The story so far.
For 2024’s first edition of Tales of the City we sat down with founders Stuart and Mathew to reflect on the first three years of Story of Home.
We talked about the story behind the name, a hiring strategy based on shared values and mindset, navigating the complex emotions involved in a house move, and playing the long game to build a successful business.
Co-founders Stuart Aikman & Mathew Walters. Chatsworth Road, Clapton, E5
The Hand of Glory
Mathew: Stuart and I first met in 2007. We worked as colleagues and as competitors. Over the course of many years, we had conversations about our approach to estate agency, our values and big-picture ideas for starting a business. Eventually, our conversations progressed and we formulated a plan for a business selling beautiful, design-led homes. Two years later we took the leap!
Stuart: We were genuinely surprised by the speed at which the business took off. The day we launched, we went down to The Hand of Glory pub in Hackney Downs. We were sitting outside and within ten minutes of unveiling our first property, we had received seven calls and had to rush back to the office.
Mathew: This continued for the next few months. Whenever somebody called to talk about a property, they’d also ask about the name and why the business is called Story of Home. So, our brand and identity started getting out there, not just our list of properties.
Stuart: We launched the company with a strong digital presence, and this continues to be a great source of new clients. However, word-of-mouth recommendations are the foundations we have built the business on. New clients come to us for our ‘white glove service’ and for our reputation for selling and letting beautiful, design led homes.
‘White glove service’ means providing seamless customer experience. For us, this means taking the lead on everything for our client, not reacting, always anticipating, and communicating like a trusted friend through every step and detail of the process.
Crooms Hill, Greenwich, SE10
Mathew: This is a twenty-year project for us, and we believe that if you give the right advice and don’t over-sell, then even if that person doesn’t instruct us immediately, they will remember us further down the line, or recommend us to a friend. It’s about good karma.
What’s in a name?
Mathew: Stuart and I brainstormed for a long time to find a name. We knew we wanted something different. We didn’t want to use our names and sound like a couple of old music producers, Aikman & Walters. It had to send out the message that we go about things differently.
Stuart: Mat went to Berlin with his fiancé and his mum for a weekend. They were sitting in a coffee shop, and they came up with the name. When he told me, I knew it was perfect.
Once we decided on the name, we began working on the branding and website. Our website is bespoke, and we decided to design it ourselves, because we didn’t want anything to have a standard estate agency feel. That’s one of the things that has helped us to stand out. Nothing we do or embrace is generic or standard.
We are constantly improving and developing the website and over time it will be the go-to destination for finding a beautiful home in London.
Canyon House, Primrose Hill, NW3
Gathering the posse
Mathew: The people we bring into the business are people who think like us, and aspire to grow an exciting business. We’ve gathered like-minded people who are passionate about design-led property and providing excellent customer service. They are able to provide the same level of ‘white glove ‘service to clients that Stuart and I believe is vital to maintaining our reputation, and growing our presence in the London market.
Stuart: Mat and I had worked previously with Anne, who is helping us grow the property management department. Her communication skills are exceptional, and she spent twenty-two years working as a forensic scientist before moving into the property business. She’s really sharp and understands the importance of providing a seamless experience to landlords and tenants, ensuring the lead up to move in day and for the duration of their tenancy goes as smoothly as possible.
Mathew: Our previous boss, Tim Fairweather, joined us as a consultant in the Spring of 2023. It’s humbling that he’s now decided to join us to help grow the business. His unparalleled network across the London market is helping to bring new clients and exciting properties.
We’re assembling a team, not filling positions. If someone inspirational crosses our path at the right time, we create a role for them.
The Story of Home team. Coal Drops Yard, Kings Cross, N1C
Handling your emotions
Stuart: People go through a lot when they’re moving and it’s a profoundly significant life event. It is incumbent on us to make sure the seller and the buyer feel heard and valued. Although the seller pays our fees, we have a duty of care to the buyer too. By listening to the buyer, we are acting in the best interests for our client, the seller. It reduces the chance of a problem or of conflict that could potentially be deal-breaking. Every moment of time and quality you devote to the buyer, also benefits the seller.
Mathew: When people are buying a home, often they intend to stay until their family have grown up, or sometimes forever. We sell and let some of the most desirable homes in London, but our job extends far beyond the transaction itself. Because buying, selling or letting a house is such a major decision, emotions often run high. Being adept at managing different personalities involved in a transaction is vital to getting the outcome that both parties are looking for. Ironically, this is something that not all agents are skilled at.
The pursuit of happiness
Mathew: Put simply, you want both the buyer and seller to walk away feeling happy. Clearly, agreeing the terms of the deal tends makes both parties happy, but it’s in the stages between accepting and offer and completing on a property, that can often be trickiest. Once a sale is ‘in solicitors hands’, we are doing a lot of work in the background to get the deal over the line.
Stuart: A lot of people probably think the estate agent just opens the door, does a viewing, agrees a deal, and moves on. But that journey between deal agreed and completion is where we earn our reputation. Getting a great outcome for buyer and seller alike is down to an estate agent, not a solicitor, or anybody else involved. Communication is so important during these few months, it can feel like an emotional roller coaster.
The accidental landlord
Mathew: ’Accidental landlords’ are homeowners who didn’t buy their home with the intention of renting it, but have decided to move out because of a change in circumstances.
London has many of them. These are people who have invested in creating their own beautiful home they love living in, but a new job overseas or growing family have changed their plans.
Stuart: We protect an accidental landlord’s asset. These properties remain our client’s home despite their decision to rent it out. They’ve spent money on it, time in it, they love it and want it handled by an agent who is going to care about it like it is their own.
The Story of Home brand is seen as the authentic fit for this purpose. In turn, we are only going to place tenants that are looking to make a home in the property they rent and stay there for the long term.
Bellevue Place, Bethnal Green, E1
Dare to dream
Stuart: The past year has been one of the most uncertain markets of my career. Interest rates spiked in 2023 and remained stubbornly high, although thankfully the tide seems to be turning. We typically tell clients that if you look at buying a home as a long term investment, you will (almost always) be fine.
Mathew: Despite the difficult market conditions, as a business we have been fortunate to deal with unique and design-led properties that will sell or rent in any market. No matter what’s going on with interest rates, house prices, or stamp duty, there’s always strong demand for the best quality homes in London.
Stuart: We aim to cut through the uncertainty and would encourage you to pick up the phone and speak to us. If you want to enter the next chapter of your life by finding, selling, or letting a home but are unsure if now is the time to do it, then I would say to you, dare to dream. A great estate agent can make things happen for you and your family. You might discover that 2024 is the year your dreams come true.
Our story so far is best told by the people we have helped move over the last three years. We’d be delighted if you take look at our customers Kind Words.