As Peter Kavanagh, CEO of Leaders Romans Group (LRG) celebrates 30 years at the UK property group, he shares his insight on the future of the industry, how the housing market has changed forever due to COVID-19, and why the biggest challenge facing the sector isn’t just a lack of houses, but a lack of access to finance for first-time buyers.
How did you get started in property, and what was your journey to CEO?
When I was at Sixth Form College I had an interest in property. During the holidays I had the opportunity to work with a friend and his dad in the construction industry and it was my friend’s dad who encouraged me to carry on in education and get a formal qualification.
And that’s what I did. I studied a building surveying degree at what was then Thames Polytechnic, and started my first job as trainee surveyor for a company in Fareham. I was a chartered surveyor for a number of years, before joining Romans to set up Romans surveyors, when it was still quite a small company. I’ve been with the group ever since. I’ve always loved working in property, I love working with people, and I think that watching people start and progress their careers is still the best bit of my role.
What’s been the biggest change you’ve seen in the property industry over the past 30 years?
I think it is fantastic to see the number of women in property continue to increase and in particular I am really pleased to see how many women are getting the opportunity to take on very senior roles. Within LRG I am particularly proud that over 60% of our total workforce are now female and within our senior management team the split is now 50/50.
Whilst I am probably bias I think Property is a great career and I hope that as we go forward more and more people from all walks of life will be attracted to a career in Proeprty.
Has the pandemic changed the way the property market will work in the long term, or will it be a short-term effect?
Yes, the pandemic has caused people to re-appraise every aspect of their life. For many people the opportunity to work in a more agile way provides the opportunity to also consider where you live and I believe this is driving the strong demand for property, both in terms of sales and lettings, as more & more people seek a better balance.
How do you think the property industry can overcome the ‘housing crisis’?
It is much more of a finance crisis than a housing crisis. During my adult life the main change that I believe has impacted people from being able to buy a property, is access to finance. Certainly when I bought my first house, house purchase was much more affordable, but year on year it is getting harder and harder for first time buyers to get onto the housing ladder.
In my opinion there should be more routes into property ownership. If you look at how successful the Help to Buy and Shared Ownership schemes are, this proves that if you can provide a route to ownership there are still plenty of people who still dream of owning their own property.
I also do feel that Stamp Duty needs to be the subject of a proper review to encourage more people into the market. I also feel that the additional levels of Stamp Duty imposed on Investors should be abolished to encourage more private Investors back into the market to increase the availability of properties to rent.
If there was one thing I could resolve tomorrow it would be more accessible finance, particularly for younger people who are trying to get themselves going for their first home.
The industry is becoming more digital, and estate and letting agents continue to move online. Do you think there is still a place for the high street estate agency?
High Street estate agency is here to stay. Being part of a community really matters and providing customers with great customer service is what good agents do. It is important to remember that we are helping people through one of the biggest transactions they will ever undertake and from the feedback we receive I can definitely tell you that people do value customer service higher than ever before. But it also important to recognise that customers want to communicate with us through all channels and therefore it is important that we ensure that we are always able to deal with enquires 24/7.
What are you most proud of during your time at LRG?
In the last year through COVID, an awful lot of our team really went above and beyond what was expected of them. Of course we won’t have been the only company to see people really go out of their way to make a difference but from the first day of lockdown it was incredible to see our people came together to think, ‘how can we get to the other side?’.
On a personal-level, a big achievement for me came when Romans – which I joined when it was a small company with under ten people – was sold to Bowmark Capital in 2014. To have a large private equity company want to buy your business, after developing it for 23 years, was a big achievement. And of course when the opportunity came along to be the CEO, it was an absolute privilege.
What makes a good leader?
Never forget where you came from. Be calm, consistent and remember your roots.