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The St Albans office of Aubrey & Finn – estate agents in dealing in both sales and lettings – has yet again been host to an excellent evening of entertainment, this time our 2017 Summer Quiz, with a team calling themselves the Door-knobs (yes, sir) narrowly being usurped by the modestly self-entitled Masters. A full house of clients, staff and associated businesses including teams from Bretherton Law,  Elm-com Electrical and Herald Insurance debated,  exhorted, cried out in the sheer agony of being wrong and donated a small sum to help local Children's Charity 'Happy Days' who came along on the evening and gave a small speech giving further info on the great work they do.

Sadly we didn't sell any houses during the event (just kidding, we didn't mention the day job once - I promise!) but we did have a great time with our neighbours and growing network. Based on this, we may institute an Autumn Quiz. I’m thinking October – call me now if you’re keen, we have room for 25. Seated - stretching to a bit more last week…


Top 5 reasons to live in St Albans:


1.       Closer to London than London

17 minutes from London St Pancras, 14 from West Hampstead, both offering speedy onward links.

Nice fast Thameslink train that also gets you to both Luton and Gatwick Airports for those weekend breaks you’re always going on, and to Brighton.

In addition you are neatly perched on both the M1 and M25, making road trips a cinch.

This exceptionally convenient location for commuter, national and international travel is probably the main reason people move here.


2.       Schools

State schools rate more highly than the vast majority of the country’s private schools, and people cross the world to take advantage of that. St Albans, is a UK top ten town for education, as well as good health and entrepreneuriality amongst other things (LSH survey2016, The Week 2015). A whole segment of people move to St Albans because it is an eminently conducive environment for family life.


3.       People, culture, food

The only reason this isn’t number one is that I think it follows from the first two, or at the very least all three have a kind of chicken-and-egg relationship.

St Albans’ rich cultural fabric is certainly the reason people stay, and it encompasses vibrant entertainment, and a cosmopolitan social mix. For the evenings - there’s live music on every corner, a great art deco cinema offering a palate of repertory and main-stream bills; two theatres drawing national and international acts.  The burgeoning Parkrun 5k every Saturday morning in Verulamium Park attacts a couple of hundred people and is a great way to see your neighbours looking a bit sheepish, and to meet the town. There are other sports clubs and centres including a scuba diving club, skate park, climbing wall too. For people into more slow-moving entertainment, there’s a lot of history with some impressive historic characters such as Boudica and St Alban, as well as Francis Bacon. The lead singer of the Zombies, Stanley Kubric and Prof Stephen Hawking all have their own local stories here.

Not forgetting – great food and drink options. St Albans is national centre of the CAMRA, the Craft Ale movement, and there’s a great spectrum of café and restaurant food, from Mediterranean and North African to Oriental. Not forgetting good old fashioned British food, like our bake-off hero Johnny at the Pudding Stop, and the widely eulogised pub food at the Boot and the Fighting Cock.


4.       Countryside

Hertfordshire is almost the defining county when one images the rolling English countryside of popular imagination and from the St Albans city centre it’s only a short walk to rolling scenery at the Gorhambury Estate. For the more ambitious, road and off-road cycling options abound, and there are legions of classic English villages offering mineral replacement in the form of high-quality beer. The wider context is the Chilterns, beautiful green belt territory to the north and west, breath-taking to survey from places nearby such as Whipsnade and Ashridge.


5.       Range of property/investment

All these points make St Albans highly investable. For pure income investors, this isn’t it, but nearby Hemel Hempstead or Luton do have some offerings. For capital growth, St Albans will always benefit from the effect of London, which supports property values across the country like a pole supporting a marquee, but the added vim of those transport links effectively drags it closer. This means that capital put into St Albans property is a lot safer than in other towns satellite to London, and before you worry about recent falls in central London prime, St Albans is not only one of the wealthiest cities in the country, but a UK top ten town in growing affluence. The net result is a very strong local housing economy, where people are investing to look after their families.


The array of property is also worth a mention – in the town centre and conservation areas there are romantic streets with Georgian and Victorian stock, as well as some remaining medieval structures. People often start with these, and then move to the more spacious and practical streets of 20thcentury stock as their families increase, further out of town in places like Marshalswick, Cottonmill and Prae Wood. 

More recently with London commuters wanting a foot-hold here, we’re seeing significant developments around the station and town centre of apartments, mainly 1-3 beds. All of these benefit in terms of capital safety and of capital growth due to the preceding factors, but again all of these exist in a mutually supportive relationship, offering an unique opportunity.


