In December’s cover feature, Sussex Business Times gets to know the story behind Eastbourne-based Estate Agent, Home Sweet Home, following on from their recent – and minor – relocation. Owners Matt Thompson and Steve Davies explain the reasons behind this move, the success of Home Sweet Home so far and the company’s plans for the future
Home Sweet Home is a joint-owned Estate Agent, which was founded in the summer of 2004 by current owners, Matt Thompson and Steve Davies. With a combined 35 years of experience in Eastbourne’s busy property market, the pair have extensive knowledge in what buyers and sellers expect from their Estate Agents. There current offices are located in the heart of Eastbourne’s South Street, placing them just a short walk away from the mainline railway station, town hall, theatres, seafront and town centre shopping facilities – the perfect destination for a customer-hungry property business.
So just to give you a little bit of Home Sweet Home’s history; Matt and Steve had been working together at Flats Only – previous to them starting their current business – for a number of years when, one day, they decided it was the right time for them to begin working for themselves. As we have covered before in previous issues of Sussex Business Times, starting your own business isn’t exactly an easy process and a large amount of start-ups fail within their first few years of operating. However, with a clear vision already in their minds, this wasn’t quite the case for Home Sweet Home: “I had had the name Home Sweet Home in my mind for several years anyway and in 2004, everything seemed to slot into place,” said Steve. “Matt and I both sold a property to free up the funds without needing any loans or third party backing”, and it’s safe to say the pair haven’t looked back since. Home Sweet Home also employs three other staff members; Senior Negotiator, Sophie Archer who has been with them for many years now, Emma-Louise Brown who joined in February last year in order to specifically manage the growing lettings side of the business, and also Lydia Yap – their extremely efficient Saturday Assistant. Since their relocation, Home Sweet Home have also welcomed Paul Healy to their team who, with a stream of experience in finance and mortgages, has interlinked with the Home Sweet Home team and is on hand to offer his expertise in the form of financial advice and mortgages – something the team were unable to offer before. Matt and Steve are now completely content with the way their business is being run, with help from their efficient, friendly and professional team of staff: “We all get on well and work together as a team!”
But what was it that sparked the partnership between them? Steve continued to explain: “Matt and I have always got on well to be fair. Three is most certainly a crowd and I think it’s much easier with two people than being a sole trader, as you will always have a second opinion on literally everything, which helps with the occasional indecisiveness. There’s comfort in that. We are good friends; we were before we started Home Sweet Home and we still are!”
The Estate Agent market is a crowded one, especially in highly residential areas with a large volume of elderly people, such as Eastbourne and Brighton which would, usually, make the process of starting up your own particularly difficult, but Matt and Steve claim that one of the main elements that kept them going and their most unique selling point was – and still is – their company’s name. There were plenty of options when it came to the name of their business, Davies & Thompson being the obvious choice and following in the footsteps of the many other Estate Agents. However, Home Sweet Home was definitely the better, more personal and warm title, giving off certain positive vibes that hasn’t quite been established by many other Agents. Steve elaborates: “You can find all sorts of ‘Home Sweet Home’ goodies in shops such as Next. Most people just do seem to like it and properties look good on our headed paper and with a Home Sweet Home board outside.
For the initial few years, Home Sweet Home comprised purely of Matt and Steve themselves, with a focus on just residential sales and working hard for six days out of the week, when in 2006, Matt came up with the suggestion of taking on lettings also, which lead to the build up of Home Sweet Home’s small team of staff. Steve’s sister, Sarah decided to jump on board into the business and made a start on the lettings right away. Their business took off straight away, and just to give you an idea of to what extent, in their first week of opening, they had 31 new instructions on their books to sell! The only recognisable difficulty Matt and Steve were made to deal with was the recession of 2008, which saw the sales side of the business plummet dramatically for a number of years, as was the case with many businesses all over the country. Despite this, Matt and Steve weathered the storm, unlike larger Agents such as Halifax, and came out on the other side wiser and well respected.
