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Agents' offices: the latest interior trends

Posted on 2016-03-10

The office remains one of the most important aspects of a full service letting agency.

It's where staff have to come every day but it's also where important client meetings will take place and where many landlords will make up their mind about your business.

First impressions are extremely important, as is staff morale and comfort. That's why office interiors shouldn't be neglected and letting agents should always be thinking about how they can make their offices more exciting and inviting.

Many high street offices have a fairly similar layout – think window displays, desks and client seating areas. Making an agency stand out from the crowd, however, is becoming increasingly important as the number of new businesses continues to rise.

For example, there are almost 3,000 high street agencies in Greater London, with a new one opening every 1.6 days on average in some parts of the capital, according to research by House Simple.

And that's why thinking outside the box or making an office just that bit more appealing could be extremely valuable. Of course, there's some extreme examples – we've recently seen estate agents-cum-coffee shops springing up as well as what claims to be the UK's first drive-thru agency.

With the help of some interiors experts, then, we've taken a look at what's changed in recent years as well as some of the current office trends popular among agents up and down the country.

What's changed?

While the market has continued to grow and evolve, agents' office designs have remained fairly static over the last decade, according to Brett Sidaway, an estate agent himself during the 90s who is now marketing manager at retail display firm Wrights Plastics GPX.

“Agents’ offices remain fairly conservative in layout," he says. "New technology has been incorporated by some but there seems to be a long way to go to make visiting an office a really memorable experience.”

One thing that has changed for good is window displays. Low-level LED displays are now all the rage. “If your office window display is not already illuminated, then your competitors will outshine you,” says Sarah Neate, Design & Marketing Manager at Mid West Displays.

On top of this, most agents have got rid of carpet tiles, suspended ceilings and strip lighting in favour of LED and task lighting, feature ceilings and natural materials like wood, according to Harry Simons, a Partner at MPL Interiors.

Sarah Neate adds that acrylic pockets used to be extremely popular but that as time's gone on, the demand for these has reduced significantly.

Latest trends

One trend that has become really popular recently is a more 'homely' interiors as agents aim to foster a more relaxed and comfortable atmosphere.

Simons notes that a softer, tactile interior design combined with wallpaper, sofas and lamps helps to create what he calls 'the living room effect'.

Wall art is another increasingly recurring feature, according to Simons, who says that specially-commissioned photography and super-sized wall maps can effectively personalise a blank canvas.

Sarah Neate says her clients tend to opt for one of two trends – filling the windows to include as many property details as possible or a more minimal approach showcasing just key properties.

Both seem to have their benefits. The first shows potential clients a huge range of properties, aiming to really capture their interest, while the second gives better visibility into the office, making it more inviting.

The minimalist and high visibility theme links to transparency, according to Simons. "Agents want to advertise the fact they are open for business and are approachable with nothing to hide," he says.

"It's not unusual to have all the agents' desks public facing, with clean, uncluttered window displays so the public can see right in."

He adds that waiting areas remain popular and effective as they create a relaxed environment for initial client conversations, while there is a rising demand for 'drinks stations' as offering a decent coffee is a real ice breaker.

Serviced offices

In recent times there's also been a rise in the number of agents working out of serviced offices instead of the traditional high street location. London agency Life Residential, for example, runs its head office out of a business park which, it says, has allowed it to expand its reach both in London and internationally.

The predominant reason agents leave the high street is to reduce overheads, but what do the experts think about serviced offices?

"It follows a trend across a lot of sectors,” says Brett Sidaway. “Many organisations are a collection of people working from home, communicating digitally and getting together in serviced rooms or offices for client meetings.”

"As margins decrease and fees squeezed, it is a way of minimising costs. It’s completely-counter intuitive and I think it will only be a model for a very small number of agents but it is here to stay," he adds.

Harry Simons points out that wherever the office, he has seen more businesses move towards premises which increase productivity and boost staff morale.

“Be it sit-stand office desks, quiet rooms with soft seating, games zones with pool tables or fully-stocked kitchens, there's increased emphasis on looking after employees and appealing to new talent,” he says.

The future

For any high street operator, an office is likely to be one of your biggest regular financial outlays so it makes sense to make it the best it can be.

An office provides your agency with an opportunity to put its personality and brand across, something which is extremely important in a crowded marketplace.

With a strong Private Rented Sector and the evergreen need for face-to-face client interaction, the future for agents' offices is bright – and that's not just the LEDs.

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