TO any parent who has carried on working through the Covid pandemic from home, Amy Wray’s experience will sound familiar.
Like thousands of companies right across the country, her Holmfirth-based estate agency, Applegate Properties, was forced to abandon its offices during lockdown and she was one of the army of workers who soon discovered the “joys” of mixing business with childcare.
“I was effectively back on front desk,” she told The Yorkshire Post. “I had some very challenging conversations about rents - with a toddler clinging to my legs and trying to say ‘hello’.”
But with flexibility, organisation and commitment, she and her 11-strong team managed to keep Applegate on course.
“Seeing the housing market collapsing all around us was very worrying, but we’d invested in technology, so we could carry on working seamlessly,” says Ms Wray.
“We still managed to actively progress sales, so when it all opened up we were near the front of the queue to get things finalised.
“In fact, the effect of lockdown was phenomenal. Just before it was announced, I expected a high number of purchasers to pull out, but quite the opposite has happened.
“Something we’re very proud of is that we didn’t miss a call throughout lockdown, which wasn’t easy. The effort that went into that!
“The team were unbelievably supportive; just thinking about it can bring me to tears.”
Ms Wray set Applegate up from her dining room table in 2010 after her family urged her to strike out on her own. She had already spent a few years in the property business and clients had often praised her for her clear communication.
“We set up in a recession with £600 and rent to pay - I couldn’t even afford the internet portal. That was madness at the time,” recalls Ms Wray.
“But it was the customer service element that really appealed to me; I really wanted to make a difference.”
Since then the firm has grown considerably. It now covers the whole Huddersfield area, and has even put out feelers across the Pennines, selling homes in Manchester and Cheshire, and managing properties in Liverpool.
Ms Wray has won several awards for her business acumen and the agency itself has racked up a decent haul too. Just last week it was recognised as the best letting agent in the area at the British Property Awards.
Ms Wray describes Applegate Properties as a “traditional agency with a modern approach” - “it might sound corny, but we genuinely care” - and it certainly has some of the trappings of modern corporate culture. There are staff nights out, pastries at the weekly team meetings, and a Spotify chillout playlist playing in the background.
“Some people might not think that’s very professional, but I think it enhances the positive atmosphere,” she says.
There’s also a bell on every desk, and staff ring them whenever anything good happens, such as a new sale going through.
Those bells kept on ringing through lockdown, and that was in part due to some fast footwork on the part of Ms Wray and her team, who in expectation of lockdown dashed round all their properties, taking videos of them in place of viewings.
It was a successful strategy; the firm has agreed several sales on the strength of videos alone and lettings have taken off.
“We’re experiencing a mini-boom - we’re currently busier than before lockdown - so there’s significant demand out there, for both sales and rentals,” she says.
“The average rental time is now just two hours - through video alone!”
But that’s by no means the only market change wrought by the pandemic. Lockdown has made many people realise how much they value outdoor space, and Applegate is not alone in noticing an increase in interest in rural properties.
There has even been an upturn in purchasers moving from London, swapping city life for the countryside.
By contrast, some would-be first-time buyers are giving up on their dreams of buying a property - for the time being, at least - as economic hardship begins to bite.
“A number of lenders are asking for 15 per cent deposits instead of 10 per cent, and some have reduced the amount of gifted deposits they’re willing to accept, placing an extra burden on the buyer,” says Ms Wray.
“We also had a local lockdown in Kirklees, and that had ramifications for the market. So some vendors are now waiting till the new year before putting their property on the market.”
If all that paints a mixed picture, that’s because the outlook remains far from clear, says Ms Wray.
“Some things will be here to stay - for example, I’m not sure group viewings will ever come back - but I think we’ve got at least another 12 months of uncertainty,” she says.
“I set up in a recession, but this is the most uncertain marketplace I’ve ever worked in.
“The next few months will have their own challenges and we’ll see what 2021 brings. I’ve always believed that health and well-being are most important and this has brought that into focus.”
Like this year, 2021 seems full of question marks.
Ms Wray says: “I’m an optimistic person, and in business you’ve got to change and adapt. I always rise to a challenge, and that’s what I see this as.
She added: “We see an awful lot of negativity, but it’s important to stress that there’s some real positivity too. It’s not all doom and gloom.”
In other words, expect to hear more of Applegate’s bells ringing over the next 12 months.