Continuing our series focusing on those starting and running new businesses in these extraordinary times, PrimeResi speaks to former Strutt & Parker agent Andrew Russell, who recently co-founded new estate agency The Country House Department focusing on the prime market in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and The Cotswolds…
What have been the main challenges you’ve faced running a new business in a time of unprecedented economic and political uncertainty?
The main challenge has not been brought about as a result of the unprecedented economic and political uncertainty. We’ve actually been very lucky with the market. Who would have thought we would see a boom in the country house property market in the midst of such an uncertain economy and outlook. This is being driven by the pent up activity from 2019 due to Brexit, the SDLT holiday and high numbers of Londoners wanting to make the move out of London post lockdown. The main challenge we have faced as a new business is getting our name out there and making sure prospective sellers have heard of us.
Do you think the government is doing enough to to help small businesses at the current time?
They have a very difficult balancing act to manage. There may be small businesses that will feel the government is not doing enough, however, we can only really comment on what they have done for the residential property market. We were pleased that the government allowed estate agents back to work as soon as possible after the lockdown and the SDLT holiday is also helping.
Does your experience of the current market correspond with what you’ve been hearing/reading in the media?
Yes it does. Being at the coal face, we see the market react in real time. We can tell when the market is busy and when it is starting to cool, very simply by how much the telephone rings. At the moment we are still seeing good levels of activity and a real appetite for Londoners wanting to relocate to the country.
Have you adapted or changed your business model since launching? If so, how?
Being a small business, we are able to adapt very quickly and this has been one of the most liberating elements of launching our new agency, after working for one of the large corporate estate agencies. We have broadly stuck to our plan since launch, but we probably adapt and change in small ways on a daily basis.
Has launching a business been what you expected it to be, and is there anything you would do differently with the benefit of hindsight?
In all honesty, we haven’t looked back. It has been an extremely exhilarating and rewarding process – completely all-consuming. We’ve been so busy with the high levels of activity in the market. I have no doubt we will make mistakes and with hindsight we will be able to asses this in the future
What’s the most valuable piece of business advice that you have been given?
To try and make more good decisions than bad ones and to keep overheads as low as possible.
Which other businesses or entrepreneurs do you most admire?
I hugely enjoyed Richard Branson’s book Losing my Virginity, it was very inspirational. John Hunt changed the world of Estate Agency with Foxtons by disrupting the way agents operated in London. Whilst we don’t want to emulate Foxtons, we do want to disrupt the top end of the country house market, which we feel has been dominated by the same incumbent agents for decades. We are proud to do things differently.
What other headwinds are you facing, as a new businesses in the prime residential property sector?
The main challenge remains constant and that is starting from scratch as an unknown brand to becoming recognised brand. It will take time, but already we have worked for some wonderful clients who are now telling their contacts about the incredible service we have delivered.
What’s next for you and your business?
We will continue to grow our core business which is across The Cotswolds, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. We may look to expand in to new territories but this is very much dependant on finding the right agents/people to work with us.