Being CEO of one of the largest estate agencies in London, a city with one eye firmly on Brexit, is a challenging role to say the least. ‘KCW Today’ spoke to Jeff Doble, CEO and founder of Dexters, one of London’s fastest growing estate agencies, to find out what the future holds for housing in London, and what separates Dexters from the rest.
One could be forgiven for expecting the CEO of an estate agency with 28 offices in central London and 11 in the West End, to be somewhat highly-strung and pressed for time. But Doble, who opened the first branch of Dexters in a leafy South West London suburb almost 24 years ago, appears to be serenely surfing the crest of a wave. After all, anyone who can successfully oversee a rebrand of 20 independent estate agents in the month when Brexit crash-landed, must have the confidence of an outright winner.
The business has grown from 16 offices to over 60 across London in the past eight years, by investing £100 million. Dexters has been growing annually at the rate of 26%, and expects to record an operating profit of £15m this year. In terms of scale, the company employs some 1,200 people, sells over 3,000 properties a year, and has an impressive 20,000 landlords on its books.
Dexters’ expansion plans’ which were a decade in the making, have seen them become the leading independent agency brand across London. In fact, Dexters are the only business in the real estate sector to be placed on the London Stock Exchange and Growth Intelligence list of 1,000 Companies to Inspire Britain for three consecutive years.
Doble set out to change people’s views of estate agents in what is traditionally a much-maligned industry, and it is a goal he may be gradually achieving. He describes London’s housing market in 2017 as ‘challenging’ but he sees positives in a changing status quo. Dexter’s client base numbers 45,000, while property viewings exceed 30,000 in a strong month. Numbers which are a mean feat in these turbulent times, especially for a company with no external investment. Since 2008, Dexters has reinvested more than £100m into its growth.
Dexters has been labelled as a ‘disrupter’ by rivals in the property industry; a name they wear as a badge of pride. They aim to augment the central London property market and challenge the ‘comfy situation’ that zone one estate agents have had for decades. With 28 offices now in central London, Dexters have usurped Foxtons on the ground. They may not have established Foxton’s ‘hard-sell’ approach or the showcase fleet of Minis, but that’s not who they are or aspire to be.
Their ethos is working within the community they represent. Listening to and understanding the community’s culture, and its history, and then applying their skills, knowledge and support systems to work within this framework. As a firm of Chartered Surveyors with a training academy based in the old Pimlico Library (originally shut down by Westminster Council), Dexters’ core values are integrity, training and workmanship. They train 100 apprentices annually and have sustainable structures in place, while over 90% of all branch managers have come up through the ranks, in a practice which maintains a family atmosphere. “We are a genuine hybrid agent,”Doble added. “We have a very busy online presence, but we also have our feet on the ground.”
Whilst Doble is evidently happy with the company’s growth and achievements, the government’s 3% stamp duty addition which has left the top end of the market straining under the burden of a 15% tax, has clearly frustrated him. “The government were over-enthusiastic in trying to head off a mansion tax and just decided to tax the hell out of everything,” he says. “People’s response was to just refuse to buy or try to split the stamp duty with the vendor.” Since April 1, the heavier taxation of buy-to-let landlords looks set to also suppress market rental prices.
Doble is positive however, and claims that the market is still busy in the face of the upcoming General Election, with buyers jumping in where they see good value, good locations or both. “There is reportedly still plenty of interest in the top end of the market; and if this is being hampered then it’s by high stamp duty rates; rather than the upcoming vote which seems to be having little effect.”
With more than 50,000 properties valued at over £1 million reportedly arriving into the London market in the next three years is it ridiculous to suggest that London could see housing supply outstrip demand? Nine Elms in Vauxhall and the Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre development are both enormous projects which are set to complete almost simultaneously. Doble believes many of these properties will be rented, which could lead to prices in area such as Notting Hill and Chelsea being under pressure, while he intimates that the phasing of properties being brought to market needs to be more closely scrutinised in the future.
While there’s little doubt that communities can take many years to ‘bed in’ and develop an organic feel to them, our capital city needs more homes and fast. Doble references the London Docklands regeneration of the 1980s, a development that was initially fiercely resisted by local councils and residents, but today it is generally regarded as having been a success and is now used as an exemplar of large-scale regeneration.
Dexters say that foreign buyers make up roughly 40 per cent of those purchasing property through them in central London but far less away from the zone one. International investors are certainly still ‘parking their money’ in London’s multi-million pound buildings, despite fears that Brexit could see prices slump if the most negative predictions turn out to be accurate. But it’s not primarily Chinese and Middle-Eastern money as people would have you believe. There is an influx of European currency now too, an unexpected by-product of Brexit perhaps?
There is a sense that Dexters have smoothly transitioned from a solid, viable alternative, to being the first choice estate agent – be that as a tenant, landlord, vendor or purchaser. In these times of ultra-transparency, where every negative experience can be posted on social media in seconds, Dexters have set the bar so high that the rest of the industry needs to catch up – or be left behind.