Interviewing David Johnson, MD Of Inhous

05.04.16

Two words crop up several times during my interview with David Johnson, MD of London-based boutique property consultancy INHOUS and these are “challenge” and “independence”.

He began his career with one of Ireland’s most prominent property firms, Hooke & MacDonald, at beginning of the millennium. In the midst of the boom David did his apprenticeship in the twin trades of marketing and sales, before moving on to a smaller brokerage which provided more varied work and allowed him to develop the knowledge and skills at the higher end of the Dublin market to which he found himself naturally migrating.

However, after the global financial crisis crippled the Irish economy in 2008, David seized the opportunity to look further afield, and central London seemed the most obvious destination with its apparently bullet-proof bubble of a prime property market.

David learned this new territory at Marsh & Parsons, working among the packs of London’s “young and hungry” agents, but all the while he watched with slightly older and wiser eyes.

“During my time in agency I noticed the competition was so fierce, with so many agents fighting for the same limited stock, we would come up against other agents completely overvaluing properties just to win the instruction. They weren’t trying to value the property at the price they could actually sell it at, they were being misleading and over-promising.

Seeing the space in the market for a truly independent intermediary between vendors or landlords and the vagaries of the most aggressive and lucrative property market in the world, he set up on his own at the end of 2012.

“I always explain what we do with my first case study. It was a property in Earls Court. We were representing the vendor. I got all the agents in. Straight away any sales pitch from these agents were cut short as I’d heard it all before: I generally advise joint sole or multi agency to introduce competition and I know from my own time that we worked so much harder if we thought a rival might sell it before us.

“I valued the property at £1.2 million and we went with two agents. After six weeks the highest and strongest offer was still only a million-fifty. That agent was trying to convince me this was the best offer that can be achieved and strongly advised we accept it, but it was clear to me that what he wanted was his commission.

“I had studied the local area and wasn’t comfortable with his price. He said to me ‘well, we’ve done eighty-odd viewings, this is the best offer we can get you.’ But of those 80-odd, how many actually wanted to see it? How many were viewers were suitable? The client doesn’t know these things and, what is more, they are emotionally involved. They worry if they don’t take the offer they’ll be missing out.

“So the agent suggested dropping the price to £1.1 [million], but I couldn’t see the sense of it. I instructed them to knock £50,000 off, and the very next weekend we got that full asking price of £1.15 million. Our client was £100,000 better off than if they hadn’t gone with us. And it didn’t cost our client any more to avail themselves of our services as our fee is retained from the successful agent.”

Progressing the business, David began advising corporate bodies on their distressed asset portfolios, using the same concept as he would for a private client. Dealing mainly with overseas or time poor clients, David says his greatest difficulty wasn’t finding new clients but finding the right personnel for the rapidly growing business.

“I was looking for a surveyor to diversify our capabilities in that direction, but ended up being so impressed when I met Valerie Nestor, who was doing corporate relocations at Knight Frank, that she came first, bringing those skills and that business sector with her.

“Having turned over £31 million worth of property in 150 transactions in the past three years, we are now a team of eight and growing, with plans to open a second office in 2016.

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David dislikes the word concierge, with its connotations of exclusivity and luxury only, but the way INHOUS has developed is a complete service of that order, from giving a valuation you can rely on all the way down the line to making sure the lights are on when a viewer comes to call (an agent’s task which is almost never fulfilled.)

“Our goal is to make the estate agents job easier, by ‘staging’ – effectively set-dressing – the property and making sure it is competitively valued before bringing it to the market. This all leads to a shorter turnaround time along with achieving maximum returns.”

With the majority of our clients based abroad, from neighbouring countries like Ireland and France to further afield, such as Middle East, USA and Malaysia we are their representatives here on the ground.

“Our clients are happy as we take on each project as if it’s our own: we deal with every aspect of the process until completion, we give them complete reassurance along the way, and we do not charge anymore for our services.”

David thinks it’s simply a matter a time before we see more businesses similar to INHOUS, and looking at the minefield for vendors and landlords the market is today, it is hard to disagree with him. However, for the moment INHOUS is certainly a lone independent voice rising to meet London’s challenge.

For further information - www.inhous.com

Copyright Alexander Fiske Harrison 30 November 2015

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