My brief podcast…

I did an interview with Lisa Plkington from the Estates Gazette on all things East Midlands property market – and MIPIM 2014!

You can listen to is here.

Innes England – our award cabinet swells…

My firm pride ourselves on being at the top of the tree in our region. It’s a tough market and we differentiate ourselves by keeping our clients happy and being as active in the market as we can be.


We have won lots of awards in the last few years – some are voted for by our peers, others by clients. But there is one award which is fairly straightforward. It’s the Estates Gazette Deals Award. In essence you win by doing more deals than your competitors. We have plenty of competitors in the East Midlands – from large national companies to similar sized practices to our own. All vying for that spot.

But we won again last week – for the sixth year running.

It’s fair to say we are a bit chuffed. You can read the results here.

The Estates Gazette said, “It was another close shave for Innes England to once again secure the East Midlands title, but this year it was a fellow independent, FHP, that pushed it close. The latter had almost double the number of retail deals as its nearest challenger, yet the incumbent delivered strongly enough in offices and industrial to secure the win. Last year it was Lambert Smith Hampton that provided the toughest challenge.”

This follows hot on the heels of the Agent of The Year Award from Insider – back in October 2012.

This latest award is really important to us. Making deals is the heart of the firm. It’s not just doing the deals that counts – it also gives us unique market knowledge to then be able to advise on where property values lie. The information we have is first hand.

Onwards and upwards!

Some pretty cool buildings

As I blogged about last Friday I was at the RICS East Midlands Awards evening last week; they double up as the venue for the Estates Gazette to announce the Agent of the Year.

I was pleasantly surprised to see an amazing selection of projects – some of which I knew. Surprised because we are supposed to be in austere times. There were a record number of entries – 36. The quality of the submissions was very high and I didn’t envy the judges.

Having judged for the last few years for the Civic Trust Awards, I was delighted to see one of the buildings I looked at get a commendation. The Westfield Folkhouse Project in Mansfield designed by Lewis & Hickey (read Nick Riley’s blog here) is a great project and wins another accolade. I was also pleased to see Raynsway’s Passivhaus Office in Leicester be rewarded too. This is a very green building!

Maggies in Nottingham received a commendation too and the collection at the dinner (£1,250) was given to the centre. I love the architecture of the building.

But the evening was about four winners:

Althrop House in Northamptonshire for the Building Conservation Award
The Clay Cross Regeneration Scheme for Regeneration
The Repton School Theatre for Design & Innovation
The Hartsholme Academy in Lincoln for the Community Benefit

These projects were all really good, but one gets the honour of going forward to the National awards in November – and it was little surprise that Althrop won. It was a delicate project to re-dress damaged limestone, replacing stainless steel pins holding the facade tiling and replacing lead roofs. By all accounts this was a major undertaking – taking 20 months. The finished photographs look stunning.

It was good to see that we can still produce good new buildings and refurbish old ones to such a high standard.

Estates Gazette – Agent of the Year 2012

I blogged about my firm being nominated for the East Midlands Agent of the Year 2012 here. We were up against some pretty stiff competition – two national agents and one local one.

We won! And we’re over the moon. The award is the latest in a series of awards for us in the last 6 months – we won the East Midlands Property Dinner Agent of the Year 2011 last September and more recently the Most Active Agent Award – also from the Estates Gazette. Our awards cabinet will need extending soon!

It’s a great accolade for the Directors and staff to get this sort of external recognition. The Estates Gazette is the national property magazine – and is hugely respected. It’s the prize to win – this is our fourth time in eight years! If you voted for us – thanks – it was much appreciated! We couldn’t have done it without your vote.

Last night we collected the award from Lisa Pilkington at the packed RICS / EG Dinner in Nottingham. We had a great night – as you might expect. However, I was on the lemonade, as this morning I am sitting as a final APC assessor for the RICS in Coventry. I need to be wide awake for the next cohort of candidates…

But I’ll be assessing with a smile on my face (as if I would ever do anything else)!

Next week, I’ll blog about some of the buildings that won RICS awards. Some i know and have been to. It was an impressive array!

The Estates Gazette Awards 2012

My firm like winning awards – it’s a great accolade. So, it’s that time of year again when I would love you to vote for us. We have been nominated as Estates Gazette East Midlands Property Adviser of the Year again. But some of our pesky competitors have too.

It even makes the MD smile!

