Garry Best MD of Best Property Services gives us a glimpse into a week in the life of a land agent for the practice with offices in Newry, Warrenpoint and Dungannon.
Unless I have a meeting or property inspection arranged first thing in the morning, I would usually arrive at our Newry Office around 7.30am most mornings.
We employ around 14 staff across our Newry and Dungannon Offices and more recently we’ve acquired a new office in Warrenpoint which will support further recruitment in 2022.
Monday usually starts with planning the week ahead - listing properties and noting anything on the previous week’s action list which is not fully completed. Most weeks’ the Monday 10am meeting is with the Office Manager (Rose) and my son (Kyle) and the three of us discuss relevant items from last week and clear actions for the week ahead.
Following that meeting, I usually spend up to 1 1/2 hours making and returning phone calls which vary between solicitors, land vendors, buyers, prospects and new enquiries.
I take a call from Karen in Drogheda whose property is scheduled for auction on Thursday of this week. It had been her parent’s property off the Dublin Road in Newry and she and her sister had decided several months ago to sell it.
As it included a dwelling and around 0.5 acre of grounds within the development zone, I had tried to persuade her to request her architect to submit a planning application for housing on the 0.5 acre and then offer it as one or two lots. She and her sister had discussed my advice but as her sister was five years older, she wanted to have it sold in 2021 and decided they do not wish to wait until 2022/ 23 on a potential planning approval.
Karen had come to us a few years previously and one of my colleagues Brian, had negotiated on her behalf with NIE the replacement of a former sub-station.
When those negotiations were concluded, we had a meeting on site and she explained that the reason she had chosen to engage with Best Property Services was because her late father had dealings with my late father in the 1970’s, which were property related and apparently her memories from her father were all positive. On her next meeting, she gave me business letters which her father had received from John Best & Son back in the seventies, which made for interesting reading.
Among my phone messages to call back in the afternoon is a relatively new client living in England who had inherited land from her uncle in the Markethill area (20 acres). A few weeks previously we had inspected the land and given her a verbal valuation and informed her that the lands were being farmed and included livestock.
We had asked her to ascertain was there a Conacre or lease agreement in place with a tenant. It transpired that her Uncle, back in 2007, had ceased farming and allowed a good friend and neighbour to use the land, but had not charged any rent. The neighbour’s son was now farming this land and now taken the view that since 2019, the land was his. Whilst he had not yet, through the legal process, claimed ownership by way of adverse possession, he had sent a message to our new client that whilst she may be the supposed beneficiary of her uncle’s land, he intended to continue farming this land and would remain in occupation until someone could show proof the land was not his.
Needless to say, I suggested that her solicitor in England handling her uncle’s estate may need to appoint a solicitor in Northern Ireland to provide her with legal advice, as she could have a legal battle on her hands.
Having received an email the previous week from an Irish citizen living and farming in Australia, he had requested that we value an 18 acre holding between Castlewellan and Clough, as he was considering selling, but unsure as to whether to go to the open market or offer it first to family members who had been renting the land since he had emigrated.
He still kept in contact with some locals, one of whom had sold land with us five years previously and recommended he make contact with us. As is often the case - this type of instruction comes with the proviso to be discrete as they do not want anyone knowing they are considering a sale. I usually tend to carry out this type of inspection at daybreak, so I was back to the office by 9.30am.
The remainder of the morning was taken up with two separate staff meetings. One of the valuers wanted to obtain a second opinion on some land figures he was preparing for one of the Banks and he was aware we had sold land in 2020 in that locality. The other was an overdue meeting with our in-house bookkeeper on taking a closer look at some of the overheads and discussing possible alternative solutions.
Most of the afternoon was spent returning messages and phone calls with solicitors which form a common category of caller. These calls may vary from ‘contract chasing’ in non-auction sales where we need to ascertain where both solicitors (vendors and purchasers) ‘are at’ in the conveyancing process to advise our vendor whether the sale completion is on course or likely to take longer than expected.
One specific land sale in south Armagh was eight months past completion and taking up a lot of legal time, as well as ours. It’s a complex matter where the vendor’s ex-wife’s family including two members with legal knowledge who placed as many legal obstacles in our way in order to slow down the conveyancing process – with the aim that the purchaser would grow weary and eventually try and negotiate an exit (even though they were locked into a contract). That one eventually completed around 12 months post auction which was somewhat unusual but can happen.
The last meeting of the day was in Warrenpoint on my way home. Further discussions with the retiring Agents - whose business we had agreed to acquire - and our respective accountants who were involved in the ‘number crunching’, had provided us both with a list of items for discussion.
