Was it good for you?

Was it good for you?

So the first month of 2015 has come and gone in what seemed like the blink of an eye. We hope it was good for you. Most of the estate agency firms to whom we provided training and consultancy support in January cited available stock as the biggest challenge. Only a couple of weeks ago, Rightmove reported that the average number of available properties for sale per agency branch has fallen for each of the past 5 months from 72 in July 2014 to 57 in January. 
Diminishing stock is clearly an unsustainable state of affairs for estate agents and it necessitates a raising of standards, implementation of new ideas and a lot of hard work. 
Alongside the aforementioned stock issue, traditional estate agents have the looming threat of "internet only" competitors taking an element of available instructions.This situation represents a significant challenge.
We hesitate to wish you "Good luck" with that challenge. After all, you make your own luck in business. However, you might just find that the content of our latest newsletter will improve your chances of tackling that challenge successfully. Enjoy.

Stock is crucial to any agent’s business…this article focuses on some essential ingredients in the recipe for success…

The “Instruction Process” is worth revisiting whatever the market conditions as your performance as a company within that process will shed some light on where your future focus should be. The process comprises ten key stages for winning and retaining stock –

ü  Opportunities and Connections

ü  Generating Appraisals

ü  Booking Appraisals

ü  Preparation for Appraisals

ü  The Appraisal Appointment itself

ü  Immediate Follow Up

ü  Ongoing Contact

ü  Point of Instruction

ü  Client Management

ü  Future Client Relationship Management

These ten stages are all critical to success and every agency will have different approaches, procedures and challenges at each.  However, the fact remains year in year out, that the agent who performs differently to and better than their competitors at each of the ten stages will win the lion’s share of instructions available in their area.

The first step is to analyse objectively where your agency sits in terms of calibre and differentiation at each of those stages. It is impossible to formulate an action plan to help you get to where you want to go without knowing where your starting point is.

I have just carried this exercise out with a couple of agents and the issues that needed addressing were different for each. One was simply not getting through enough doors while the other had issues over converting appointments into instructions. Subsequently the planned course of action for each agent was geared to their specific shortcomings. There is no “one size fits all” approach…

Having said that, most of the hundreds of valuers I have trained in recent years are now doing an exceptional job when they are given the opportunity to do so. It is the lack of opportunity that is the main battle. Therefore, the first two stages of the “Instruction Process” may well be the two to pay special attention to at present.

The first stage of the process – “Opportunities and Connections” – relates to how successful your firm is at being in the hearts and minds of the local property owning public. Are you on their radar? If a poll was taken among your local residents as to who was the most active agent or which agents’ names they could quote, would your name come up first? Are you active in the community, on social media, in the local press? Are there positive reviews of your business and performance all over the internet? Brand awareness gets the phone ringing so be brutally objective about your own performance in this area.

Are you making the best of all your local connections and ensuring that everyone you know is aware of what your business offers? Think of all the people you interact with on a regular basis – the postman, the pizza delivery person, your hairdresser, the guy you buy your Sunday paper from or who services your car. How about setting yourself a target of talking to a specified number of connections every day or every week?

Are your family and friends actively linking your business to their connections? Daft as it may sound, do your family and friends really know enough about your business to be able to promote or recommend you?

Tell them what you do and the type of opportunities they might come across where they could recommend you and why they should – but make sure you make this 100% reciprocal. Nobody I know has reported negative feedback to sharing their professional life with their personal contacts.

Furthermore, there are so many opportunities for random connections to be made every day and you just might be surprised where they lead. Strike up a conversation with people you encounter, rather than assuming they have no relevance to you or you to them. I remember listing and selling a house a few years back as a result of passing the time with a fellow parent outside my son’s school – That piece of business may never have come my way without that conversation taking place.

The second stage – “Generating Appraisals” – is all about the effort and focus of the agency staff at the coalface so to speak. The best agents I work with place huge emphasis on the number of appraisals they need to do. Having scientifically worked out the necessary total, they are then aware of the minimum required and will set a target accordingly. That target is then shared amongst the team with each individual knowing their own essential contribution to the overall figure, even down to what each attended appraisal will ultimately mean in terms of income. At the other end of the scale, there are agents who don’t even have a target for valuation/appraisal appointments generated – utter madness in my view!