So this is a shameless plug for us. Apologies up front!

It’s really easy to vote – all you have to do is click here. Then scroll down to the ‘East Midlands’ and select ‘Innes England’ under the ‘Property adviser’ tab. Voting ends on 5 April.

Thanks if you do vote – it really is appreciated. This is the most important award of the year; it’s voted for by our clients and contacts. We can’t vote for ourselves (if we could obviously we would!).

The Portas Review – considered…

In this weeks Estates Gazette Retail supplement I was asked to comment on the Portas Review. This is a special edition for MIPIM week so relevant for what I’m up to! Here’s what I said…

The Portas review was a non-event, despite the self-declared Queen of Shops declaring a crisis point in our high streets in the second paragraph of her 55 pages. Most of my clients haven’t bothered with the report and many of my friends and colleagues have not heard of it. It will languish on the shelves shortly (despite her saying it won’t because she makes recommendations, “that won’t please everyone”)- a slice of fashionable opinion piece – with little in the way of substance. (forgive the pun)

I have nothing against Ms Portas, but this is a piece of work that could have delivered so much more.

There are lots of fatal flaws. One is in the the third paragraph. There is “no finger of blame being pointed”. We do have a strong hint that some of the Supermarkets and out of town stores might actually be to blame for the decline of the traditional high street – but for fear of upsetting them (was there some politically motivated, “you can’t say that” at play?) we don’t go there. It’s not complex Mary – the giant supermarkets at the edge of our towns are to blame for the decline of the high street. We have too many shops and not enough shoppers. We have an economy stalled. Online shopping is hitting home.

But my real beef is that there is little of substance – and what there is looks rather misplaced. As seems very fashionable we are encouraged to think that red tape is an issue. But don’t let that stop Mary having “Super-BIDS”, Legislation to allow landlords to sit on BIDS, “Town Teams”, “Parking League Tables”, reasearch into out of town schemes, “contracts of care”, a “public register of landlords”, “Empty Shop management Order” ad nauseum. That sounds like lots of committees and red tape to me?

But my real beef is the tilt at landlords. Sweeping statements such as “they [landlords] would rather leave a unit empty for years rather than considering discounting its rent”. Or “the use of comparatives in setting rent levels is often unhelpful”. Apparently the “upward only rent review…is unhelpful where a struggling entrepreneur is interested in staying in a property for 15 years…”

Landlords need to sign up to the Code of Leasing Premises too.

Mary – your ‘ideas’ are out of date. Landlords, in my experience, find any deal they can at this time. How do you want rents to be set – a lottery perhaps? entrepeneurs don’t, in my experience sign 15 years leases – and the upward only rent review argument has long since died. The Code is, in my view, rarely followed because people don’t want lots of choices. They want a clear offer – and they negotiate. Hard!

The lack of understanding about the Planning system is breathtaking. I think she suggests we bin the Use Classes Orders – so that we can have “housing, offices, schools and sport” on our high streets. We can’t have Betting Shops though – they get a battering. Markets and car boot sales find favour – allowing anyone to set up stall where they like (although how this helps us fill empty shops is lost on me).

This was, in my view a lost opportunity. I think this was a ‘safe’ political document – there is no brave new world here – some hints of it, but nothing of note. And God forbid that we end up with “Malls” as the only way to shop.

Win win win

It was a good day on Friday last week.

My firm won a prestigious award from the Estates Gazette. We were named the “Most Active Agent 2011” – for the East Midlands. This was fantastic news on tow fronts. Firstly we are an East Midlands based firm – this is our patch (we have offices in Leicester, Derby and Nottingham). Secondly, this was the fifth year running we have won this award.

As well as the overall award we were top in the categories of Office and Investment deals. We acquired or disposed of nearly 500,000 sq ft of offices last year.

We live to do deals, so being recognised for this award makes us like pigs in muck – especially in the current climate. And to carry it off for 5 years in succession is pretty amazing!

But I also was very happy as I won a magnum of champagne! Coincidentally this was from the Estates Gazette too. I never win anything, but had completed a survey about the state of the uK’s retail sector – and was drawn out of a hat! I found out by twitter that I had won.

So the question is – should I share my Champagne with my dealer colleagues who have done brilliantly? I have carefully thought this through and have decided that I would like to. But I’m not going to…

I am now wondering if I should have bought a lottery ticket!

