Christopher Paxton is passionate about lettings. The Knight Frank associate has been an estate agent in east London for 13 years including stints in Leytonstone, Walthamstow, Bethanl Green and Wapping; arriving at his current firm in 2009.
Working out of the company’s glossy Cabot Square branch , he’s spent seven years immersed in the lore of the estate, its companies and the people who choose to make the area their home.
He said: “The difference I’ve seen in that time is Canary Wharf used to be seen as that quiet, boring place where nothing happened.
“But there’s been a massive change and people are now treating it as a home. In my opinion rental prices had gone a little bit too high in the area.
“Canary Wharf was always attractive because it had high-end apartments – lots of glass, but at less money.
"Over the last two or three years, rents have been creeping up and we were touching the borders of central London pricing.
“In the last 18 months, what the market has done for us is bring the attractiveness back to Canary Wharf.
“Prices have gone down – not as much as people say they have but there’s been a little bit of a dip and that’s helped.”
Those looking to rent are in the driving seat right now, but Christopher said he thrived on the fast-paced, competitive market.
“At present, half of my job is managing expectations and that’s because the clients have been so lucky for so many years now,” he said.
“Applicants have so much choice at the moment. It’s a 100% a tenants’ market.
“People are seeing many more properties before making a decision and that means we have to manage landlords’ expectations as they’re wondering why multiple viewings don’t necessarily lead to offers.
“Some landlords think agencies all do the same thing but, in my eyes, we don’t. I believe at Knight Frank we’re one step above. Landlords are looking for speed and service. That’s really key for us.
“They’re also looking for quality of tenant. We hear a lot of horror stories such as agencies getting a property let in three days.
“What sort of referencing checks are they doing to be able to get a tenant in there that quickly?
“I’m finding landlords will pay the fees for a larger agency. Some try agencies that are charging less but they’re finding their property is sitting empty because they haven’t got the corporate contacts.
“I believe our clients are getting better value for money. You can pay a bit more at the beginning but then you’ve got that corporate tenant.”
The influx despite Brexit
Landlords typically look to their agent for advice in uncertain times and Christopher said he heard from many following the vote for Brexit.
However, as far as Canary Wharf goes, the worries have simmered down, with companies moving staff into the area rather than away.
Christopher said: “The first few weeks after the vote I had landlords contact me and a huge amount of meetings where people were saying: ‘Look I’ve just purchased, we’re going to be coming out, what do I do? Do I rent? Do I sell?’
"That lasted about six weeks. But I don’t hear it anymore.
“Working on the ground with the financial institutions, we do a huge amount of international relocations and they’re increasing rather than decreasing.
"We know the banks are moving people around but they’re not leaving Canary Wharf in my eyes.
"Relocations were higher in January than last year and higher than the year before. It’s a good sign for us. We’ve started the year well.”
And, while uncertainty endures ahead of the triggering of Article 50, there are more pressing matters.
Christopher said, with Government policy hitting landlords on Stamp Duty and tax relief on wear and tear, flexibility was key.
He said: “It’s the two Ps – price and presentation. We’ll present your property fantastically but you have to work with us on the pricing.
“It’s just as important to get the applicant off the market as it is the property.
"We’re finding a lot are making offers but withdrawing them hours later because they’ve seen a very similar property at a lower rent. Canary Wharf is a fast-paced market but that’s one of the reasons I love it.
The case for regulation
Christopher said if there was one thing he could change about his industry it would be the unscrupulous behaviour of some agencies in an unregulated market.
"I am 100% in favour of regulation for the industry," he said. "If you have a rental investment it’s a business for you. You wouldn’t go to a bank you hadn’t heard of and give them £10,000 of your savings.
"So why would you give an estate agency who isn’t regulated, who hasn’t got an Arla-registered agent in their office a £500,000 asset to look after?
"In effect that’s what you’re doing. I think regulation will help companies like Knight Frank – the bigger firms – because we abide by the rules anyway.
"We need to get rid of the cowboy estate agents and make everyone regulated. That’s the best way to move forward for the industry.
"That's why I'm a fan of what Arla and the NAEA are doing with their Propertymark initiative .
"I'd also like to get rid of the practice of marketing dummy stock to tempt people in.
"The real stock gets lost in between all the fake listings, it also distorts the picture from the landlords’ perspective as they see unrealistic prices and question what they’re getting.
"Real instructions are getting lost in the midst of the fake stuff. If you see something on our site or listed by us on Rightmove or On The Market, it's real and that's not always the case."
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