Once the targets are clarified and communicated, each team member is then coached and trained on how to secure appraisal appointments from the opportunities that present themselves. The key ingredient to success is to understand in detail your own firm’s service proposition and those of your competitors to ensure every employee in every case can demonstrate to a potential client that their agency is significantly better equipped to secure the result the client is seeking – whether that be the best possible price, the shortest possible time, a committed and capable buyer, a lack of stress or all four of the aforementioned.

Creating, targeting and converting appraisal opportunities and appointments really will make a massive difference to your success in 2015. Don’t leave it too late.

“How much do you charge?”

A little while ago, I witnessed the following scene in an agent’s office when a female customer walked in.: “How much are your fees for selling?” asked the woman. The young female negotiator looked up at the visitor and replied “1.5% plus vat”. The customer said simply “Thank you” and then turned and walked out. I think it unlikely that she would return at any stage to instruct the agent in what I assumed to be the relatively imminent sale of her property. A priceless missed opportunity.

Coincidentally, many of the Mystery Shopper calls we conduct have centred on testing agents’ skill and ability at handling fee enquiries from potential vendors and landlords. One of them was without doubt the worst mystery shopper call I have ever heard.

Mystery Shopper: “I have a house to sell in X Road, and wondered what your fees are for selling….”

Agent: “At the moment our books are full and we are not taking on any extra properties…”

Some readers might find that hard to believe but we have recorded proof for anyone interested in hearing how not to run an estate agency!

Given that whether an agent majors on sales or lettings, or is functioning successfully as a fusion of both disciplines, there is no doubt that success hinges on stock acquisition. Every agent should be aware that the manner in which fee enquiries are dealt with needs to be to a better standard than ever before, and one that outshines the competition.

A fee enquiry is often the first step on the road to securing an instruction and as such represents the start of the decision making process on the part of the client.  

These calls kick off by my simple enquiry...”How much do you charge for selling/letting?” and the responses are varied.

The last twenty Mystery Shopper calls failed to incorporate the key “best practice” principles of handling a fee enquiry effectively. All agents quoted a fee without necessarily needing to do so. One agent said that whatever I was quoted elsewhere would be beaten by her agency, betraying a desperation which didn’t inspire confidence. Four others quoted their standard fee and then reduced it in the next breath without the original fee being challenged. Another quoted immediately the rather bizarre fee structure of “1.5% if we sell at the asking price, 1.25% for selling at less than that”. I was sorely tempted to suggest that presumably all his clients try to secure an offer of a pound less than the asking price as this is massively financially advantageous while costing the agent a significant chunk in commission. Another said, “It is between 1 and 1.5%.” Well, call me old-fashioned if you like, but I reckon I would opt for the 1% option is I was given that choice as a consumer!

So what should be done to get the best out of these calls?

The first point to consider is what the agent’s objective is when taking a fee enquiry. Clearly it should be to secure an appointment with the caller to carry out a market appraisal. With this in mind, there are certain key points to factor into the call to ensure the overall aforementioned objective is achieved.

These points include a positive start to the conversation to assure the caller that they are right to be considering you as an option. Thank the caller, state your name and that you will be able to help, ask their name and check it for accuracy and use it but most importantly, deflect them from the issue of fees.

Deflection is best achieved by answering the customer’s question with a question of your own. The most appropriate question is “Whereabouts is the property?” as this ticks a number of useful boxes. Firstly, it helps you establish whether it is an area that you cover and/or have healthy demand in. In some cases the property may be off patch or covered by one of your other offices if you have them.

Finding out the location then gives you the opportunity to discuss your recent or historic successes in that area, as well as evidence of current demand. This further reinforces the fact that the customer has picked the correct agent to call. We have trained some of our client firms to drive this point home by asking the question “Have you been recommended to us?” or the even more confident “I assume you have been recommended to us?”

These initial approaches are designed to kick off a conversation which steers away from the subject of fees. It surprises some agents that this is easier than they imagined it might be but the whole premise of this technique is that although the fee question is asked as the customer’s first question, it is by far from the most important issue in the mind of the customer. In actual fact, it is simply a way they consider suitable to start the dialogue with the agent.

Given that the initial perception of the vast majority of vendors and landlords is that agents are all the same, it is essential that fees are discussed after differentiation and rapport have been established. This would be ideally covered later rather than sooner.  By effective deflecting, followed by subsequent engagement in conversation about the property and its merits leading onto the reason for the valuation and potential timescales, an appointment can be booked with the client without discussing fees. These are best left until the point by which the client has bought into your company and the valuer, likely to be towards the end of the marketing appraisal appointment.

