Q & A with Northwood's Eric Walker

The UK lettings market is going through something of a golden age as house purchasing prices continue to rise and our wider population continues to grow. The Franchise Magazine talks to the Northwood franchise’s MD, Eric Walker about how he sees this exciting market developing in the very near future.

How would you evaluate the strength of the property and lettings market in 2014? The national market is filled with diversity and as with all property related matters, there will some areas stronger than others. I see prices stabilising generally everywhere but London and with the re-emergence of the sales market over the last year, feel that lettings will continue to be a great investment.

What sets Northwood apart from competitors as a business opportunity? We have some very good competitors whom we know very well and respect hugely. Our Guaranteed Rent product is pretty unique and is different from the insurance backed schemes. It not only sets us apart from competitors, but when potential franchisees approach us, it’s often the product they mention which caught their eye and attracted them to us. Northwood has a family feel and I believe our support is second to none. In fact, it’s something that our franchisees often comment on. We remain privately owned and invest heavily in new ideas and technology. For example, our intranet is a superb resource that really builds the lines of communication and generates a huge number of great ideas.

In what direction(s) do you see the property and lettings market developing in the near future? Many predict bubbles, boom & bust cycles and seldom does anyone get it right. After 2008 there is far more caution and I see the market building healthily and sustainably; provided the shortage of housing is addressed. With sales, price rises would be better managed if Stamp Duty Land Tax thresholds were amended. The demand for more social housing is also one to watch; housing stock could be created if the council’s requirement for social housing elements were reduced, making developments more economically viable and therefore actually creating more social housing.
I see the rental market becoming more regulated and we have been at the forefront of this.

How are current Northwood franchise owners performing in the current marketplace? What are the factors behind their performances? We have some franchisees performing extraordinarily well and everyone is again up on last year, as they were the previous year. There are many factors behind this including our national marketing campaign, which included TV advertising on Channel 4 and 4OD. The ‘national’ support Northwood is able to provide really benefits the franchisees on a regional level. There are other factors, which I am happy to share – once you have signed a franchise agreement.

What external and internal factors can a prospective Northwood franchise owner expect to benefit from? We are lucky enough to be able to be very particular over who we choose to become franchisees; it’s essential we get the team right. So some internal factors are the outstanding quality of our franchise owners and in the team at the Franchise Office. From marketing to design, legal to accounts & IT – there is someone with the expertise to help. My mobile is always on and I encourage the network to call me whenever they feel I can assist. I think it’s key to have close contact to the team; it’s the only way to really understand how the business as a whole is operating.

Externally, we have built up immense relationships with many in the industry at the highest levels ensuring we can get the best service and best value for the network.