Where property buying began

Stacks are celebrating 40 years in business

My father, Paul Greenwood, started the business in 1984, he had previously been in the army, was an international sportsman, and had worked for many years in estate agency. He saw how people on the buying side were so poorly represented when everything was geared to the seller, wanting to sell as quickly as possible for as much as possible.

Buyers were out there in the market, unrepresented until they agreed to buy a house and put a call in to their solicitor.

My father thought the answer was an early version of the property portal. Buyers sent Paul a list of their priorities and parameters, he divided these factors into a spreadsheet system that would work on an early desktop computer. He analysed all the properties on the market, input them to the database, and applied the parameters to the whole market. The computer printed out 4 or 5 suitable houses, Paul sent them out to buyers.

The problem was, this was really only the beginning of the task. The phone started ringing at 9am, buyers would say, “Great house on paper, but what’s it really like?” Paul quickly realised it wasn’t about the spreadsheet and the parameters, it was about the people. So forty years ago, he basically invented the idea of property search, representing buyers throughout the process from search to completion. The industry has come on leaps and bounds in that time.

How it all started

Back in 1984, there was only one buying agent – Stacks. Paul realised his knowledge, expertise and contacts were very local, so he needed to expand and bring in others who had their own local expertise, who knew their patch, and the professionals, and the ins and outs of the market. He expanded reasonably rapidly in the ‘80s, primarily through the areas surrounding the M3 and M4 corridor.

When I joined 24 years ago, I recruited from a wider property base with regional directors who had a broad property experience including law, surveying, development, farming, as well as estate agency. This has always been a crucial part of the Stacks business, having a broad experience which is shared throughout the group. Today we have 18 country offices and one London office.

How people’s buying habits have changed over 40 years

In many ways not much has changed in 40 years, a large part of our stock in trade has been the family move from London to the country, we cover a huge swathe of this country market. But what has changed is that:

Clients stay longer in the houses we acquire for them
Where lifestyle allows, our clients stay longer in the houses we acquire for them; but the rise of divorce and complicated family dynamics means that there may be more house moves than was the case historically.

First time buyers buy later and later
We often represent first time buyers in their 30s, whereas in the 80s, people tended to buy their first property in their 20s.

Living in the country
The idea of a house in the country is less ambitious than it was in the 80s; buyers who might have aspired to an old rectory or vicarage will look at large cottages and village houses – there’s less of an appetite for properties that are larger than required. Buyers have become more realistic, and more aware of running costs and the commitment that a larger than necessary property brings.

Wider geographical reach
There’s a much wider geographical reach to our searches; so many more areas have become desirable in the 40 years we’ve been operating. Used to be M3 /M4 corridor now down the M5, up to E Anglia, etc, the Midlands, borders of Wales, down to the SouthWest Peninsula.

The next 40 years

“The last forty years have seen momentous changes in the property market. But what we do is what we’ve always done. We sift out the rubbish and make sure we kick down the door of the best properties. Fifty per cent of the properties we buy won’t even make it onto the portals. When we find a property our clients want to buy, we make it our mission to secure it for them – at the best price possible, in the face of competition, and the numerous hurdles that inevitably present themselves in the course of the buying process.

“What the next forty years brings for the market is unknown; but what I do know is that what we do will be as valuable, if not more so, in 2064 as it is now.”

James Greenwood, MD

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