The complexity of the rent review

I found myself revisiting The Portas Review last week. I have contributed to a critique of it for the Estates Gazette. I will blog my view later – although you probably already know from my previous rant.

One of the things the Queen of Shops raised was the issue of the upward-only rent review. Generally the description is wrong and attracts the emotive title. What a lease normally says about a rent review is that at review you see what the market is doing and then apply the rate – if it has increased, that’s the new rent, if it has gone down, the rent stays the same. Tenants don’t like this because they think they are paying too much in a falling market.

Another alternative is that you have an upwards and downwards review. Which do what they say on the tin. You assess the rent at review and it can go either way. These are somewhat rare! Landlords dislike them!

In the last couple of weeks i have seen calls for ‘fixed uplift reviews’. This is where the landlord and tenant agree that the reviews will (increase) to a certain figure – the thinking is that each part know what they are letting themselves in for. They are sometimes used where a property is specialised and the parties realise that there will be a lack of evidence to hang the rent on. But a falling market makes the first type of review look good against these.

So what is the answer?

Well, it is probably that rent reviews are becoming less relevant. In a 25 year lease you needed a review. But our average lease lengths are currently 5.3 years. A lease renewal gives each party the opportunity to walk away…

A tenant will generally want a longer lease if he has a major fit out – in those circumstances the market value review without an ability for the rent rent to go down may be the price to be paid?

Innes England – win win win!

Last night we were at the Insider East Midlands Property Dinner at Nottingham University. This has become the event in the property world annual calendar. With over 400 people from the East Midlands present it is an opportunity to meet lots of people – and celebrate the good things about our region.

the winning team (obviously not at sailing!)

We were also celebrating as we were announced as “Agent of the Year”. As you might expect we were just a little bit chuffed to have pipped FHP and JLL to the post…

And then earlier in the week I picked up my Estates Gazette. At this time of the year they publish their annual results survey – which used to be the Top 100 surveying firms. But, times have changed and it is now the Top 60. This is probably because lots of smaller firms have been swallowed up!

I was delighted to see my firm, Innes England, were at No.44. In a National League – we are pleased to be there.

But our real coup is that we got to the dizzy height of No.29 when we are judged on turnover per fee earner. This shows either that we all work really hard, or that we employ talented people – or both! Most firms have found in the last 12 months that they have had to earn more with less people…

The EG awards are Industry recognised and are important in our marketing strategy. That we beat our local rivals and competitor firms on both counts is great news. It is interesting though that firms are judged on turnover – and I always wonder if this is right. As I have said here before turnover is vanity, profit is sanity and cash is king…

In the meantime we’ll settle for our new title of “Agent of the Year” and EG league table finish.

Onwards and upwards!!

Is bigger better?

Over the last few weeks the property industry has seen some big changes.

When I sold my soul in 1994!

At the weekend Property Week published its 2011 League Table (Innes England were delighted with 25th place ranked by turnover per fee earner) and next year will look different. Four of the big names have merged DTZ with BNP Parabis Real Estate and then last week JLL with King Sturge. The latter merger will create the biggest UK agency – with a turnover of £352m and a staff of 2,800. Previously Savills had been top of the tree with a turnover of £333mm. The DTZ / BNP merger gives the combined firms a turnover of £200m. These firms are big. Very big.

I was asked by Lisa Pilkington at the Estates gazette whether I thought this was a threat to my firm. My comments are on Lisa’s blog here.

We aren’t losing sleep. My firm are very happy and comfortable being based in the East Midlands. We have three offices with a pool of very talented people. The big firms have talented people too. And thats the point – commercial property consultancy is a people business. It’s the only asset we really have. Sure, we have computers and desks and nice offices – but ultimately we rely on the ability of our people to deliver results for clients.

I have worked in a large firm – three years at Savills plc was plenty! The big firms need to have layers of control – simply because they are big. They also have to answer to their shareholders. Shareholder sentiment is a fickle thing; if you aren’t travelling you have stopped – and shareholders then tend to turn their back. Clients tend to be removed from the process – in favour of chasing turnover.

My shareholders are my fellow Directors. We sit around a table each month – we are in it for the long term! We make quick decisions (good or bad).

So, I’m not sure whether bigger is better. It is harder to influence things in big firms. Mavericks give firms a personality, but there isn’t much space for ‘outliers’ in corporate structures.

Small is beautiful?