2021 - The Year in Review.
My annual review has become something of an institution.....in my own head. This poor excuse for a blog isn't meant to be a marketing tool, a platform for educating others, or a source of invaluable tips and tricks to those working in the property photography industry. It's a personal outlet created to put some of my frustrations, observations, and various other "ations" into writing, thus avoiding the temptation of constantly burdening other human beings with daily tales of my insignificant woes. Ninety nine percent of the global population lives in absolute poverty or under totalitarian dictatorship, so turning up at some rich dude's house to be told that I've got to go back in a week because the husky had a shit in the master bedroom, or the couple have separated, resulting in the hifi system having to be replaced doesn't seem that much of a big deal in relative terms. So.... I just keep my mouth shut, put things in perspective, and have a bit of a prosey-rant to the 8ish people who sometimes read this. Welcome back!
Once again, my year has been completely dominated by the nation's absolute fear of the Coronavirus, and the chaotic response to the whole thing by diametrically opposed bodies of "leadership teams" operating on a Celtic v Rangers footing. No collaboration, no compromise, just a desperate fight for power, and the need to be seen/heard on TV and social media platforms. Ironically, the latest English response to an astronomic rise in covid cases (not doing anything) seems to be turning out to be the correct one (luck, and a fear of the wrath of one's own team rather than sensible decision making). Forcing the entire population to have a brush with the virus will probably end the fear sooner (and it's the fear, not the disease that's the problem). Sorry grandad - time to let the young'uns have their futures back.
My workload has mirrored the effect of government policy on a directly proportional level - being influenced by various stamp duty land tax concessions, restrictions, and announcements. The instant that the SDLT concession was axed, new property sales tanked, and my income sank into negative territory immediately. Luckily, I'd kept a sort of informal PAYE system going in order to account for income tax and NI before they were due, then put any excess aside instead of putting it into the infinitely-deep family spending pot - which is instantly converted to wasteful shite and never seen again. This means that the 3 or 4 negative revenue months are covered before the whole cycle of nerve-jangling, knife-edge economics of freelancing self-employment starts all over again. This coming year sees hefty NI increases, way-higher energy bills, and imminent expenditure on updated equipment to consider. Brace yourselves.
My favourite property of 2021
This is a tough one, as I don't get impressed by pretty much anything out there any more. It's been a year of mainly 4/5 bed detached houses on purpose built estates. They're easy to photograph, but repetitive in nature. Everyone sees their own place as unique, but they're all the same - small rooms, two of which have an "ensuite" cupboard so you can hear the old man having a dump 18 inches from your pillow. There's perhaps a glass box extension on the back, leading to a small garden with appalling drainage, and a gigantic trampoline last used in 2013. Dog pooh is always a bonus. There have been some very expensive gaffs, (always in County Durham), but only one old-style mansion to speak of - adjacent to the A1M. I'm going to commit to the decision that there wasn't a single house that I'd love to call my own in the entirety of 2021. So there.
Most Expensive Property of the year
It's a tie between two!
Picktree Manor in Washington, and Augusta in Ramside Park, Durham both came in at £2.25m, and one of them went out to a buyer at considerably more than that. It's a different world peeps. Picktree is a Manor House with traditional features and is still available. Augusta was a footballer's special, full of cream and greys, and flew off the shelf. Pics below:
Least favourite property of the year
Last year's review revealed this to be a soulless holiday home adjacent to Budle Bay in north Northumberland, and this appears to be a bit of a theme, as this year's winner is a development in the village of Beadnell, which is a few miles south of there. This was actually a row of seven units, hastily converted from an old barn, and used as a cash-cow for it's owner. Beadnell was presumably once a thriving fishing village with a school, shop, post office, and local population etc, but now stands as a monument to the destruction of Northumberland's coastal communities - replaced by short term rentals that provide masses of cash for the already-rich people who accumulate more and more wealth with each passing year. The place stands idle and desolate all year, then fills up with Audis and surfboards in the school holidays. New estates get built, the village expands, and more empty rentals manifest themselves. The units I visited (six times) were some of the worst examples of holiday apartments I'd ever seen - utilitarian, dark, cramped, foisty, cheaply furnished, and full of the same cheap tat that is seen repeatedly in seaside properties - If I see that "this way to the beach" sign one more time, I'll set the place on fire. I was asked to do video tours of each place as well, which finished me off. Honestly.
