ESTATE agent Chris Jowett is cautiously optimistic about the prospects for the local housing market.
But Chris, who heads Jowett Chartered Surveyors in Huddersfield, says mortgage availability continues to hold back “latent demand” for potential buyers.
“Viewings in the past two or three weeks have gone up considerably compared to where they were in January and February,” he says. “That has led to more sales – although we would like to see an improvement in the strike rate of viewings turning into sales.
“But it is still difficult for first-time buyers unless they get financial help from their parents. One or two lenders are offering 95% mortgages, but most lenderes are seeking 20 or 30% deposits.”
Chris set up his business almost a year ago – with the country in the grip of recession. But having weathered the storm, he is hoping to reap the rewards of the recovery to come.
“The market is slightly better than it was 12 months ago when we first opened,” he says. “There is a lot of latent demand from people who have been wanting to move for three or four years, but who have not felt confident about putting their toe in the water and putting their property up for sale.”
Chris has no doubt that some would-be house sellers have also been deterred by the hundreds of pounds they have to pay for Home Information Packs as well as worries about their jobs.
Scrapping HIPs would provide a boost for the market, he says, but adds: “I think the market has bottomed out now. I don’t think prices have risen in the past 12 months, but they have stopped falling.
“At the time of the recession in the early 1990s, we had a period of stability for three or four years before we noticed any real increases in house prices. That could happen again.”
Chris has been a familiar figure in the local property market for many years.
Before launching his own business, Chris ran the town centre branch of estate agency Brearley-Greens for almost 20 years – and is based in the same Market Street premises.
During that first year, Chris was joined by sons Gareth and Rhys, who had both worked in the industry for more than three years in between graduate studies.
While they have moved on to pursue further studies, Chris is joined by Luke Whittaker, a graduate in estate management from Shefield Hallam University, who is now training to become a chartered surveyor – in keeping with the professional ethos of the firm.
Launching his own business, which covers areas including valuations, letting, new developments and residential sales, was the realisation of a long-held ambition for Chris, who started out on his career in 1978 by gaining a degree in estate management at Portsmouth Polytechnic.
But he admits: “I wanted to be a professional footballer, rugby player or cricketer when I was young, but at the age of 16 I knew I would not be good enough. So, it was a question of what I did next.
“My father had been involved in the building trade working for Bovis. There was a property connection there and it seemed a good idea to go to Portsmouth Polytechnic and study for the degree.”
Chris, who had attended Whitcliffe Mount Grammar School, took up his first post as a graduate valuer in the Calderdale District Valuer’s Office in Halifax before he moved into private practice after qualifying as a chartered surveyor in 1981.
He recalls: “I rented a cottage in Scholes and the rent was £6 a month. That was in the late 1970s. My father couldn’t believe it – and I suppose that was my first and best property deal!”
Chris joined the Halifax branch of Eddisons as assistant valuer. He stayed there for three years before being promoted in 1984 to run Eddisons’ Brighouse office dealing with residential sales, building society and bank valuations, as well as new build for developers.
Within three years, he became an associate in Eddisons and was promoted again to work in the Huddersfield office alongside senior residential partner Douglas Hoyle. Following Mr Hoyle’s retirement in 1987, Chris took on the role of joint manager with Raymond Butterworth.
Following Eddisons’ acquisition by the Leeds Permanent Building Society in the late 1980s, Chris was offered the chance to become a partner in Brearley-Greens and to set up and manage the new Huddersfield office in 1989.
Now running his own business, Chris has witnessed big changes in the way the industry operates – not least the growth of the internet.
“Potential buyers look at properties on the internet rather than walking around every estate agent in town as they used to,” he says.
“The internet is one avenue by which to find a buyer or to sell a property, but personal contact – speaking to people and finding out exactly what they want – is an important avenue as well.
“We are in a service industry it is important to give the client a confidential and trustworthys service.
“People have always been able to sell houses privately. But people who do that are in the minority, As estate agents speak to estate agents, we can find out what is going on in the market and help our clients accordingly.”
Some things never change, says Chris. House hunters are still concerned chiefly with location, location, location – properties near to good schools and convenient for shops and the commute to work.
“Character houses in the right locations are what people are looking for,” he maintains. “They want something a little bit different. Insulation and energy-efficiency are also big plus points.
“Makeover programmes have put the focus on design and builders have improved in terms of the design of new houses in the past 10 years. But I would prefer to see a but more individualism – instead of every bathroom suite having to be white!”
Away from the office, sport has played a big role for Chris. Until his mid-30s, he played rugby union for Cleckheaton, mainly at full-back. He also played cricket for Cleckheaton. Now working Saturdays makes it harder to get involved, although Chris plays a little golf and is a member of Fixby Golf Club.
“I have had to put a lot into building up the business,” he adds. “But it has been well worth it. Things are working well and I am a lot more optimistic about the future for the market than I was 12 months ago when I set up on my own.”