Hyper from the news that he’d just secured two tickets to see rock legends Guns N’ Roses next year, estate agent Christian Thomas answers our call with a refreshing energy that sets a dynamic pace for the whole interview.
With thinly-veiled envy at his Guns N’ Roses coup, we divert the conversation away from who’s getting the other ticket, (Christian’s daughter by all accounts – sigh), and plunge into the topic at hand; Proper Local. Based in E14: “Canary Wharf if you want to be posh but Isle of Dogs if you’re from here”, Proper Local is one of the most recent estate agencies to appear in East London.
Straight-talking transparency is the driving force behind the agency’s operation and Christian is, by all accounts, renowned for getting to the heart of the matter: “I hated the name at first and I bet you do too,” says Christian of Proper Local, “but I just couldn’t choose a better name to sum up what we are about. Proper because we do everything properly in a straightforward manner and Local because we work and live right here.”
Christian is no stranger to the property industry. Gaining a decade of experience as Head of Residentials for a large independent estate agent in London, he was afforded a valuable insight into the capital’s property market. Despite this, it quickly becomes apparent that this Goldsmith’s trained philosophy graduate is unlike any estate agent we’ve encountered to date. With out-of-the-box thinking and an amiable refusal to mince his words we found it incredibly easy to talk openly about anything.
We asked about Proper Local’s fees policy, as it seems a radical departure from the normal percentage-of-the-value type rates we are used to seeing. Christian was direct in his response: “I’d worked for a long time in the industry not really questioning the agent fees, but experiencing a feeling of unease about the property value dictating the fee rather than the work that was done. For example, a £300 a week flat would be charged a £1500 letting fee while a £900 a week flat would be charged a £4500 fee. Apart from a couple of extra photos, the work done to let both flats was pretty much the same. It took as long in man hours to let one property as the other and so charging the landlord a much higher price for his higher value flat seemed very unfair”.
In a recent forthright blog post Christian throws down the gauntlet at the accepted fees structure most agents adopt: “At Proper Local we’ve long felt that excessive tenant administration fees are not only unfair, but a blight on the industry itself. Estate and letting agents have got a bad enough reputation as it is, so charging excessive fees for the administration of a tenancy isn’t exactly going to help matters is it? The client in a tenancy is always the Landlord, and the client pays in any industry, so why do we charge administration fees?” Read more here.
Unease with methods of operation coupled with being shortlisted for four local property awards, (winning one), created the impetus to put his energy, enthusiasm and ethos into his own venture. Living and working on the Isle of Dogs for three years, it was a no-brainer for Christian to open his own business close to home. In-line with addressing the excessive costs of running a traditional estate agency, Proper Local is all about not wasting money and getting to the crux of selling and letting properties quickly with a good solid service and a simple to understand, performance related, fair and reasonable fees structure: “We’re not a cheap option, we just charge a reasonable and fair rate for a great, traditional estate agent service”.
Recognising the overwhelming trend in searching for properties online, Christian invested in estate agency software which links his listings to portals such as Rightmove. Choosing Expert Agent as his software provider Christian tells us: “It’s a simple system that doesn’t get in the way of me running my business, I never have to worry that it will do its job, it just does what it’s supposed to do”. Christian also elected to launch Proper Local with a sleek, pared back Expert Agent website, aimed at giving vendors and landlords the necessary details to make an informed decision about which agent to instruct: “Proper Local is not an online agency, yes we have a website to showcase our listings and we use portals to market our properties but we are still a traditional estate agency, just without the physical shop window.”
Christian is not a subscriber of using expected sales jargon to secure a sale; “the reason I do so well is that I don’t try to talk anyone into buying or renting a place they don’t like. Property isn’t like cars, where you might reasonably expect a customer to consider any make of 4 door hatchback. When a buyer walks into a house they dislike, no matter how closely it matches their idea of ideal, there is no point in trying to sell it to them”.
Falling in love with a property to the extent that you’ll invest money in it relies on so many elements coming together that the best way to find out what a buyer really wants, (despite their list of must haves), is just to be straight and honest at viewings: “Don’t try and push a sale by saying there’s lots of interest and they’ll miss out, tell the truth and get honest reactions and feedback so you can show them something that they’ll really want”. Christian explains that having a list of ideals doesn’t always mean a buyer knows exactly what they’ll fall in love with: “Look at me, my ideal was a three bedroom Victorian terrace in Bow but I bought a two bed riverside warehouse on the Isle of Dogs! If I didn’t know what I really wanted with all my experience of this area, how can anyone looking for something new know?”.
Enjoy Guns N’ Roses Christian and if your daughter can’t make it, you know where we are!