Integra Activity - a twenty year review!

As I celebrate twenty years of Integra Property Services it seems appropriate to tell a little of the story and pick some highlights from this incredible adventure, a journey without end but one with many wonderful moments alongside a few scrapes and near misses that, at the time, caused a few sleepless nights and financial concerns.

In 2003 I set up what would now be called a hybrid estate agency. I had undertaken a huge research project on the internet and its effect on estate agency as part of my MBA in 2000 and was motivated to try something new. I set up an office that was off High Street and I put a lot of emphasis on the use of the internet and other technology.

Floorplans and virtual tours, an integrated conveyancing offering, a wider geographic territory to operate in than the traditional High Street were all features of the new business.

We grew slowly. The market was tough and whilst I had budgeted for six months with no revenues, it turned out to be eight. The team and myself worked hard and, after the initial delays, began to make profits month on month although the initial start up debt was still hanging over us. In 2006 we were voted the best estate agent in Buckinghamshire in the ESTAS, winning Silver in the Thames Valley overall.

Just as it seemed to be building nicely, 2007/8 saw the financial crash, and amidst much dithering from the Government, I saw 90% of my future sales pipeline abort and a cashflow crisis looming.

With debt now rapidly approaching six figures I had to take a major decision. Did I continue or did I pivot and put all of my energies into consulting and using my years of experience in another way?

When I set the business up originally I had negotiated a break clause on my premises and so was able to walk away from this cost fairly easily.  

I decided to sell the agency business book although I kept the company open and trading. I made the team redundant (including my son) and bit the bullet. I felt slightly humiliated but knew that I had the resilience and ability to rebuild. 2008 saw my revenue halve from that of 2007. Ironically we won a Silver ESTAS that year demonstrating that our clients were well looked after even if there were not enough of them!

It would have been easy to wind the company up and leave a trail of unpaid creditors. I did not do this. Every penny owed was paid. My personal pride and integrity would not let me hurt the very people that had supported me.

I was scrabbling around for income. I had become a Domestic Energy Assessor whilst running the agency business and was undertaking EPC work whilst building my consulting business.

2009 saw my income halve again although there were positive signs of growing the new business model. 2010 saw revenues increase by 50% and 2011 by nearly double.

My wife and I had been prepared to sell our house to downsize and clear debt but then, in early 2012 a significant moment of success occurred. A deal I had brokered to sell a multi-office Thames Valley estate agency business to LSLi came good and my, not insubstantial, fee was enough to clear the debt and we ended that year breaking even and debt free. In 2012 I won another ESTAS (Silver), this time as supplier of the year and a corner felt as if it had definitely been turned.

From that date on the business has traded profitably and, if I say so myself, has built an enviable reputation for professionalism and service delivery.

My "little black book" of industry contacts bulit up over 35 years was invaluable and my ability to network crucial.

I became an "in demand" consultant helping business owners develop new propositions and better manage teams and costs. The experience gained from around the board room tables at Prudential and Connells together with the knowledge gained from my MBA and the experience of my own business proving invaluable.  

I later moved into training, recognising a gap and need in the market for compliance training alongside sales and management sessions. My vast experience helping here as I like to think I have both gravitas but also an ability to convey content through having lived and breathed it operationally for years.

When covid struck, 90% my forward pipeline disappeared but I was always very positive and I used this as a catalyst for change. I started running online zoom sessions (free of charge) for agents to discuss getting through the crisis. This helped create goodwill if not immediate cashflow. I also invested in moving all of my training into shorter sessions online with booking and payment via my website.

I had around £25,000 of unpaid invoices due when lockdown initially struck in March 2020 and I put considerable effort into ensuring I got paid. I’m pleased to say that every client honoured what they owed. In fact, in twenty years, whilst I have had some slow payers from time to time, I have only had two unrecoverable debts out of over 5200 invoices raised.

Recent years have seen the business perform well. I have grown my client bank to over 1350 clients and further awards have been forthcoming as an industry supplier from The Negotiator and Estate Agent Masters (three).

Integra Property Services is a “lifestyle” business. I have not tried to build an empire but to deliver great outcomes for clients on a personal 1:1 basis. Separate to Integra, I have got involved with two proptech businesses – teclet, where I became both an investor and Non Exec Director (we sold to OnTheMarket) and Coadjute where I sit on the advisory board.

And so, what does the future hold?

I still get a huge “buzz” out of securing a new client and of seeing my existing ones thrive.

The last couple of years have seen some of my clients successfully sell their businesses – Elliott Residential, Gibbs Gillespie, Northfields, Orchards of London, First Union, Redwell Estates – to name just a handful. Whilst commercially this has been damaging to me in that new owners may not use my services, it is an inevitable part of business and I trust that my involvement with these firms contributed to their ability to make a successful sale.

The proposed introduction of the Tenants Fee Act 2019 was the catalyst to seeing me introduce The Lettings Health Check which is a review of both compliance and commerciality. This has been very popular with those agents who have invested in having me "get under the bonnet" of their business. I have always found at least 100 recommendations for improvements and my clients have made significant improvements in fee income, cost reduction and compliance risk management as a result. More information here.

In 2020 I was invited to get involved with a new industry charity – Agents Together – as a founder member. I remain involved and I am proud of the help and support provided to over 850 mentees by a growing “army” of mentors.

I have, following my triple heart bypass in December 2021, taken a conscious decision to create a better work life balance and ensure that, alongside still providing great service to my clients, I take more time for myself and my family.

I remain in demand for webinars and events and have got closer and more involved with Propertymark (I have been a member for nearly 40 years). I shall be part of a panel at their huge national conference at Wembley Arena in June and I am presenting at a regional conference later in the year. I am now also running compliance training courses for them on a monthly basis.

I have been a member of the Home Buying and Selling Group for several years and admire the valuable work they undertake although I still harbour ambitions of seeing even greater outcomes that improve the home buying and selling process across the board.

I am on the risk and compliance advisory board facilitated by Thirdfort as the industry grapples with the increased needs for customer identity and risk management required to comply with money laundering and other risk-based legislation.

My training work continues apace and I have also recently undertaken some very enjoyable face to face sessions as well as my regular online programmes. More details here.

I have also grown my content writing and press work, providing press releases for a growing number of property industry clients. More details here.

Finally, I have always taken the view that if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person. I am always open to any and all discussions about projects, strategy, organisation etc. I will never take on something where I am unable to deliver the required outcomes.

I am also, now that my NED role at teclet has ended, seeking a similar role elsewhere where my 48 years, the majority at Board or Partner level, can bring added value to a forward-looking organisation.