One of the best-known names in residential and rural property across the Cotswolds and Oxfordshire is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
Butler Sherborn - which has a strong presence across Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, opened its doors in Burford, the ‘Gateway to the Cotswolds’ in 1991, and now has offices in Cirencester, Stow-on-the-Wold, Oxford, Wantage and London as well as Burford.
“Much has inevitably happened over those intervening years,” says the firm’s founder, Sam Butler, “and we have witnessed some significant changes in the way residential property is sold, let and managed.
“We have had to weather some fairly stormy economic conditions over that time, and it looks like we may have to again post-Brexit. The property market was in the doldrums when we opened, with mortgage interest rates sky high and confidence at a low ebb. But such conditions taught us to ‘read the market’ well, and by offering a high level of personal service, we have been able to help our clients through the peaks and troughs.
“Interest rates have gone up and down, house prices have soared and dipped but generally risen, and there have been times when it has been very difficult to borrow money. However, throughout it all we have been able to provide a calm, professional influence at what can be a stressful time for property owners, buyers and tenants alike.
“Rental levels have also outstripped other forms of inflation, with the ‘buy-to-let’ market developing as people realised their pension provision would be inadequate, and choosing to invest in property instead.”
Predicting future trends, Butler Sherborn has also added new specialisations over the years, and in addition to property sales and estate management, now has professional experts for valuations, land sales, equestrian property, and advice on alternative green energy.
“This portfolio of services fits together very neatly in a rural economy like the Cotswolds,” says Sam, “and our teams regularly find themselves working alongside one another as they assist clients to manage their property and business requirements. From just four of us when we began we have a staff of 25 today, and still recruit people with the same qualities: those who care and understand personal service”.
But is personal service really so critical in an era when so many of us search for our next new home online? “To be honest, there is no doubt it has actually become even more vital,” maintains Sam.
“With so many prospective buyers looking to move to the Cotswolds from elsewhere in the UK and from abroad, having a first class website and marketing your properties through the real estate portals is a given. Last year, almost half of the properties we sold went to buyers from beyond our local area - proof that you can be a local well respected company and still have international reach.
“It’s how you deal with those enquiries that mark you out from your competitors. You really need to know your local patch so you can reassure buyers that the village, community or local schools they are looking at are right for them - and demonstrate that they are buying the right home at the right price.
“For sellers, much of the firm’s focus is now about maximising the value of their properties. A recent survey looking at the differential between an expertly prepared and marketed property and one that wasn’t, concluded that there was an average difference in value of some £50,000 less for the ill-prepared property. There’s so much more to selling your home than simply plonking it on the internet compared with a local expert who knows the area well and how to maximise the price that can be achieved.
“As for the future, we have to stay on our toes,” says Sam. “The market is ever changing, and we will continue to concentrate on what is influencing it, here and abroad. The market will inevitably react to uncertainty following the European referendum, as it did to the new tax regimes for second homeowners earlier in the year.
“Part of our job is to reassure sellers that we can sell their property well whatever the economic conditions. This part of the world is massively popular and while we are not immune to downturns, experience tells us that the Cotswolds is somewhat protected from the economic extremes that other areas suffer from - we are undoubtedly very fortunate.
“While the doom-mongers may be enjoying the limelight at the moment, the UK economy will recover, as will house values, but it might be a while before we see property prices rising sharply again. That is actually a good thing stability is what we all need right now.”