A small independent with just two branches and 12 staff is bracing itself for some 10,000 new homes to come on to its books – making it almost certainly the most valuable estate agency in the UK by size.
The Wilkinson Partnership, with offices in Winslow, Bucks, and Leighton Buzzard, Beds, is on the threshold of seeing a 30-year strategy materialise.
The firm, founded by John Wilkinson almost 30 years ago, has been quietly putting together deals between land-owners and developers in what will become the Oxford to Cambridge corridor.
Simon Wilkinson, son of the founder and who now runs the highly entrepreneurial small firm, said: “We understand, and are told, we are the dominant agent in the area in terms of development sites.”
Big national agents, including the likes of Knight Frank and Savills, have also been active, so this is no small achievement – particularly as the developers that Wilkinson has dealt with include all four of the big national firms as well as regional and smaller developers.
“We have a huge database of developers, and there was usually a lot of competition over the various sites,” said Wilkinson.
Altogether, over the last three decades, the firm has quietly arranged deals on 45 different sites covering 3,000 acres, on which there will be some 10,000 homes worth £1.9bn.
A number of the sites were put together by the agent.
“The most complex involved 16 different owners – and 16 sets of solicitors,” said Wilkinson. “Getting them all to agree to everything was not easy.”
In all of the deals, the agent acted for the land-owners. Key to the strategy was getting the developers to give Wilkinson exclusive selling rights when – and if – the properties were built.
That ‘if’ is now a certainty after the Chancellor announced in last week’s Budget that major development in the corridor is to go ahead – and soon.
By 2050, it is planned that there will be 1m homes in the ‘hi-tech arc’. The certainty is underlined by the creation of a new agency, Homes England, which will have powers of compulsory purchase to prevent delays caused by ransom strips, and which can take over planning powers from local authorities.
Wilkinson said that getting selling rights as part of each deal was not a significant hurdle: “Developers tend to operate their land-buying and sales teams quite separately. The land-buying teams are on targets, and were happy to agree our terms.”
Typically, says Wilkinson, the land-owners were given £1m upfront as part of their option agreements.
They now stand to get a lot more money as their acres are turned into building sites.
Each acre could now be worth £1.5m, but Wilkinson points out that the land-owners will not get anywhere near that much after various deductions, calculations and allowances for affordable housing, open space and infrastructure.
However, he says it is the first £1m that made so much difference to so many people’s lifestyles, enabling them to continue their ways of working but less stressfully.
“I got one development deal through at the absolute height of Foot and Mouth. The farmer came into my office to say that he had been within two weeks of going into his barn with a shotgun. Without that deal, that would have been the case.”
But how will one small independent agent cope with an influx of 10,000 instructions?
“We’ll deal with it,” said Wilkinson.
Below, Simon Wilkinson and a map of his fields of gold where the houses will be harvested after 30 years