Favourite Bit of Kit
I'm not a gear-freak, and have no inclination to follow the latest equipment rumour-sites that seem populated by middle aged men arguing with each other in the comments section about technical crap. All my gear looks like it's been sand-blasted, and is held together by glue and duct tape. It used to be worth a small fortune, but in it's current state, and after the years of depreciation, I'd be lucky to be able to give it away. In fact, my garage shelves are full of ancient Bowens & Interfit studio flashes and light modifiers that I can't sell at any price. In the middle of all this chaos is the calming, steadying influence of my Laowa 15mm, zero-distortion shift lens. This metal, fully manual lens has become my mainstay of 2021 - purchased as a temporary stopgap while my trusty 14-24mm Nikon was being repaired. I find the 15mm gives the ideal wide view of a room, and the shift function gives me a unique look to shots that others can't replicate using their ridiculously wide, 50% ceiling photos. It's a difficult lens to use without tethering the camera to a big screen because of the manual focus, and it can give you a headache if you don't concentrate (due to having to stop the aperture up and down between every single frame), but once mastered, it's a fantastic professional bit of kit.
Injury of the year.
The physical demands of this job are many, and it's essential to retain a degree of fitness just to get stuff done. I can be running up & down 3 flights of stairs several times during shots of atriums, and lugging heavy stuff around all the time. If I was a sweaty fat bloke (like many my age), I'd be done-over in a few weeks, so staying trim is a no-brainer. My weakness is sheer physical strength, as I'm a skinny get, so the sudden deadlifting of my heavy Pelican camera case has been the cause of a few back strains that have lasted weeks. The quiet winter has allowed me to rest a bit, and I really should do some weight lifting to condition myself for the year ahead. My main injury however, was the impact between the bridge of my conk, and a glass patio door at full pelt in November. My old neb still has a lump of bone sticking out a bit, and it's miraculous that I never knocked myself out.
Financial Results vs 2020
Sales were almost exactly the same as the previous year, but with a distinct downturn towards the end of the year. My expenses rocketed with requirements for a new vehicle, new and repaired gear, and a considerable increase in the cost of doing business. This obviously means a significant reduction in profit - which could actually position me under the income tax threshold come April's financial year-end. Don't get into this industry expecting a comfortable lifestyle - that's just for your clients mate. This is my choice of course, as I don't want to endure the pressures of a regular nine to five, and having to answer to an egotistical bell-end with a degree in leisure-management. Freedom is everything.
What 2022 has in store
The property boom of the last 18 months has completely stalled, and I expect the property transaction volumes to remain fairly low for a while now. I'd love to keep my activities fairly local, but with most of my revenue being generated in County Durham, that's looking unlikely. The holiday cottage shoots, and video have been a life saver, and I expect this to occupy a bit more of my time this year. Tapping into the holiday-home lets not controlled by agencies is something I'm looking at right now. That won't be a lot of work, but it all helps. Diversifying my client base is key, as I've learned the hard way that customers don't last for ever, and if anything happens to my main client, it's curtains. I'm going to try and get some time off in the summer for a holiday, and it's my 25th wedding anniversary in the autumn, so I'll need to prepare for that. I'm also expecting another Covid bout at some point, but so is everybody else in the country, so no worries there. Developing video skills has to be a priority this year, as does a bit of a website shakeup. Whatever it takes to survive and thrive I guess.
Well....that's that for another year. I hope everyone continues to be safe and well, and I'll update regularly!
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