The chairman of a leading firm of auctioneers, estate agents and valuers, which has 10 offices in Worcestershire, Shropshire and Mid Wales, is optimistic about business prospects in 2013 after a busy and successful year.

Peter Willcock, from Halls, is looking forward to an exciting year, which will see the company move across Shrewsbury from the Welsh Bridge to new headquarters at Battlefield, with the opening date set for March 1. The new headquarters has two fine art salerooms, dedicated offices, storage space, 110 parking spaces and much easier access.

“We are upbeat about business prospects in 2013, in terms of the sectors in which Halls operates,” said Mr Willcock. “Prospects in agriculture look reasonably good, the fine art market remains strong and the residential property market ended the year on a positive note.

“We are always looking to expand and develop the business, which is demonstrated by the move to our new headquarters and our recent investment in doubling the size of our residential property office in Ellesmere.

“Our new headquarters is going to promote and enhance the fine art department greatly,” said Mr Willcock. “The fine art market has remained strong during 2012, largely driven by Asian buyers, which is why fine art director Jeremy Lamond and senior auctioneer and valuer Andrew Beeston recently spent six days in China meeting buyers at Beijing Art Fair.

“We are also looking forward to diversifying our agricultural professional services and developing the planning services that we offer.”

Reflecting on Halls’ business performance during 2012, he said the company had experienced unprecedented demand and prices for farms and agricultural land, which was illustrated by the £4.85 million sale by auction of Marrington Cottages Farm at Chirbury, near Montgomery, a 384-acre arable farm with two cottages and a grain store.

“I don’t expect to see a great rush of farms coming onto the market in 2013,” he added. “Sometimes farmers sell when they sense that the market is starting to slide and that isn’t currently the case.

“We have a database of potential buyers for all types of agricultural properties, ranging from small parcels of land to large estates. We have also experienced an unprecedented demand for farms and agricultural land to rent due to the shortage of supply.

During the year, the company’s workload relating to countryside stewardship schemes, whereby landowners receive grant support for managing and preserving the countryside, has increased. He expects this trend to continue as landowners seek professional advice to maximise grant potential.

“Improved livestock prices have benefited our auction centres in Shrewsbury and Bishops Castle,” he added. "More farmers are bringing their livestock to market because they want to be sure that they are getting the best price for their animals and we can provide that.”

Halls reported a welcome upturn in residential property sales in the last three months of the year and the company’s portfolio of rental properties increased greatly. “We saw a lot more activity in the residential property market at all our offices in the last quarter of the year, which is encouraging as we enter 2013,” said Mr Willcock.

“Throughout the year, the lack of available mortgage funding has been a major problem, but we have expanded substantially our portfolio of rental properties to let and expect this trend to continue. Due to stamp duty, many people are opting to rent rather than buy if there is a chance that they might not be staying in a property for that long.“