A summary of 2012 from each of our divisions and a look forward to what 2013 may bring .........................................

Residential Sales
At the start of the financial crisis, there was considerable discussion about how long it might take before there was a sustained recovery in the economy and, therefore, the property market. However, almost without exception, the optimists have proved to be incredibly optimistic and all but the most hard core pessimists have probably also turned out to be optimists. It is clearly going to take longer to climb out of the mire than almost anyone had expected.

2012 was a difficult year, highlighting the problems with a coalition Government, and was punctuated, in many policy areas, with a lack of thought. In addition, due to continued problems in global markets and particularly in Europe, it has been a trying time.

For many years, the property market has turned out to be a soft option for the Government who like collecting revenue and the increase in stamp duty to 7% for properties over £2m, although only affecting a small number of people, is hardly helping to oil the wheels.

My predictions for 2013 are more optimistic; not because I think the economy will recover, but I believe that people are generally adaptable and, in most cases, realistic and they will understand that waiting and hoping that everything will be better makes no sense. They will, therefore, buy and sell houses, but all buyers in all price ranges will continue to want either good or fair value.

Some home owners have changed agents with frequency, hoping that this will solve the problem but the price is generally the issue and the agent who secured instructions at the tastiest price has tended to succeed.

My advice for 2013 would be to have a view on the value of your own home and certainly canvas opinions from estate agents, but ask them to offer their opinion based on comparative evidence of what has sold rather than on asking prices, which won’t help you, and then look at the differential between this and what you would like to buy. For those who have been in the property market for some time, the key factor for them remains, as always, not the selling price, or the buying price, but the gap in between.

For some styles of property, perhaps the older timbered properties, thatched cottages and house in very rural positions away from schools, shops, etc, the market has been very thin. For the rest, there are buyers in small numbers and, if owners and agents treat them well, there are sales to be had.

The best chance of selling is in the first few weeks of coming to the market. After that, the agents mailing register, newspaper advertising and property portals will have done their worst and you will then be relying on new buyers coming to the market which may mean that a sale takes some time.

Selling a house is a very serious competition. Therefore, everything needs to be done to attract the buyer, from presenting the house well to being accommodating on viewings and, although you should not appear desperate to move, you should demonstrate some enthusiasm to do so.

If you have confidence in your agents, it is sometimes better to have little confidence in the buyer and let your agents deal with negotiations. Once contracts have exchanged, there is no problem in becoming best friends.

In conclusion I think there will probably be more downward pressure on house prices than upward, differential will be the most important factor, but with a bit more stock on the market and a greater degree of realism, there should be more houses sold in 2013 than there were in 2012.

Residential Lettings
2012 has been a good year for the Residential Lettings Department with all three offices exceeding their targets and seeing a significant increase in managed properties.

It has also seen the introduction of our programme of Landlord Seminars. The first two highly successful and well attended events offered landlords and potential landlords practical advice on choosing the right type of property for investment and also covered Buy to Let mortgages and Tax advice. Nockolds Solicitors were also on hand to give advice on dealing with issues that can arise with any tenancy and the questions this generated clearly demonstrated an appetite for a well governed industry with responsible and licensed lettings agencies.

The events also showed that the local Buy to Let market remains strong and a real consideration for investors with medium to long term goals.

Rents remain strong and although the economy is still uncertain, our area seems to be protected from the fall out of mass redundancies which can lead to arrears and other problems for landlords. Many factors continue to bring a steady stream of people wanting a property to rent. The usual factors of the airport, good schooling and transport links continue to keep demand strong but we are also seeing an increase in demand from people keen to move out of London with its prohibitively high property prices. The continuing difficulties in the housing market also means that many people are choosing to rent for a period to avoid the pressures of trying to buy and sell at the same time.

As always, properties in the towns close to stations, schools etc are in great demand but we are increasingly seeing aspirational renters who are unable to afford their ideal home in the country but are able to look at a long term rental on this type of property.

While further changes in legislation in 2013 are likely to cause additional red tape for landlords and agents, low interest rates remain ensuring that Buy to Let Investments will continue to entice those wanting a return on their nest eggs.

We intend to run further events in 2013. Whether you are considering renting out your property for the first time, are considering buying a property for investment or are looking to add to your portfolio. or if you are already a landlord but would like to find out more about how we could help you make the most of your investment, please do make contact with us in the new year to ensure you do not miss out on a future event.

Land & New Homes
Over the course of 2012 we have seen a substantial increase in new homes activity, both from developers and a keen interest from purchasers. In the current climate, buyers are looking for reduced outgoings and ease of living, therefore new homes have a strong appeal due to their general efficiency and low maintenance costs.

We have seen many people down-sizing for the reasons already mentioned and the right developments in the right locations have sold off plan, which is something we have not seen for some time.

I see this trend continuing into 2013 with some very exciting new developments coming to the market. Down-sizers have already been mentioned, but there are also buyers moving upwards and a large migration of people moving out of the Epping, Woodford, Loughton and Chingford areas for the many benefits our area has to offer, including road and rail links, excellent schools and, of course, Stansted Airport.

Specifications continue to improve on new builds, as small developers look to set themselves apart from the national house builders, who have a more off the shelf product.

Mullucks Wells New Homes Department continues to thrive with exciting new developments coming to the market, across all three office areas in 2013.

Commercial Property
The most surprising aspect of this last year, is the fragility of some towns and the resilience of others.

Industrial values have held out in Great Dunmow and the town has seen a net inflow of occupiers, whereas Saffron Walden has managed to hold on to the robust industrialists and has seen a number of sales on the Carlton Place development.

Retail in Saffron Walden remains buoyant with prime shops remaining empty for short periods. Investments in the town continue to be popular, both with local and out of town investors.

Sainsbury’s was refused consent at appeal, for an out of town supermarket, but Tesco have acquired the Crocus pub and will shortly be opening their Express operation.

The town has said goodbye to Mayhem but hello to Phase Eight, Crew Clothing, a number of smaller independent retailers, and saw the relocation of Evergreen Florists.

Bishop’s Stortford however, saw the closure of Pearsons and Clement Joscelyn and whilst saying hello to Rosie Lee, Consortia, Gerry Webber and Pandora, to name but a few, the space left empty makes a large negative effect on the retailing perceptions of the town.

The target area for retailers seems to be moving towards the North Street end of Bishops Stortford, in anticipation of the alteration to shoppers habits as a result of the proposed Henderson Development.

The office market remains difficult in all areas, however a there appears to be number of transactions are now in solicitors hands, with completion anticipated in the Spring of 2013. These include lettings at Charringtons House in the centre of Bishops Stortford, Thorley Wash Business Centre on the edge of the town and Western House in Stansted Mountfitchet, to a mixture of new business and those relocating to larger buildings.

We have seen an increase in enquiries and take up, and whilst occupiers remain cautious, the feeling for 2013 is slightly more optimistic.