities, house price trends, post office locations and other hard facts. have a ‘how far is this from…’ tool allowing you to measure the distance of certain services from a given property.

For property portals serious about catering for the needs of their users, location based information services are more than a nice-to-have feature and not only adds to the experience of the online home-hunter – allowing them to do more of their research in one place – but will attract more home-hunters to the website by capturing more of the home-hunt research queries made in search engines.

Check the Area - a service form home hunters

For those without the time to do their own research,  a new service called Check The Area uses a nationwide network of retired police officers ‘each tasked with using their local knowledge and investigative skills to research your potential new neighbourhood’.  The service starts at £150 for their bronze package.

Their website claims that ‘ a bad neighbourhood can knock up to £30,000 off the value of your property’.  Friends of mine recently pulled out of purchasing a flat at the 11th hour when they discovered, quite by accident, that the flat above was owned by a charity that re-homed ex-prisoners and recovering drug addicts.  This flat shared an entrance and, stairway and hall and being in their early 60s and planning to retire to this flat my friends didn’t feel safe and backed out of the sale.  Had they commissioned an area search earlier they could have made a significant saving in abortive solicitors’ fees.

If your budget will stretch to it, using a property buying agent can also reveal more about an area than you might have time to find out yourself.  The Association of Property Finders and Buyers Agents could be a good place to start looking for one.

Online forums can also be a great place to get an inside view on an area – many hyper-local forums serving just a postcode or a whole town can reveal what residents are talking about whether it be crime or the local library.

Websites such as Local Mouth, We Love Local and Qype bring together sources of information about an area – as well as providing a forum  for local people to post reviews and comments about their area.

If you know of any good online resources for local knowledge and house hunting research feel free to add them in the comments below.

(The hand-drawn map image in this post is used courtesy of Danny McL.)

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James Cole


Barnet residents paint the town green

I’ve come across a couple of fantastic projects recently where people are doing their bit towards living more sustainable lives – that is, living in a way that recognises that our petroleum fuelled days are numbered.  Both on the roads and at home.

Energy sustainability is one of biggest challenges of the current age and rather than taking the view that some other clever bugger will invent a way to power a Range Rover using old Evian bottles, residents of High Barnet are organising themselves.

The High Barnet Green Home Zone is a not-for-profit project run by volunteers and sets itself the task of raising awareness and reducing energy consumption in the borough.

A team of volunteer ‘Street Champions’ visit residents and help them measure their energy use and waste production and look at ways to reduce both.  According the organisers simple things such as joining a car share club can reduce travel costs by around £2500 a year whilst helping reduce your fuel consumption and carbon footprint.

The home is a great place to start when looking at your own carbon footprint as it uses massive amounts of energy in the form of electricity and gas – the majority of which is produced from fossil fuel reliant systems – and it costs you money!  So the more energy you can save the more money you can save – what more incentive do you need!

Search for houses for sale in Barnet on The Big Property List

Find out more at the High Barnet Green Home Zone website

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James Cole


Property Blog Awards recognise The Big Property List

Kudos to the people over at Primelocation, arguably the second most popular UK property portal, owned and operated by the Digital Property Group, for awarding us the runners up prize for the best property blog post in 2010.

Well, runner up anyway!

We got the recognition for an insight piece we published last year about the Tesco/ Spicerhaart Online Estate agent and their direct marketing approach targeting homeowners in their launch areas.  The post received quite a lot of comments from estate agents and discussion from the online property community.

We were in good company and beaten to the post (get it?) by  Sam Collett with an article on her intelligent and entertaining What Sam Saw Today blog – a diary of a property developer, professional landlord and entrepreneur.

Other runners up in the category were Ben Harris’ Housing Dabble, Graham Downie’s A little Drop of Cognac and Henry Pryor’s Housing Expert.

The overall best blog 2010 award rightly (in our opinion) went to Graham Norwood’s property newshound which just goes to show that print and online journalism can compliment one another as Graham is one of the UK’s foremost Print Property Journalist and in our eyes the most clued up technology-wise.

Accepting his award Graham said:

“I’m delighted and honoured…so much property writing, by industry professionals and journalists, concentrates on the most exclusive homes.

