After 16 years with boutique PCL firm Aston Chase, Simon Deen announced he would be departing in search of a new challenge. In this latest instalment of our special series on prime resi entrepreneurs, he discusses the highs and lows of starting his own business, and why he wants to change the public’s perception of estate agents…
What have been the main challenges you’ve faced running a new business in a time of unprecedented economic and political uncertainty?
I am fortunate enough to have nearly 20 years of experience. Being established, well known in the industry and with a strong network of contacts has meant that the new business and instruction side has not been a challenge.
Administratively it’s been difficult. Lead times for things like opening a bank account have been extraordinary. I decided to use a challenger bank and I think that’s a sign of things to come. There used to be a feeling of security in dealing with an established brand, but I think a lot of that has disappeared. In many instances they’ve been too slow to adapt.
Do you think the government is doing enough to help small businesses at the current time?
I think that they’re doing their best in extraordinary circumstances. With the benefit of hindsight there are certain things which could have been done better, however it’s also important to reflect on the choice we had at the last election and what the alternative might now look like.
It’s also worth talking about the way the country has pulled together in a time of crisis. As a nation we’re often compared to the US but I think we’re actually quite different. They’re far more individualistic whereas we have this sense of shared responsibility. The focus on protecting the NHS and saving lives reflects that. I think that on a local level people feel more connected to each other as a result.
Does your experience of the current market correspond with what you’ve been hearing/reading in the media?
Personally I have never worked so hard or been so busy. People have gone through a period of priority reassessment on a lot of levels, and that includes what they want from a home. The vast majority of the buyers I’m dealing with want private outside space and a home office over and above anything else.
As a result, demand in the truly residential parts of London, like Primrose Hill, Hampstead and Highgate has been very strong. It’s these zone two locations which will continue to thrive in the next 10 years. Where you’re close enough to central London to enjoy everything it has to offer, but can still retain a feeling of community, proximity to green spaces and excellent schools.
Have you adapted or changed your business model since launching? If so, how?
Circumstances have focused my attention on being streamlined and exceptionally customer focused. It’s easy to spend a lot of money launching an estate agency business and in a lot of instances it’s just not necessary. Technology platforms have made the technical work more accessible, or given me the ability to outsource it effectively.
I think that if you can excel at helping clients achieve their objectives you will thrive, despite market challenges.
Has launching a business been what you expected it to be, and is there anything you would do differently with the benefit of hindsight?
I think I underestimated how much I would enjoy it, especially the autonomy
I really didn’t have many expectations other than that it would be hard work, and that’s certainly proved to be true. I think I underestimated how much I would enjoy it, especially the autonomy. Having the ability to choose how, when and where has been very liberating and made me much more productive.
What’s the most valuable piece of business advice that you have been given?
Not given to me as such, but reading and listening to Tim Ferris talk about fear setting.
“Don’t only evaluate the potential downside of action. It is equally important to measure the atrocious cost of inaction. If you don’t pursue those things that excite you, where will you be in one year, five years, and ten years?”
There is plenty that can go wrong when leaving the assumed comfort of a well paid job. As human beings we tend to avoid looking at the downsides of not doing, or asking ourselves what the consequences of inaction are. Often that’s where the risk really is.
Which other businesses or entrepreneurs do you most admire?
On an agency front I think that The Modern House are doing incredible things on almost every level. I find it quite inspiring actually, they have such a strong sense of who they are and what they offer.
In terms of entrepreneurs – Ray Dalio – a rare combination of humility and incredible talent. In a world where people are desperate to be proved right, he seems to thrive on being proved wrong, or at least challenged on his assumptions by everyone around him. He’s been able to create the largest hedge fund in the world whilst running an organisation which is a true meritocracy.
What other headwinds are you facing, as a new business in the prime residential property sector?
In the short term the final pieces of the Brexit puzzle and travel restrictions are obviously issues. PCL has thrived due to international buyers, the government must ensure that the appeal of London remains.
The general public’s perception of Estate Agents has never been lower and it’s up to us to change this
However for me the most pressing issue in our industry is reputation. We have so much work to do here. The general public’s perception of Estate Agents has never been lower and it’s up to us to change this.
I’m trying to address this, and the feedback I’ve had from clients to date has reinforced that it was the right thing for me to establish my own brand and business.
What’s next for you and your business?
Developing myself alongside Simon Deen Real Estate. I think that the greatest investment we can make is in ourselves and that we have to constantly strive to be better than we were yesterday. There’s a wealth of tools and knowledge out there if you’re committed to being a lifelong learner.
I would love to see Estate Agency reimagined, it needs it and I think there’s a lot of space for it to be done. There’s a large pool of potential customers out there and I see part of my job as improving the experience of buying or selling a home. As Seth Godin says “There’s a gap in the market where your version of better can make a welcome change happen”.