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For Sale Board Secrets Revealed

Updated on November 1, 2009

We all know how essential and influential For Sale boards are to property selling. But for the first time ever, we can now tap-in to the ‘up and down’ performance statistics of estate agent flags, which in turn tell us just how the property market is changing at grass roots level.

There was a time when estate agents dealt with the whole process of presenting a house to the market themselves, including the often somewhat demanding physical task of erecting a For Sale sign outside their newly signed-up client’s home. I recall the days when I too used to have to undertake this job, carrying my boards and a stack of timbers in the back of my otherwise pristine roadrunner.

The hard-earned and highly prepared vision of a professional and successful estate agent, resplendent in his pin-stripe suite, Rolex and patent black Italian shoes – didn’t fair well with the image of him leaving his client’s home to then be seen hammering a piece of two-by-three into the muddy ground in the pouring rain.

Things had to change. And change they did. In the 1990s, new companies started-up that provided agents with a complete board erection and dismantling service. This largely began at a local level with one-man businesses offering what was essentially a ‘handyman’ style package of board printing, construction and fixing. Estate agents were then left to the more befitting tasks of procuring new clients, valuations, undertaking viewings and negotiating sales.

Things changed again in 1998 when Agency Express was born. This innovative and forward thinking company expanded the fractured one-man board-erection business by franchising a managed service to the entire nation. Ten years later, Agency Express claims that one in every four ‘For Sale’ boards seen up and down the country belongs to them. And despite other would-be contenders to their throne, they remain the UK’s largest and most profitable fully managed estate agency board company.

The vast majority of the top estate agency chains use its nationwide multi-million pound operation and it erects, manages or dismantles 4,000 boards every day. The scale of their business covers 87 per cent of the UK and provides a unique insight into the swings and roundabouts of the housing market never before disclosed.

The latest statistical analysis data released by Agency Express in their Property Activity Index makes fascinating reading.

The figures reflect the already obvious and overwhelming fragility seen in house sale statistics from other more traditional sources, but they also show an underlying trend that bucks the consensus of a market upswing. The Index is based on both the volume and the activity of For Sale and (crucially) Sold boards put up across the UK, showing a significant drop in September for the third consecutive month. Agency Express say the fall of 8.7 per cent in September represents the lowest volume of sales on their records since the start of the year.

Perhaps rather more significant is the three-month average, which suggests there has been a consistent 1.5 per cent decrease in the number of property sales – and this represents the first fall since January, confirming any anticipated acceleration in housing market movement seems most unlikely, despite the predictions of most mortgage providers.

And while overall market might appear depressing and gloomy, there are some extraordinary pockets of sunshine illuminated by these statistics. Scotland seems to lead in any market recovery potential, because Glasgow showed a 100 per cent increase in monthly house sales during September, racing ahead of any other city in the UK. Of the rest, the top five had Colchester showing a 20.3 per cent increase, Manchester almost 16 per cent, Cardiff over 8 per cent and Bristol at just under 8 per cent.

At the other end of scale, the region showing the worst performance in house sales during September was the East Midlands with Nottingham and Leicester down by about 35 per cent each, then Cambridge at -27.7 per cent, Edinburgh at -27.3 per cent and Brighton down by 26.6 per cent.

New homes being put on the market for sale followed a similar trend as those being sold, but Glasgow again came up trumps, showing a huge 135 per cent increase. There are issues over a lack of properties appearing on the market, which is causing a drought of available properties for buyers to view. The worst offending cities here include Bristol where there were almost 40 per cent less For Sale boards being put up, Nottingham with 32 per cent less, York and Milton Keynes with about 29 per cent less and Coventry down by 26 per cent.

On a positive note, Agency Express have said they are expecting the next month’s figures to be somewhat better, because they believe the recession had caused the usual seasonal interest from owners willing to sell their homes to become skewed as the summer came to an end. Their opinion is that whereas ordinarily people would have been diverted into taking holidays abroad and other summertime interests, this year the average household budget has restricted such luxuries – and consequentially people have had more time to think about selling their properties and more money (from holiday savings) to make their properties more presentable. The Agency believe this caused an ‘interest spike’ in August, which levelled out during September.

Although the data from For Sale board movement should not be taken in isolation, it represents an interesting and thought-provoking insight into how the market is shifting one way or the other in real time. All statistics are useful and in the end it is the combination of data from all sources that truly points where we may be heading. Thankfully, most are now suggesting we are turning a corner on what has proved to be the worst housing market and financial crash for decades.

Books by Tony Booth

How To Be Your Own Estate Agent: 2nd edition
How To Be Your Own Estate Agent: 2nd edition
All the tricks of the trade guide you through the entire home selling process ... allowing you to keep the agent's commission in your own pocket.

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