They are fantastic but I wanted my blog to look at other issues, too, in a way which informed and entertained, and sometimes infuriated.”

Well said.

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James Cole


Buying property at auction

Buying property at a house auction is not for the faint-hearted, ill-prepared or risk-adverse.

That said, its a perfectly viable route to obtaining a house to live in or an investment property at a ‘fair rate’ if you do your homework.  It is possible to pick up a bargain at auction, if you know what you’re doing and have a smattering of luck – but it’s also full of pitfalls for the uninitiated – who can end up getting much more than they bargained for.

Linton Chiswick recently argued that property auctions are the barometer of house prices – giving us an early warning of the direction of prices.  This theory is based on the fact that as I stated earlier, auction prices are very fair – as they very accurately match buyers with sellers in a way that finds the exact highest price that someone is willing to pay for a property.

I looked around an auction property recently – a two bedroom semi-detached bungalow in the Vale of Pewsey needing more than a lick of paint.  At £75,000 guide price (and strategically placed as lot 1) it attracted a lot of attention.  The viewing we attended was characterised by youngsters with mum and dad, probably looking at any which way to get on the ladder – but who were soon frightened off by the sheer amount of work and money needed to get the place into a livable condition.

Our cursory inspection revealed damp walls, outdated electrics,deteriating asbestos gutters (and in the roof), no central heating system and nothing saveable in either kitchen or bathroom.  A lot to take on for a non-tradesam or inexperienced investor or wanna-be homeowner.

House Auctions do have a lot going for them in terms of speed of sale  – with a 20 – 30 day completion period bringing urgency and focus to the legal transfer process that can stretch to weeks and months in ordinary circumstances.

Although, this could all change.   We’ve recently come across the Clear system of preparing the sellers’ legal pack prior to recieving an offer – in theory eliminating the to and fro between conveyancing solicitors and enabling an on the day completion.  We’re watching this novel scheme with interest – one of those ideas that makes you ask ‘why havent we done this before?’

So, if you’re considering buying at auction, do your homework.  Look at some properties, go to a few auctions with no intention of buying.  Read up on the process, and look at opportunities with very critical eye.

This series of short videos from David Sandeman, Managing Director of Auction Information Company EI Group is a good place to start.

There are over 280 Auction Houses in the UK – see our property auctions UK page to see if there’s one near you.

Last year, 2010, also saw the launch of Zoopla online house auctions.  I can’t help but feel that this will become a much more common form of house sales.

After all if people are bidding from out of the room using a mobile phone, why shouldn’t they bid from a computer with the extra security and manageability of online bidding?  This also allows home sellers to extend the period of the auction – perhaps allowing more exposure to interested parties and raising the achievable price?

You may remember an article on this blog nearly two years ago  Neil Singer of Click to Purchase (who offer online auction software services allowing any Estate Agent to offer an Auction service to sellers) argued the case for online auctions becoming the norm.  It’s not now seeming as ‘revolutionary’ as it once did.

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James Cole


The danger of cheesy property jingles

Last week we we spent some time putting together self-nominations for a couple of property awards taking place this year.  As a relatively new property portal we don’t expect a major scoop but we do have credibility applying for categories such as best content (we’ll you’re reading this aren’t you?).

Once we started listing our achievements and quantifying them, it made us realise how far we’d come, and was quite a motivational process for the whole team.

To further lighten the mood in the office we created a jingle to go with our nomination.  What a mistake.

I try not to listen to local radio purely to avoid cheesy jingles and adverts and this one takes the biscuit.  It made me laugh so hard i had to listen to it three times – and then it was stuck in my head all weekend.  This wouldn’t have been such a problem but I took part in a 5o mile bike ride with nothing else to think about for 3.5 hours than the stupid Big Property List jingle going round in my head.  Apparently the Germans call a tune like this an ear worm.

For your enjoyment (and torture):  Listen to The Big Property List Jingle


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James Cole


Rate or Hate your Landlord?

As a property undergraduate I recall sitting in damp digs smoking roll-ups wondering why I was reading about the the history of Landlord and Tenant Law when I could have been shooting pool in The Ship and sinking pints of cider for less than the price of a load in the laundrette.

