Mike Hughes listens to the viewpoint of John Flathers, Partner and Head of the Commercial Property department at Irwin Mitchell in Leeds.
John Flathers is a voice of reason. His mind switches into analytical mode in an instant, whether it is good news or bad. What are the implications, what do my clients need to know, how can we make the most of this?
So being busy in the world of real estate isn’t enough for John. He wants to know what comes next. When I suggest it must be a particularly vibrant sector at the moment he says: “It’s certainly busy, but I’ve detected a slight cooling in the market. Nothing dangerous or dramatic, but it’s certainly not as steady as it was in the run-up to Christmas.
“I’m getting this impression across the board. Projects have continued running, but there is something that means it’s not quite as buoyant as you have just made out.”
I attempt to redeem myself by suggesting this might just be a natural plateau. “There is that element to it, but I also think – and I never thought it would happen – the election has got some influence over this.
“I think people are holding back to see what happens to the likes of stamp duty. I think there is just a note of caution, with not as many deals coming in with immediate plans. A lot of clients are looking to do things going forwards, but it has not come on as a fast as we thought.”
Let me try to reach for the right metaphor here.... John is leading the field, a lap ahead of everyone else, but he senses a change in the weather, so he’s coming in to get the right tyres while he has the chance. He’s not the sort of sector driver to get caught out in the rain.
“The crane count is a very evident indicator, but these are projects which have been going on for some time and will be quite busy. There is new stuff coming in, but not quite at the same volume.”
Evidently, John is not exactly putting his feet up and tuning into LinkedIn or Homes Under The Hammer to pass the time. He’s a busy chap, guiding a busy department. “In the main, I manage a team and keep things going, but I have to earn my corn like everyone else, so I still work pretty hard – bit of development, bit of property finance and a bit of the occupational lease stuff as well, working with companies taking new premises.
“Yorkshire is a busy part of the country for us – people are still working hard at their businesses and being very savvy about it.
“And personality and character are as important as ever. There is a lot of competition out there, so you have to enjoy doing a deal because your clients are spending a lot of time and money with you.”
John leaves with two more bright notes – insolvency and land acquisition.
The first is noticeably quiet, which is not particularly good for firms who build their business around it, but is a good sign for the local economy. And people are still buying up land around Yorkshire. Again, the approach has subtly changed, from buying brownfield in case it comes in useful to buying with a bit more of an immediate idea for its use.
“The banks are still a way off doing a speculative loan on it, but buyers know they can move it forward a bit more quickly and that someone will eventually come in for it.”
Mixture. Balance. Blend. It doesn’t matter what you call it, it is the way forward for many Yorkshire institutions, either in their corporate strategies or personal views, and John Flathers’ mix of confidence and realism is welcome and powerful.