My colleague in the Land Department, Jonathan is in the office Wednesday to Friday (as he runs the family farm the rest of the week) we usually have a catch up meeting early, depending on whether either of us have any land inspections on our way to work.
We discuss our current list of active properties, from building sites, development land smallholdings and farms. Then forthcoming auctions, current valuations, prospects and active bidders and buyers are reviewed, with action points noted and sales information exchanged between us setting the focus for the rest of the week.
The other vital cog in the ‘Land Team’ here is Elizabeth. Well known to most Conacre tenants and landowners, as she looks after most of the land letting enquiries in addition to Property Management and part of the bookkeeping functions.
The afternoon of Day 3 is usually given over to well-being and fitness, as most weeks I ‘head for the hills’ which in summer and autumn is usually the Mournes and in winter Kilbroney Park and surrounding hills.
This part of the week has only become routine in the past few years since I turned 60, but has become essential as invariably post-hike I feel better equipped to face the challenges ahead for the remainder of the week.
Usually a 2-3 hour hike, sometimes in the company of two or three others, other times solo, does wonders for ‘clearing the head’ and reducing or solving the problems which have accumulated during the previous seven days.
Land auctions would usually take place with us on Thursdays or Fridays. This particular week we have one in the afternoon for a property on the Dublin Road.
First I email my client in Australia and set up a call time. We have a discussion on both valuation and his preferences as regards open market sale versus private sale.
Whilst he knows there are a few neighbours who would be keen to acquire his 18 acres, I sense there is still a desire to keep it in the family, so we agree to offer it first to his brother and, if those discussions do not yield the target price, then ‘Plan B’ would be to offer to the neighbours. We discuss and agree terms and confirm same in an email to him.
We hold a team meeting over lunchtime, with our colleagues in Dungannon, Conor and Samantha participating via Zoom.
As well as discussing our sales targets for the year to date for our four departments, one person from each department (Land, Residential, Commercial & Valuation) gives a summary of main events or successes since the previous meeting. This is followed by 15 minutes on Compliance matters and lastly a discussion on our CRM system and how we can extract more benefit on behalf of our clients from same.
The Dublin Road property auction is set for 4pm. We have three attendees and the highest bidder is present to confirm their previous offer of £365,000.
The price rises to £406,000 and we adjourn to speak to Karen the joint owner who is on the premises. As our guide price had been around £390,000, she is in agreement that we confirm to the bidders present that the property ‘is on the market’ and will be sold. It finishes at £406,000 and is sold. Post auction we attend to the paperwork, contract signing, deposit payment and AML compliance items. The vendor is introduced to the successful purchaser who enjoys some historical information on the property from Karen.
The day starts with a land inspection in the Hilltown area, potentially around 25 acres that could be offered for sale - although the holding is larger and the owner indicates he wants to retain some land. We discuss planning options and the owner has already taken advice, so there is a likelihood of one replacement site and possibly a second site arising from a barn conversion. We discuss the alternative options for access to both sites independent of the land access, as well as values. I agree to confirm my thoughts via email within the week as the owner has other family members to consult with prior to any decision being taken on disposal.
Back to the office by 10.30am and I’m met with a lengthy list of calls and emails to be returned which take up most of my time until lunchtime, interspersed with a few colleagues with internal property queries or sharing useful information.
An ad-hoc caller to the office in the afternoon turns out to be a client we sold farmland for ten years ago and just wants an initial chat on a residential disposal. I request Adrian in residential to join us and arrangements are made for him to call next week and meet the client on site to progress matters further.
The rest of the day is occupied checking my previous Monday list and ensuring that any outstanding items are either attended to or phone calls made to the relevant parties to discuss the current update.
Fridays are often ‘completion days’ and invariably vendors or purchasers or their respective solicitors may call or email to confirm keys may be released to the new owners.
Whilst each week brings its own challenges and there is lots of variety in the day to day work it’s a role that I relish.
I sometimes give thought to my father’s role as a livestock auctioneer in The Ulster Farmers Mart in the 60’s and 70’s when he would have driven to Enniskillen on Monday and Thursday, Belfast (Robson’s) on Tuesdays, Armagh (Shambles) on a Friday and Limavady on a Saturday.
In between all that travel, he managed to keep an Agency business ticking over in Newry on Wednesdays and for that I am both fortunate and grateful.
About the Author: Garry Best is a Director of Best Property Services, a fifth generation family business which has evolved over 130 years, to provide a comprehensive range of expertise across a full range of property services.
Garry is primarily involved in the Land Division Comprising Valuation, Sale, Acquisition, Letting, and Negotiating Compensation etc. Garry has significant expertise in asset disposal.
Garry is a Member of Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, NI Rural Valuers & Auctioneers and The Central Association of Agricultural Valuers.