CBCC member interview - Jakub Orna, Managing Director of Reliable Homes Estate Agents in North London

On the current trends in the property market in the UK, his views on Brexit, working 24/7 to meet customer requirements, what it takes to succeed, and so much more...

Please introduce yourself…

I was born and raised in Decin in North Bohemia and when I was 18, I came to the UK for six months to improve my English. And 14 years later, I’m still here, married and with a three-year old son. We run our own family business called Reliable Homes which has been set up in 2013 but started actively trading full time in June 2015, so we’ve just celebrated our three years anniversary.

Is the UK property market as competitive as it seems?

The market is extremely tough, and currently going through many changes, with plenty of new regulations and new legislation coming into place. The issue in the UK is that there is no enforcement. There are over 140 pieces of legislation companies need to comply with but there is no single body enforcing it. This makes the market saturated. In addition, you don’t have to have a licence to be a real estate agent. For example, just in our post code N8 (our flagship office is in Crouch End in London) there are 43 agents. On top of it, big real estate corporations are watching the small ones and when they see someone succeed they want to buy them out to strengthen their market share. It’s a current trend in other industries as well: big companies are merging not really giving a chance to smaller ones for a breakthrough.

As the market is changing, are tenants’ behaviours changing too?

Yes, for example, in 2019 the government is going to ban all administration fees tenants currently pay to agencies and landlords. These fees constitute about 20% of an agency turnover, so the forecast is that at least 4,000 jobs will be lost and at least 5,000 agencies in the UK will be closed as they will not replace this income and will be running at a loss. We are currently making a lot of changes in terms of structure in preparation for the next year so that we are ready to generate other streams of income to survive. And as the government is promoting everything, tenants know what’s coming, which puts pressure on all agents even though we can still charge fees. As a result of it, a lot of agents are halving their fees, offering various promotions to attract tenants as currently we have more supply than demand. It’s essentially a tenants’ market.

Do you enjoy working in a tough environment?

I like a challenge. It’s not easy but I believe that all these changes will improve the market. The rogue agents breaking the rules will close down as they are mainly relying on tenant fees. This will make a better and cleaner market, people will follow rules and legislation so in the end it will be good.

Have you got any plans to expand?

We’ve just opened our 2nd office in North Finchley, N12. In terms of longer-term planning, we’re looking to open another 6-8 branches in 5-7 years.

Have you got any peculiar or funny story you could share?

I have many as we’re dealing with people. One is fairly recent. We introduced a tenant to an existing client, all went well, all got signed up. The tenant meets the landlord at the property to go through property requests. The landlord is willing to buy furniture the tenant wants, so goes to IKEA but that particular piece isn’t available. The landlord buys a better piece, doubles the money thinking the tenant will be happy. But the piece is in a different colour. The tenant now doesn’t want it as it doesn’t match his furniture. The landlord asks for the contract to be cancelled and tenant claims he’s entitled to get the piece of furniture he was promised and has nowhere to go. So now, we have this legal dispute where nobody can win.

Or, I was letting a property to a couple, the lady was pregnant and the gentleman owned a local garage, but I felt something didn’t add up although all paperwork and credit check was fine, so I asked for 6 months of bank statements. When I received them, I could clearly see they were fraudulent and in the end the passport too. We had to report them to the police and found out the police had been looking for the man.  The landlord was happy we’d discovered that.

Are the property prices going up at the moment?

When it comes to sales prices, on average they are steady compared to last year. The properties above the £ 1 mil. bracket have dropped a bit, but prices are very location driven, so you’ll find there’re some hot spots where prices have slightly increased.

Will Brexit make a major impact?

The biggest issue is the uncertainty. I don’t think there will be a major impact as in my opinion, people from the EU countries who have spent here five years will be allowed to stay. The others may need to acquire some additional documents. There would be a shortage of labour if the Europeans were cut off. The impact may show in trade deals and taxes as well as some other areas, but it remains to be seen. I don’t see the property market to be affected.

Have you got any free time?

I wish. This industry is now 24/7 and very customer-driven. They require flexibility and availability on demand around the clock. They want to book appointments from the comfort of their home for any time they want. Therefore, we have invested in technologies – customers can book into our diaries directly in real time and can see available time slots and choose a time that suits them. Technology and approach like this give us a competitive edge.

How would you define yourself in three words?

Driven, dedicated, positive. These are the best three words, by the way.

Last word?

I’ll share a lesson learned. Studying has never been my passion although I was a good student. I was attending a grammar school, but wanted to be an entrepreneur, so when I had a chance to go to the UK, I went and never came back to pass my leaving exam. Although I regret not finishing the basic education level, on the other hand, the UK provides opportunities for people who are driven and committed to working hard. I like that. It doesn’t matter what’s on paper as titles may not bring you success. If you are wiling to go through the jungle of rejection and jump through the hoops, you can make it.

Would you like to find out more details about the Reliable Homes estate agents? Click here

By Tereza Urbankova, member of the CBCC Executive Committee

We are looking for more CBCC members to be interviewed! Please email terezaurbankova@yahoo.com if you are interested.

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