The First Decade - Out of Adversity Comes Opportunity
The future looks bright for Northwood Aberdeen as it launches new service
Back in 2008, when the country was facing a major recession, Steven and Laura Mearns – both chartered accountants, had a more positive outlook! Both risk-takers and expecting their first child, they gave up the safe corporate world of accountancy to realise their entrepreneurial dream of running their own business: Northwood Aberdeen.
With a passion for property, Laura and Steven brought a new concept to the rental market: Guaranteed Rent. This unique offering minimises risk for landlords, ensuring an income for a fixed period regardless of rent arrears or void periods, providing certainty and security with a hassle-free approach.
Their success hasn’t come easily, following the recent downturn in oil and gas and the impact this had on the Aberdeen rental market. With rents falling by as much as 30-40% overnight, plus the impact of Scottish regulation changes, Laura, Steven and operations director, Matthew Pullinger, turned a negative into a positive by identifying market opportunities back in 2017. Despite the sudden, dramatic change, Northwood honoured all of their guaranteed rental income contracts and client loyalty proved a huge boost for the business.
With rents so low, volume’s key in the current market so, in November 2017, Northwood acquired two other residential lettings businesses hoping the team could retain new clients, turn the businesses around, and boost turnover. It was a huge risk – but it delivered!
During this period, Northwood also identified an opportunity in the local market to provide estate agency services to existing clients and, at the turn of the decade, they’re delighted to be launching this to the wider City and Shire market.
Growing a business to a turnover of over £2 million during such a turbulent period captures the determination of the Northwood team. In recognition of their success, Laura, Steven and Matt were absolutely delighted and overwhelmed to win Franchise of the Year at their annual conference, “Out of adversity comes opportunity”, beating 90 other Northwoods across the network. This was a fantastic end to a decade in business!
Northwood GB’s managing director reflected on their success: “Laura and Steven Mearns opened Northwood Aberdeen in January 2009 and are phenomenal business owners. Laura took over the day-to-day operations of the business in 2013, working very closely with operations director Matt Pullinger, who joined the business in 2009 and became a director in 2013.
“In 2018 Northwood Aberdeen won top Scotland office, but last year they rose to another level – achieving the highest turnover of any other Northwood franchise. This achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider how badly Aberdeen was hit in recent years by the dramatic fall in oil prices, which crashed the rental market.
“However, very much in line with the theme of this year’s conference, out of adversity comes opportunity, and the team at Northwood Aberdeen have clearly demonstrated just how much can be achieved with hard work, determination and ambition.”
Originators of Guaranteed Rent since 1995
The core of Northwood Aberdeen’s business is their unique guaranteed rent offering, providing landlords with a stress-free property management solution, ensuring secure payments even when a property’s empty or a tenant’s in rent arrears. It provides a financial safety net: Northwood become the tenant for a fixed period, guaranteeing rental payments.
In addition, Northwood recognise that, like Laura and Steven, some clients want to take risks, hence Northwood provide traditional property management services, too.
A new decade only means one thing: a new chapter for Northwood Aberdeen unfolds
During the uncertainty in the rental market in 2016, Northwood identified an opportunity to provide estate agency services to their existing clients.
Having lived and worked in Aberdeen all her life, and grown a strong brand and network over the last decade, Laura’s well placed to advise clients and provide an outstanding personal estate agency service. Northwood made a promise they’d only charge the estate agency fee at the point of sale, confirming their dedication and commitment to achieving a positive outcome for clients.
The success of this over the last two years has given them the confidence to reach out to the wider City and Shire market, and Laura and Matt are excited to be formally launching Northwood Aberdeen’s estate agency service this year.
How individuals buy and sell properties across the UK and, more specifically, in Aberdeen has changed in recent years and this presented an opportunity for the company.
Having bought and sold a few properties in the city, Laura has first-hand experience of these changes: “Traditionally, when we bought a property, we picked up our weekly property journal, visited our local ASPC shop, chose a property from an advert on the wall and arranged a viewing in person.
“How times have changed! We now google ‘property for sale’ and an array of portals appear, so we can search anything, any time, anywhere. We hunt through these for a property that stands out, so an online presence is critical. That search power has dramatically changed the way we buy and sell property, and gave us the chance to access the market and provide a unique personalised sales service.
“APSC has been well known in the Aberdeen market for years and, as such, is often the first point of call for buyers and sellers. I feel it’s my role to educate existing and prospective clients about other options available too, encouraging them to maximise their property exposure using other portals, reaching more potential buyers to achieve a successful sale.”
With a saturation of properties currently available in Aberdeen, Laura believes the key is ensuring your property stands out, and she feels she’s well positioned to advise clients on achieving this.
Moreover, Northwood have been proactive in introducing a property dressing service so clients’ properties do stand out, a critical component in the current market.
What does the future hold for residential leasing in Aberdeen?
The Aberdeen rental market’s stabilising, having hit rock bottom in 2017. Northwood have sought to improve the tenant journey, firstly by simplifying the application process. They also communicate market conditions and provide an added value service to landlords, helping to upgrade properties. This, coupled with investment in first-class software, gives clients a service that exceeds expectations.
Government changes in recent years, with new tax rules and amendments in legislation, means many landlords are exiting the private rented sector, thus reducing available stock. Alongside a lack of new social housing, this means a rise in rental prices as demand increases. This is exactly what the government didn’t want to achieve, but it’s looking more likely.
Locally, renewed optimism in oil and gas and an upward trend suggests continued stabilisation and a reduction in overall stock that will provide a solid base for a rental investment.