INDUSTRY OPINION - Chris Stops, Managing Director and owner of Heywoods for 25 years, reflects on how the industry has changed in that more

Repossessions, negative equity and private treaty sales… how far estate agents have come in 25 years

At the start of the 1990s, the property market was all about repossessions and negative equity, says Chris Stops, who is reflecting on just how much estate agency industry has changed on the 25th anniversary of becoming the owner of Heywoods, the leading independent estate agent in Newcastle.

Back then, you couldn’t open a newspaper or turn on the TV news without seeing stories about people whose houses were worth much less than their mortgages and families who were losing their homes because they couldn’t keep up with mortgage repayments.

It seems like a crazy time to have bought an estate agency, but it’s actually been the making of Heywoods because we have been able to help so many locals in Newcastle and North Staffordshire to buy, sell or rent their properties. In fact, during that time, we estimate that we have sold the equivalent of every house in Newcastle.

In many ways, it was easier to sell houses back then because the property market was very different for two main reasons. Firstly, there were far more lenders, and some would argue a lot more choice of mortgages, because there were still many smaller, standalone building societies (that hadn’t been swallowed up by big banks), who were very competitive in offering attractive mortgages. Secondly, it could take as little as 4–6 weeks to complete the sale of a property because the paperwork between all the parties seemed to flow much faster through the system.

But, without a doubt, the single biggest change over the last 25 years is the availability of information. In 1991, house sales were covered by private treaty sale, which meant that only the buyer and seller knew the agreed sale price of a property. Now it takes just a few seconds to find out all sorts of information about a property. It’s also easier than ever to buy and sell a property online – but this blessing is also a curse.

A property is still the largest and most important purchase anyone will ever make, and with so much money at stake, the vast majority of people still want the assurance of having the personal touch every step of the way through the process. And that’s why good estate agents are in better shape than they’ve ever been.

If I’ve done one thing right in my time, it’s assembling a very experienced core team that has stayed in place through good times and bad to offer an unparalleled wealth of knowledge and expertise about the property market in Newcastle. They’ve seen it all and done it all, so they are perfectly positioned to help – especially at a time when the paperwork process takes longer and seems more convoluted than ever.

Given how much the industry has changed over the last 25 years, predicting the next 25 years is impossible – but it’s an exciting prospect to see what comes next.