The purpose of Landlord and Tenant Laws, I learned, are to balance the rights of both landlord and tenant.  With this island’s history rooted in a feudal system where peons lived in hovels at the pleasure of the landed gentry the tenancy laws handed protection to the people with regards their home.  Now we have the European Court of Human Rights and are kicking The Peers out of parliament in favour of Our Peers (in principle anyway).

We also have the Internet, access to more information than ever and we are replacing mob justice with blog justice as brands and behaviour are discussed online – favouring consumer power over public hangings.Rate or Hate your landlord logo

On The Modern Estate Agent blog, Martin Smith recently wrote about the importance and difficulty of managing online reviews for Estate Agents.  Well, Landlords may quiver in their boots now as a new website Rate or Hate your Landlord encourages tenants (yes you guessed it) to rate or hate their Landlord – publicly.Landlords and Estate agents your online reputation is important

PR companies talk of online reputation management, which is fine for big business, but now your small business reputation may sink or swim based on what people are saying about you on social media sites such as facebook, twitter and ratings websites.

From a philosophical perspective you could argue that this is the most virtuous of virtual yardsticks, encouraging fair play and holding business to account in a way not seen since Anne Robinson presented Watchdog and supplementing the statutory rights applied by the Landlord and Tenant Laws.

Or, you could argue that small businesses will become slaves to public opinion and we’ll all start airing our dirty laundry in public.

After all customers are sometimes wrong, Tenants and Landlords can both lie and their are two sides to every argument.  The consumer has nothing to lose posting an anonymous review for a perceived injustice, whether real or not – the business does not share the anonymity and has to live or die buy its reputation.

And as for those damp student digs?  The day we left, the kitchen ceiling fell to the floor – literally.  We lost all our deposits – mainly to replace mattresses and re-seed the postage stamp lawn where excessive wear and tear (football) had resulted in a bald patch – supposedly costing hundreds of pounds.  If only there had been an outlet for us to vent our fury and shame our greedy Landlord.

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James Cole


Would a Rose by any other name smell so sweet?

It amused me a few weeks ago to read about an estate agent in Brighton who had sent his staff on a poetry course to inspire their descriptions and liven up particulars.  At the other end of the scale one estate agent has been well known for his brutal honesty ; with prose such as ‘Dear God, it’s difficult to imagine a more disgusting house than this’.  Too far?

2 bedroom flat with box room

This week a description from Your Move for a 2 bed flat for sale in Dumfries caught my eye when the description included reference to a ‘box room’.

Surely they mean cosy, snug, tidily proportioned.  I must admit I quite like things called as they are. You can call it a handheld earth removal tool but when I see it, I’ll know it’s a spade.

I’d definately buy a house from someone like this, and knowing that, I’d probably sell a house with someone like this.

Check The Big Property List for other houses and flats for sale in Dumfries from Your Move and other Estate agents.

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James Cole


The best Online Estate Agent?

Earlier in the year we published How to choose an Estate Agent advising home sellers what to look for in an Estate Agent, and it turned out to be a very popular article.   A large part of this decision inevitably comes down to the personality and perceived ability of the Estate Agent – as we all know people generally buy from people they like – or so they say.

However, what about the new breed of Online Estate Agents?  You don’t really get to meet them before you take your choice, and what exactly is an Online Estate Agent anyway?  What makes them any different from any other Estate Agent?

Comparison of Online Estate Agents

We decided to do a bit of research, and so today published our Online Estate Agent Comparison from which we’ve taken the above league table of Online Estate Agents’ Websites based on a ‘WebsiteGrader’ score (this is explained in the full report).

This league table indicates the quality of the online estate agents’ websites based on a raft of factors explained in our report (Online Estate Agent Comparison 2010).

But what are the important factors for home sellers thinking about marketing their home online withan Online Estate Agent instead of a High Street Agent?

Our suggestions are:

– How established (proven) is the company behind the website?

– Are they a member of the industry Ombudsman scheme?

– Value for money – not just price, but what is included?

– How good is their website, how many clients do they have already?

– What level of service can you expect?

But the last question, and arguably most important, is the hardest to judge without meeting someone face to face and  is one of the most difficult hurdles for online estate agents to overcome, in convincing customer that they are trustworthy, helpful and efficient – that there are real people – professionals behind the website.

Download the full report here

Sell your house for £399


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