In 1993, Jeff Doble set out on a journey to create a new force in London residential estate agency. Today, Dexters has more branches across the capital than any other agency. We spoke to him about the firm’s new brand, market corrections and why he doesn’t fear online ‘self-help’ agencies.
With 28 offices in Central London and more than 60 across the capital as a whole, Dexters is London’s leading independent estate agency and specialises in sales and lettings.
We’ve worked out that we spend between 150 and 200 hours of work on a typical sale
It’s taken Jeff Doble and his colleagues 23 years to get to this level but he is clear how it has been achieved and where the path ahead lies.
“We opened a lot of ‘cold start’ offices and then also bought up competitors where we’re good at retaining people and integrating our business model and culture.”
Dexters has acquired a host of agencies over the years including many well-known neighbourhood names such as Brian Lack, Beaney Pearce, Chard and Field & Sons, to name just a few. The business has grown from 16 offices to more than 60 across London in the past eight years with reinvestment of an estimated £100m during that time.
The engine room of the business is a lettings arm which advises more than 20,000 landlords – who range from great estates to the owners of just one flat – across London. The group now turns over £70m a year with a profit return of around £15m.
In June this year, all its offices were brought together under the new Dexters brand marque. Prior to the unification of the brand, it was operating through 25 different identities. Doble comments: “It was obvious to us that we should change them and our clients are happy because it’s the same people, bringing them the same great service”.
The steady flow of income from the lettings work – a busy week sees the firm do several hundred new lettings – has enabled it to ride out market fluctuations during the intervening years when sale volumes dipped. However, Doble gives short shrift to the notion that the current market correction in London is on a par with the profound slump of 2008.
“In 2008 the market went down to 20% of the average sales volume. In the current market, we’re at 80% of what might be normal volume. So, you can’t really compare it. There are uncertainties in the market but London remains a
very attractive bet and, with a strong lettings market, we are still seeing large numbers of investment buyers both local and international. Owner-occupiers take a long-term view and that market is especially vibrant.
“The market naturally corrects itself all the time but people just aren’t really aware of it unless there is a bigger macro event which brings it into focus. In my whole career of 30-odd years, we’ve only really had a sensational market four or five times and for fairly limited periods. The prevailing trend in London is up but there are lots of minor adjustments along the way.”
When markets cool, clients look critically at fees. In the estate agency domain, the most vociferous advocates of a cheaper form of estate agency are the new online ‘do-it-yourself’ platforms such as PurpleBricks, HouseSimple and EasyProperty. Doble believes they create a ‘soft’ market for properties which do the vendors no favours.
“I think what people are realising is that the claims that state ‘look it’s the same process, it’s just a lot cheaper’ is clearly rubbish.
“The fact is that you don’t have anybody promoting your property for you. It’s a passive piece of work and a poor way of going about selling property.
“We’ve worked out that we spend between 150 and 200 hours of work on a typical sale. So someone’s got to put the hours in. Buyers and tenants are most likely to deal through an agent, rather than directly, and expert negotiation is the key to a good deal.”
He believes there is a place for these platforms but projections that they will supplant the established model of estate agency are well wide of the mark.
With the Dexters brand now established, Doble is looking to make further acquisitions in the marketplace.
“We want to be the number one agent in London. We’re very focused as a group of 1,200 people and we continue to get better at what we do. We’re very excited about the market at the moment, we’re strong financially and we’ve got the resource for more growth.
Our clients are very happy because it’s the same people, bringing them the same great service
“We want to show in everything we do that estate agency is a service of value. I don’t know whether we’ll ever change the public’s perception of the industry entirely but we want to stand out and set the bar as high as possible.”