The Yorkshire Residential Property Awards went into hibernation during the recession but it was back with a bang this week for a double celebration.
After one of the toughest periods on record, spirits were high as everyone from developers and architects to planners and designers raised a toast to “better times”. The event at the Queen’s Hotel, Leeds, on Thursday night also celebrated the sector’s successes, while raising funds for Variety, the Children’s Charity.
Host for the evening was Jonnie Irwin, who worked as a property agent before becoming a presenter on TV’s Escape To The Country and A Place In The Sun. He told the audience: “You should all be proud as we celebrate the success of Yorkshire’s residential property market as it springs back to life following one of the toughest recessions on record.”
There were 11 awards and Leeds-based developer Citu was the star performer. It proved unbeatable in three categories. The firm’s Little Kelham development in Sheffield won Best Innovation, Best Regeneration and Best Marketing Campaign. The regenerated site on the edge of Sheffield city centre includes 152 contemporary and super-insulated homes along with workspaces, shops, cafes and galleries.
Manning Stainton’s estate and lettings agency won Best Agent and its founder and managing director, Russell Manning, was given the Lifetime Achievement Award. “It’s great, although the title sounds a little like I am ready to retire, which I’m not,” says Russell. who began his estate agency career at the age of 17. He launched his first eponymous business in Leeds city centre at the age of 20 in 1976.
One of the first agents in Yorkshire to open branches in the suburbs, he later sold his company to Royal Insurance and became regional managing director of William H Brown. After learning about the workings of a big business, he put the knowledge to good use when he launched his new firm, Manning and Company in 1991. With the help of his late wife, Amanda, he steered the agency through a devastating property market depression caused by high interest rates.
That experience proved invaluable during the latest economic crisis. Manning and Co., which merged with Stainton’s in 2001, proved itself recession proof thanks to cautious investment and diversification into lettings, conveyancing, mortgages, rentals and auctions. It now has 20 sales and lettings offices, plus a head office, and continues to expand.
“We are known as a Leeds agent but we now have branches in Wetherby, Harrogate and Wakefield and we plan to open more in North and West Yorkshire,” he said. Russell is also keen to pioneer fresh ideas that have seen the agency’s phone lines open from 8am until 8pm, seven days a week. It also has a dedicated head office team of “move managers” who push sales through to completion. Awards judges were impressed with the firm’s commitment to “corporate social responsibility”, which is thanks in part to Russell’s father, who instilled in him the need to share success and “give back”.
Manning Stainton has a community fund for local charities and recently raised £150,000 to support a specialist breast cancer nurse at the Bexley wing of St James’s University Hospital, Leeds.
As well as continuing his property career, Russell is about to take over as chair of the Leeds Jewish Welfare Board and he plays guitar in a blues and rock band. He is a big fan of Bruce Springsteen and The Beatles and, to coin a Lennon-McCartney lyric, after “a hard day’s night” for the property sector, he is forecasting a period of steady growth.
He also dismisses fears that online estate agencies could eventually kill off traditional high street operators, although admits their share of the market might eventually increase from four to 10 or 15 per cent.
“The online agents can’t replicate what we do in terms of helping people through the emotional process of buying and selling a house,” says Russell.
“And they can’t compete with us on making sure a sale gets through to completion,”
The Yorkshire Residential Property Awards was organised by the Yorkshire branch of Variety with the help of sponsors, including Bond Dickinson and the Yorkshire Post. All funds raised will go to Variety’s work in Yorkshire supporting disabled and disadvantaged children. www.variety.org.uk