Insider view: Paul Hilton of ESPC on the recovery of the property market after the pandemic

Paul HiltonPaul Hilton
Paul Hilton
Job title Chief executive of ESPC. We provide marketing and technology to solicitor estate agents who sell properties, note-0covering a large part of Scotland with member firms in Edinburgh, the Lothians, Fife, the Borders, central and west of Scotland, and Dumfries and Galloway.

We market properties on behalf of our solicitor estate agents via our website, which attracts more than 2.4 million visitors a month.

We also distribute 20,000 copies monthly of our own ESPC property and interiors magazine.

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Additionally, we have a Property Information Centre on George Street in Edinburgh, where we offer free advice to consumers on a range of topics including buying, renting, and mortgages, as well as hosting virtual events online.

We are George Street’s longest-standing retailer, having had premises on George Street since 1971 – 2021 marks ESPC’s 50th anniversary.

How did you get started? I was always interested in property, and I initially started training as a surveyor. Prior to joining ESPC in 2000, I had worked for Legal & General in a range of roles including estate agency, mortgages, lettings, and franchising.

During my time at ESPC, I have worked in various roles, including being head of customer services, and sales and marketing director, before becoming chief executive in 2014.

It’s safe to say I have been around property for all my working career, apart from eight weeks in a frozen food packaging factory!

What are you personally responsible for in the organisation? I work with the senior management team to set the strategic direction of the business. The job also entails leading from the front to ensure we achieve our goals. Another big part of the role is engaging with our customers and guiding the team. Finally, it is about working hard to ensure we have the right culture in the business by setting a positive example.

What is your typical day like? Every day starts with my to-do list. I also check industry news daily and keep a close eye on the wider economic picture. After that, I could be catching up with ESPC firms, providing commentary on the property market or attending meetings on a range of topics. It is a lot more enjoyable than I am making it sound!

Strategically, we have committed to continuous improvement, so time is also spent on looking at what we do and challenging ourselves to do things that little bit better to benefit our customers.

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What are the factors which affect the success of the industry? Property is a matter of supply and demand. In my time in the sector, I have experienced three recessions and each time the housing market has recovered in a slightly different way. The latest example is, of course, the realsurge in house values and wider market activity since the relaxation of lockdown in June 2020.

What can be done either by your company or by the wider industry to improve the housing situation in Scotland? Part of the reason we have been seeing a growth in house prices in recent years isdown to the fact that we, as an industry, need to build a lot more homes in a sustainable way. The properties being built also need to be of high quality, energy efficient, and affordable.

Does your job affect your social life? As chief executive, I am the goodwill ambassador for ESPC and the housing market, so I do find in a social setting I’m often asked about it. It is fine, it goes with the role, and I do like talking about property!

Since the initial lockdown many of us have moved to a more hybrid model of work, which includes working from home a good portion of the time. While this flexibility is great, as a team we have agreed we need to maintain a decent work-life balance.

What advice would you give someone wanting to work in the industry? Keep an eye out for any roles in the sector that interest you. Getting experience in any role in property gives you a great foot in the door – I once worked for a director who had started her career in property seven years earlier as an accompanied viewer. A lot of promotions happen from within.

What do you do in your spare time? Running, reading, and listening to music, and when I get the chance, going back to the Wirral to support Tranmere Rovers.

How is business in 2021? The property market since June 2020 has been very strong, we have seen lots of property come to market and sell very quickly. As ESPC makes most of its money from property listings, we have had a good year so far. We cannot be complacent but unlike some other less fortunate sectors, the property sector has recovered very well.

What innovations in the industry do you see making the biggest difference in the future? During the pandemic, we have seen a real growth in a virtual-first approach to viewing properties and I think this will continue.

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ESPC firms will continue to offer videos, 360-degree virtual tours and live online viewings. We’re already seeing that buyers are finding this kind of offering incredibly helpful when making a decision about whether to view or offer on a property, and we are hearing about some buyers who have relied entirely on this technology to purchase homes, without physically viewing the home.

Consumers will demand even more information when making a house move, so the provision of that sort of data is something we are currently working on.

Further down the line, we will see blockchain technology used in the buying and selling process, and possibly even decentralised finance providing “crypto mortgages”.

What are your predictions for the market in the years to come? We need to avoid widening the gap in society. I managed to buy my first home at 20 and my personal hope is that more affordable homes are built and made available, to allow more people to get on the property ladder earlier in life.

Life file

Born and raised Wallasey in Merseyside.

Education I studied business at Birkenhead Technical College at night after work.

Family I have a younger, richer, smarter brother who owns his own company which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, and two nieces at university.

CV My first job was packing boxes in a frozen food factory.

First home A two-bedroom flat in New Brighton, Merseyside.

Current home A Victorian flat in the West End of Edinburgh I’ve had since 2010.

Do you move often I would put ESPC out of business as I do not move that often – I have only owned and lived in four properties in my adult life.

Plans for retirement I would like to travel, and perhaps write a book.

Personal motto Work hard, do your best, be kind to others and enjoy yourself.