It was only recently though, that the owners of Home Sweet Home decided a relocation was necessary for the business. Previous to their move, Home Sweet Home was based at 41 South Street, which both Matt and Steve felt was a sensible place to start; it was in town, but came without the high rents of a prime location. This office served them well for more than 12 years, but after feeling as if they had outgrown their original premises, Home Sweet Home moved to a new and bigger location in August this year – just a number of doors down at 117 South Street.
“I was worried that the phones or the internet would not be up and running, but actually we had no hiccups and on the day we opened – the Monday – we all felt really settled sraight away”, said Steve. “We have a lovely office. We have had an incredible amount of praise from not only our customers, but also our neighbouring shop keepers and even fellow estate agents.” The new Home Sweet Home office now provides the team with a much nicer environment to work in – light and airy, in a much busier location and with a lot more space for the staff. “It’s like moving home – it’s not until you make the move that you realise what you were struggling with before”, said Steve.
Why Eastbourne, though? Eastbourne has an unusually high number of sales and lettings agents for a town of its size and is a very competitive market with an excellent mixture of local independent agents, along with larger corporate firms and the online-only agents of both local and national origins. The property market has become a very fee-driven one, which of course is good for customers, and in order to ensure they are competing with the many other Agents in the region, Home Sweet Home have the ability to tailor their services to every individual customer. Steve said: “At the end of the day, aside from all the website marketing and the fancy window displays, the property business is all about people. Compared to some, we are much more human about how we work; we are not target driven, not driven by financial services. This definitely comes across in the way we speak to people and help them. Although we are always very busy, we always make plenty of time for people.”
Home Sweet Home have a superb high street presence. Of course, their window display attracts a great deal of interest throughout the day, and their positioning next to Morgans restaurant and opposite Hudsons bar means there is a lot of foot fall in the evenings also, proving that their decision to move has been a decision well made. Even in the few months since their relocation, Matt and Steve have seen their market share increase in terms of new customers on both the sales side and lettings side of things. “People like us. They trust us. They like the way we work. They like our prices. We don’t ask sellers to sign a lengthy contract with us. We don’t have extortionate feed for our lettings packages”, explains Steve.
One question on everyone’s minds surrounds the impact of Brexit on the property market. Most people would assume that this is one of the areas most affected by the result of the EU referendum, decided back in June this year, however Matt and Steve say Brexit has so far not bothered their business at all. In fact, this year has seen prices surge during the peak months of Spring and Summer – mainly fuelled by the lack of ‘stock’ – and with so many people looking to buy and rent, it has been a very busy time for Home Sweet Home: “We’ve achieved some excellent prices for our vendors this year, for example; a one-bedroom flat sold at the asking price of £174,950, a two-bedroom bungalow in Westham sold for £380,000 and a three-bedroom house sold in Stone Cross for £515,000!”
The Home Sweet Home owners then went on to give their opinon on how they feel about the recent announcement of scrapping letting agent fees: “It’s an interesting one. Personally, we feel there should be a cap on fees, not a ban. Of course, there are some agents who have no doubt been overcharging. Rip-off fees should be banned, but fees should not. It is too early to really know what will happen as the finer details have not yet been announced. No fees for tenants, we think, is a mistake. This proposed ban; it would be like asking a Conveyancing Solicitor not to charge anything for their professional services – I don’t think so! You cannot have a professional service for free.”
A short number of years ago, it became compulsory for letting agents to join an independent redress scheme in order to help protect the public, such as The Property Ombudsman, although Home Sweet Home had already voluntarily joined many years prior. In addition to this, Home Sweet Home have recently joined a Client Money Protect agency, again in advance of it becoming mandatory, and the company really does strive to provide customers with peace of mind.
Matt and Steve cannot foresee what the future holds for Home Sweet Home, but can only do their best to ensure it continues along the successful road it has been on. Steve concludes: “We will have to see what next year brings. Eastbourne tends to hold its own, even when other places around the UK are in turmoil. It’s a nice, clean town with plenty of investment taking place. There is the harbour, the Downs, the seafront and many good schools; the possibilities in Eastbourne are endless.”
For more information on Home Sweet Home or to contact them directly, visit www.hshome.co.uk, call 01323 748874 or email firstname.lastname@example.org