We are all acutely aware London’s housing market is in the midst of an affordability crisis.
But we are now at the point where we risk losing many young working Londoners, who are the lifeblood of our nation’s economy, to other countries as they are priced out of the capital. If our young workforce cannot afford to live in the UK’s economic heart, we have a major problem.
Thankfully, the status quo is ripe for disruption in the property industry - between us, we hold the keys to unlock more housing as we have access to the cranes, the cash and the know-how to effect real change. However, there are three areas that need to be addressed in our industry.
The first is work ethic. When I was in New York for a weekend last year, indulging in one of my favourite pastimes of exploring the city and ringing up numbers from ‘for sale’ boards on under-utilised buildings or vacant plots of land, I was overwhelmed by the response from agents at 9pm on a Friday night.
I managed to get several immediate responses from admittedly over-keen and aggressive New Yorkers and arranged back-to-back viewings for the whole of Saturday. These US brokers can earn up to 50% of the success fee their firm makes on a sale, which is clearly an incentive. Although the agency world in the UK operates a slightly different model, it would be great to see some of this out-of-hours customer service here. On Sunday, I was taken out for breakfast by a PR. In London, I’ve got more chance of winning the lottery than doing business on a Friday evening or having a work breakfast on a Sunday morning.
The second area is talent. I believe there is an opportunity to enhance the calibre and quality of people in our industry. As we struggle to find the right construction director for our business a year into our search, I worry about changing the colour of our kitchen cabinets for fear of being taken advantage of by a merciless contractor.
We should be competing toe to toe with other professional services sectors for the best and brightest young minds. There are, of course, some forward and progressive thinkers in the property industry and some great young talent - but there should be more.
Given the impact we as an industry have on the economy and people’s lives in general, we should be proactively trying to attract talent that at the moment tends to opt for other industries such as finance and consulting.
Finally, there is a stubborn resistance to innovation in the property sector, which is a major barrier to progress. With dismissive attitudes ingrained in the very fabric of the industry, change can be hard to push through.
It took The Collective two years to convince the powers that be that a more innovative housing solution within reach of young and single working Londoners was a good idea. Because our offering didn’t fit within existing planning law, people simply could not get their heads around it. Is it really surprising that planning laws created decades ago for a different era do not allow for the housing types needed by the millennial generation?
As my colleagues mock me for my inspirational quotes of the day, I’ll give you all the same opportunity and close with this gem from US anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Reza Merchant is CEO of The Collective