Each month, we take 5 minutes to ask a lettings industry expert 5 things. This month we are truly honoured to be talking to Calum Brannan, Young Director of the Year Finalist and CEO and Founder of Howsy – *winner of Best Online Agent 2019*
Q. Hi Calum! Thank you so much for taking the time out to speak to us today. I know how busy you are, so I’ll just jump right in! And we can’t exactly bypass Covid-19 can we? So how have you been doing?! I imagine that as an online agent, you suffered relatively little disruption to operations during lockdown in comparison to your high street counterparts? Would that be accurate?
A. I think that’s fair to say. The initial closure of bricks and mortar offices caused most traditional agents to grind to a halt, with many having to make major adjustments to operational capacity and procedures when the market did reopen. As an online platform, we were able to continue as normal with virtually no disruption whatsoever to the way we service both our landlords and their tenants.
Q. Great news for Howsy! Not many businesses can say that can they? One thing we can all agree on though is that the Nation as a whole has seen some huge changes made to our every-day working lives. And with many of these changes having been reported in some cases as being more enjoyable for employees (eg remote working, no travel) whilst also being more lucrative for companies (less office space etc) – do you think that working life might well look very different forever?
A. Most likely. A survey by NFX at the start of the pandemic (Apr 2020) for example found that nearly 50% of founders would consider remote working for the majority of their workforce. That number has now increased to 73.6% (Jun 2020). We believe employees will find more reasons to value family time and the days of long commutes may be over. We believe there is still a place for the office, but we’re pretty sure that flexible working (working hours and place of work) will be here forever.
Q. Thank you! It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Now on the subject of research – I know that Howsy research is cutting edge. So with that in mind (along with your extensive experience of course); you’re probably one of the most qualified industry leaders I could possibly ask this question to. If I was looking to invest in a buy-to-let property right now – what would your advice be? Is this a good time? Or should I wait? And are there any ‘hotspots’?
A. Investing in a buy-to-let is all about fine margins and while many are predicting a house price crash; this is looking relatively unlikely. However, the current uncertainty caused by the pandemic is seeing some home sellers transact at a marginal discount at the moment and this can present a great opportunity for buy-to-let investors. You want to find that all important balance between a good rental return and a low investment price point to help boost your yield; and with discounts on the table while tenant demand remains high – now is as good a time as any to do so.
Our latest research has found that there are some strong yields to be found across the UK, with Bradford, Gwynedd, North Down, Glasgow and Liverpool all ranking particularly high.
Q. Great tips thank you! As you would expect! I think that the Howsy concept is great by the way. It’s so refreshing. A much needed shake-up! It really seems like Howsy is a brand that genuinely represents honesty and fairness. And your staff seem so happy too! So what’s the secret?
A. Well as cliche as it sounds, a great team and great technology make for a winning combination. I think we were on the front foot from the beginning in the sense that we were addressing issues within an archaic industry, one that was stuck following the ‘norms’ that had been in place for decades.
Technology has moved on and it now enables us to do so much more with much less, which in turn reduces the cost to landlords and makes the whole process more seamless for landlords and their tenants.
If you remove a bunch of previous friction points in the journey, address fears such as rental arrears and damages (as we have with our Howsy Protect product), bring it all together via an easy to use online dashboard, and hire outstanding industry professionals who love what they do – you’re on to a winner.
Q. Amazing. So lastly; is there any one particular moment that stands out to you on your Howsy journey?
A. My Chairman and I got the opportunity to fly to East Asia to meet with some of our investors who have an office in Hong Kong. Going to temples is a ritual in Chinese culture. Some temple goers hope for good fortune, while some ask for good health and good luck. Gillian and I walked up many steps to a temple in Old Hong Kong; trying to be as respectful and inconspicuous as possible. We lit some incense and hoped for a successful meeting. We are pleased to say Howsy was successful in completing its funding round – and you might argue this was a coincidence; but I saw it as a very pivotal moment in our journey and one that followed that point at the top of the temple.
A huge thank you to Calum for taking the time out of his day to talk to us. You can further connect with Calum on LinkedIn. And of course, if you want to work with inventory clerks who truly understand the sector, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.