The human touch

13th February 2017

Award winning Leeds-based agent, Jonathan Morgan, is set to celebrate 20 years in business next year. Here he talks to Eurolink about the secrets of his success.

Winning a bid to take over a property software contract that has been managed by the same business for the best part of 15 years is no mean feat, particularly for an agent that has little time for technology.

But that is exactly what leading software provider, Eurolink, has done with Leeds-based agency Morgans City Living.

Managing director, Jonathan Morgan, drafted in Eurolink at the start of 2016, replacing CFP Software, which he appointed a few years after launching his business in 1997.

He explains: “I’d be a liar if I said technology’s always been important because we didn’t have an email address for the first four years of being in business.

“We got a car phone, then progressed onto mobiles, then got a computer and someone told us about email, so we got an email address that we all shared. Then as the volume of our property management [portfolio] grew, we realised reasonably quickly that we needed a database that could tackle the day to day management of our [client] information, so we worked with CFP right up to this year.”

Morgan decided to switch to Eurolink on the advice of his operations manager, Jacqui Pringle, who was convinced that Eurolink’s integrated property software system, Veco™, was the right fit for Morgans, having used it in a previous job.

As a result, Morgans now uses Veco™ to manage the front end administrative tasks involved in its sales, lettings, property management and accounts divisions.

For example, Veco™ automatically uploads the agency’s properties to the property portals, a process that Eurolink identified a need for at Morgans during its initial consultation with the agency.

Protecting the personable approach

Part and parcel of Eurolink’s bespoke consultation process is understanding the needs and desires of an agency owner and working out exactly how to protect the fundamental ethos of their business, which for Morgan is his human-based approach.

Morgan’s aim is therefore to use technology to optimise the efficiencies of his business without negatively impacting the personable approach to business on which he prides himself, rather than plan to expand beyond Leeds.

He says: “It’s hard to imagine how we’d cope without the systems that we use because of the volume of property that we manage. But we’re not technology obsessed. We’re quite unusual as an agent in that we don’t use the client management system elements of Veco™ at all.

“We don’t do property matching and we don’t use it to log clients; we do all of that manually. People can’t believe it, but we believe that we get a better relationship and therefore far better success rates with our applicants than technology-obsessed agents [as a result].”

“As long as I’m in the chair, we will always do that. I just think it gives us that edge in the market,” he adds.

Market edge

The agency’s edge in the market is clear to see.

Competing alongside the likes of fellow Leeds-based agents such as Manning Stainton and Linley & Simpson with their double digit office networks, Morgan’s two-office business has a £2.3 million turnover and a volume of property big enough to keep his 50-strong workforce more than busy.

Morgans City Living specialises in city apartments, with units priced from £500 per week for a studio apartment to £800-plus per week for a penthouse, which was always part of his plan.

Morgan says: “The original plan was survival, to be honest. That was number one. Number two was to earn a living. I had a mortgage and two kids who were both at private school at the time. [Generating] a salary was next, and alongside that we wanted to be the first choice go-to agent in our marketplace, specialising in city living, and I think we’ve achieved that.”

Starting out with nothing

Morgan has every right to be proud of his achievement, having worked his way up from, and with, nothing.

“I was a bit of a wandering soul. My dad was a doctor and massively frustrated that I, too, didn’t want to be a doctor, but I never had the application or academic skill to do that. So I found way through O levels and A levels, struggled my way through a degree, came back to Leeds and moved around a little bit in various jobs,” he explains.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and then I bumped into a guy I’d known for some years who asked me if I wanted a commission-based job working in sales and rentals for a business he’d started up. That was quite a baptism of fire, learning about property and doing it for nothing until I did a deal, but that teaches you something,” he adds.

Six years later and after the pair had grown a lucrative business, Morgan was unexpectedly replaced by his employer’s new wife, which is when he made the decision to start out on his own.

He says: “It worked out really well. Armed with my Rolodex and working from my dining table, I just set about [building a business]. I’d identified that city centre living was growing in popularity in northern cities, did the research and decided to have a go and that was 20 years ago next year and I haven’t really looked back since.”

Seed funding

Morgan borrowed £32,000 from the bank by way of seed funding and managed to secure a contract to sell 40 flats in a building in the middle of Leeds shortly after, which meant that it didn’t take long for the business to be cash flow positive.

He opened his first office within 10 months offering lettings and property management followed by sales, but is now working at a more manageable pace.

He explains: “We’re not unambitious, but we know that we don’t want to be a massive business managing a massive chunk of property because we don’t think the business is scalable to that degree.

“I think if we want to retain our [human-based] approach at the front end, we have to have some limitations and really tight controls on how we do develop volume, so I we’d like to work with the very best [property development] schemes.

That said, Morgan is set to open a third office in Holbeck early next year to accommodate the organic growth of the business.

Lifetime achievement award

This follows a lifetime achievement award that Morgan was presented at the Yorkshire Residential Property Awards in October, which came as a surprise to Morgan, but not to those who know him.

He says: “It felt like a really nice moment in time and was great for my family. It was a point in my career I never thought would happen and an opportunity to reflect on what a rollercoaster it’s been. It was a massive honour.”

This rollercoaster looks set to take Morgan for an even greater ride if his growth forecast for Leeds materialises.

According to Morgan, the city’s metropolitan population of 830,000 is set to grow by 100,000 in the next 15 to 20 years, so perhaps his toughest challenge lies ahead: keeping his ambition in check and aligned to the current scale of the business as property developers ramp up their grow plans to cope with demand.