Fee enquiries are not easy situations to handle if staff have not received training in how to do so, but they remain an absolutely critical part of the job especially in a market where instructions are harder to win. It is a simple but watertight principle that the higher the standard of fee enquiry handling, the higher the number of marketing appraisals and ultimately the higher the number of stock and subsequent sales and lets.

Setting an example…

As a manager, you cannot fail at leading by or setting an example – however, the crucial point is whether it will be a good or a bad one! Nobody I have encountered within an estate agency environment will set out deliberately to do the latter, but accidents happen. The staff’s perception is all important in this area.

 It is interesting to note that managers are a little bit like football referees – supporters rarely talk about a referee who has had a good game, whereas discussions about bad refereeing can rumble on for days or even weeks after the final whistle. In the working arena, staff may not be aware of a manager setting a good example, but they will almost certainly notice, and possibly comment on, a bad one.

 People take in information more through their eyes than their ears – therefore what  managers do has a far greater impact than what they say. However, what is said obviously has a degree of importance and must dovetail with what is done. Any mixed message in this area of a manager’s role will cause at best confusion and at worst resentment. The manager who demands the provision of a high standard of customer service by his/her team will doubtless experience problems if their staff witness a failure on the part of that manager to return a client’s call. The “Do as I say, not as I do” style of leadership will lead to failure.

 The least successful managers I have encountered over the years have frequently been guilty of the misconception that once they have secured their management status, they can take their foot off the gas, that life will be a little easier, in short that they have “arrived”. Unfortunately, a key lesson for a successful manager is that management is a journey not a destination! It is no coincidence that many estate agency staff display behaviour that they have absorbed directly from the person who manages them.

 For example, the proprietor of an estate agency firm was recently bemoaning the sickness record at one of his branches, which was leading to unsatisfactory sales performance. It came as no surprise that the manager of that branch had the worst attendance record of any of the company’s management team – leading to the culture in that branch of absenteeism through illness being accepted as the norm. Interestingly enough, a member of the team from that office had been transferred to another branch and despite some early sickness issues has just achieved a full calendar year of attendance – something they had never got remotely close to at the previous office. The manager at the second office had not been off sick for over two years…

 Leading by example often (but not always) means leading from the front. A mountain guide does just that to communicate to his party the direction and speed at which they must go. In an estate agency environment, a personal willingness to go out in front and “get your hands dirty” achieves the same result. However, time must also be invested in the other functions of leadership, such as planning, monitoring and checking. In short, managers must recognise that they will have to work harder than any of the people they are leading.

 The standards set by a leader will be the standards achieved by his/her team. Punctuality, appearance, administration, customer service levels are all key examples within our industry. A manager arrived late for a training course recently, putting their tie on as they entered the room and then asked to borrow a pen…several of their staff were present, and I couldn’t help but wonder what they had gleaned from their manager’s conduct.

 Examples are contagious. Children imitate behavioural examples, and adults retain that characteristic. By setting the right example, managers will gain respect, avoid accusations of hypocrisy and ultimately achieve a climate of teamwork and unity.

As Albert Einstein said “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.”

Tour Dates

The courses will be

Winning Quality Instructions and Retaining Clients (morning session)

For sales and lettings valuers, this course covers a range of things an exceptional valuer needs to do before, during and after an appointment to win the business at the right price and on the right terms. The key objectives are improving conversion rates and maximising fees. It has received amazing feedback and positively influenced the performance of all who have attended it.


Selling in the 2015 Market (afternoon session)

For any staff who are responsible for dealing with applicants, securing viewings and offers, and maximising business opportunities in challenging market conditions. This course shows how to raise the bar in terms of selling skills and techniques and has proven a resounding success.


Being held in

Bristol - 24th February 2015

Fleet - 11th March 2015

Manchester - 25th March 2015



 Each session costs &99 plus VAT per delegate or you can book a full day at a cost of &170 plus Vat per delegate to include lunch.


Coming soon: "How to be an Exceptional Lister" a course on everything you need to know before during and after the valuation. The course will be a full day course being held in Cambridgeshire on the 23rd April and London on the 28th April.

To book or for more information contact us on 01480 405583, email us at admin@tm-traininganddevelopment.co.uk or visit our website http://www.tmtraininganddevelopment.co.uk/online-booking.php


Thought for the day...

I like the challenge of trying different things and wondering whether it's going to work or whether I'm going to fall flat on my face. Johnny Depp