·         We experience the world primarily through vision – think of how powerful blindness is as a metaphor, and that shows you the potential power of visual representation. Also think of how fundamental it is, in having an idea of people, to have an idea of what they look like.

·         It’s the same with property, and that old cliché about the importance of first impressions is a tangible reality in presenting property for sale. 

·         In property marketing, the first impression is a photograph.


·         Getting photography right for property is a subtle process:

o   As people get further into their idea of any particular property, the story must always be getting better –

o   this builds confidence and makes it easier for your purchaser to make a commitment.


·         The typical pitfalls are in over and under promising.

o   You need only look at the main property portals to see the pitfalls of under-promising – a selection of messy rooms drowning in muddy puddles. There’s no appeal. 

o   Most agents that pay any attention to photography go the other way – Wide lens shot of the whole room, flash bounced off the ceiling – it looks like a good photograph in that you can see all the colours. However in practice the net result is a room that feels smaller and murkier than the photograph, and a lot of your time wasted with visits that are unwittingly set up to disappoint your buyers.


What does good photography look like?

·         In a nutshell – it looks like what you actually see, when you look at a space and see its potential.

·         However what you see and what you think you see are a bit different.

o   Good photography takes account of these adjustments

o   Your eye sees further into shadows and highlights, having a range of about ten amounts of light, or “stops” as they are called

            o   A digital camera sees around five stops, so shadows look blacker and highlights (like windows) lack detail. Therefore the photos don’t feel real.

o   Effective lighting accounts for this, and is better at conveying the feeling of the space.

·         Your mind chrystalises around various key phenomena – the light mass of the room, fittings, decorative objects

o   Other things disappear

o   The camera sees everything

o   Good styling accounts for this, so images don’t feel cluttered or busy.


·         There’s plenty more – using longer lens lenses, avoiding converging vertical lines, shadows of doom all present potential pitfalls. Call us if you’d like to discuss photography in detail.


At the marketing stage our aim is to find you the best possible buyer at the best possible price, and effectively managing expectation is one way to ensure a successful sale. 


For your buyer, a successful purchase means having moved in with a certain romance carefully nurtured and maintained. For your buyer, the photograph is a window into their future.




The UK wakes up today to the shock news that there is a hung parliament with no party winning the required 326 seats to form a majority. Clearly the decision to call a snap general election has backfired with the original 15 percentage point margin between the two major parties in polls materialising as just a 3-percentage point margin.

There will be a period of uncertainty as the new government forms which is never good for buyers and sellers alike. We have a good idea of what a Conservative minority government may look like for the housing sector from analysing their manifesto and previous commitments although a coalition will no doubt cause further confusion and a period of uncertainity.

At a time when instructions are scarce, fees are at an all-time low, conveyancing is taking longer than ever, and tenant fees are to be banned, the housing sector needs a government that understands the housing crisis needs to be a priority and it would be a welcome move if the government were to take sift and serious action in relation to these issues.

What should we expect from Teresa May and the Conservatives as the largest party in the House of Commons in the housing sector? 

In a recent report it was alleged that a higher percentage of homeowners thought that the Tories policies were more relevant and sympathetic to homeowners, but do sales and lettings agents working in that sector feel the same? 

Interestingly, I would be unsure how that debate would conclude, as recent changes to SDLT and proposed changes to lettings agents charging tenant fees, have been very unpopular, this coupled with high costs associated to running high street agents and maintain service levels mean that the number of agents struggling may increase.

So what should we all expect in the next four years? 

It is very unlikely that the government will amend or reverse changes to Stamp Duty, why would they? It is raising extra income for the treasury. It is also cooling the UK housing market and reducing transactions levels enabling first-time buyers to get onto the property ladder. 

The proposed tenant fee ban concluded its consultation process on the 2nd June and the outcome will be delivered shortly. All industry experts I have spoken to don't expect any change in direction. The ban has already been implemented in Scotland and Wales and so it appears a foregone conclusion. 

But the real elephant in the room is the announcement within the Tory party manifesto that they intend to hold a full housing review, with particular emphasis on the cost of moving. They intend to make it cheaper for customers. Although in the short term this may be sidelined by other priorities, at some point this pledge will be delivered.

Is there a vendetta against the sector? Or will the Conservatives be considered a party that estate agencies can rely on to produce policies for growth? 

None of us know the answer to that. All I do know is that when the housing minister is appointed they need to get a holistic view of the challenges facing the UK housing market from the agent’s perspective.

To discuss through points in relation to this matter please feel free to call 01727221290 to see how the stay effect your property value  in St Albans or Hemel Hempstead.