When the going gets tough...

When the going gets tough...

There are some serious challenges out there for vast numbers of estate agency firms. The chronic lack of instructions has led to a fee bloodbath in many areas. I have heard High Street agents actually quoting 0.25% and £250 fees respectively in recent weeks. This will mean a slow lingering death for those that drag themselves down to that level.
So, when the going gets tough, what do the tough do? Get going?
Well, actually, we think they get better. The tough agents will change what they do, raise standards in all key parts of their processes, and ultimately be seen as a different and superior agent compared to their competitors.
There have been a few recent estate agency branch closures that have come to my attention. What did those branches have in common? An inability to adapt to the challenges of a changing market.
It brings to mind the famous quote from Machiavelli
“This is the tragedy of man. Circumstances change, and he does not.”
Enjoy our latest newsletter which focuses on ideas and best practice principles to tackle the challenge ahead. Good luck!

Are you getting through enough doors?

If this figure is below 50%, it is clear that we are not sufficiently on people’s radar and need to do more to ensure that our name is the first that potential clients think of when they are calling agents.

The subsequent questions we discuss are: “How big is your database of potential clients and is it well organised and worked in a methodical way?” “Are there any improvements that could be made?” “Are we speaking to enough of these people every day?”

So what do we need to do to improve this part of our operation?  Well firstly we need to look at what is going on inside the office before we start pounding the streets and delivering leaflets.

The first question to ask is does the office have a valuation target that every staff member is made aware of (not just the manager and senior staff), and does everyone know how well we are doing against that target on an ongoing basis? Is this figure the first thing that is discussed in every morning meeting?

Secondly, is our awareness of potential vendors who have registered as applicants exceptional? Are they always identified or do they get lost in the “black hole” of the computer system - remember that one in three vendors only calls out one agent to value their property. That may well be the agent with whom they have the strongest prior relationship as an applicant.

Is the follow-up system for previous valuations over the last 3 years also way ahead of that of our competitors? Too often our follow-up on valuations is too sporadic and lacking focus. It is often either fanatic for a few weeks after a valuation and consists of little more than “Are you ready to come on the market?” or we give a valuation a call out of the blue some months after the valuation at which point the customer can hardly recall having spoken to us! Regular “chat calling” to inform the customer of what you are seeing happening in the market - the “gentle pressure applied relentlessly” approach. This has to be methodical and planned.

Remember the biggest fear that many vendors have at present is finding somewhere to buy rather than concern over whether they won’t be able to sell their property. Our valuation follow-up should often focus on solving this priority whether the potential vendor is looking to move locally or out of the area.

As for grass roots “prospecting”, if we are going to distribute leaflets or letters, are they effective? Too much canvassing I see is focussed on trying to get instructions from other agents rather than trying to get us first through the door. Personally  I feel that what is known as the 4 or 6 letter system, where letters are sent to properties that have just come on the market with other agents is nowadays pretty ineffective and overly time consuming.

On my visits to companies, the leaflets and literature that are most effective in getting through doors are:

·         Sold in your road leaflets (but sent to 500+ houses rather than the 20 / 20 approach that agents have often used (ie sending leaflets or cards to the neighbouring 20 houses)

·         “We have a specific buyer” letters: where they applicant is a real person and named and profiled on the letter as looking in that specific road and with the line “I am sure they would pay a premium for the right property”

·         Valuation in your road or village leaflets (these will get you through doors and talking to people and build up your long term data base of potential clients)

Remember, if you are not hitting your valuation target and speaking to enough potential vendors every day, it doesn’t matter what you do in other parts of the estate agency process, you will not have the stock to be as successful as you wish.

There is an old adage that “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs”.

It is also an absolute truth to say that you can’t make an omelette without buying the eggs in the first place…

Mind the gap…

The vast majority of attendees come to our courses with an appetite to learn and enhance their skills in what is undoubtedly a hotly competitive market place at present. Every now and then however, we encounter a delegate who really doesn’t want to be there. These people represent our greatest challenge, but nonetheless it is one we relish.

Some years ago, a gentleman arrived five minutes late for the start of the course (a classic sign of treating the event with disdain) and sat with his arms folded for the first hour. I invited responses from him now and then, which resulted in the odd grunt or monosyllabic answer. Just as the hour ticked past, I noticed him picking up the pen we had supplied him (having checked whether he had brought one with him – he hadn’t) and he made a short note on the paper in front of him. He was of course forced to unfold his arms to do so. They remained unfolded for a few minutes before he made another more detailed note. We then broke for coffee.

He approached me during the break, apologised for his late arrival and then explained that he had been in the business 39 years and had not understood why he was being “sent” on our course. He then almost floored me with the comment…”but I have to say that if the first hour is anything to go by, I wish I had been on this course 39 years ago.” An extraordinary change of attitude and one which remains a proud moment in my career! After all, I figured that if I could convert him, I could convert anybody!

I have had nobody of that extreme nature for many years, until last week as it happens. Again, the slightly late arrival, giveaway body language and sullen look did not require Sherlock Holmes to work out what was going on. There were a few possibly embarrassed squirms from other attendees at one or two comments made by the person in question.

The delegate was hard work but we made some headway during the day. We have a follow-up session with the same firm in a few weeks…it will be interesting to see if the person in question makes an appearance and their prevailing attitude if they do.

So why behave like that? I imagine it must centre upon the belief that they know it all, are perfect in all that they do and that any new ideas or refinements to their skills are unnecessary. I find this attitude hard to understand as my perception is that nobody reaches perfection in any walk of life, be it business, sport or any other area.

The best people in business have a thirst for new ideas, a ravenous appetite for new angles and approaches and a recognition of the “performance gap” that exists in all of us, namely the gap between our actual performance and perfection – training helps close that gap. The narrower the gap becomes, the better. Top sports performers have coaches who encourage slight tweaks and new ingredients to their play and style that can make the difference between winning gold or silver, being a champion or the runner-up.

That is why the best agents I meet across the country read avidly, seek better ways of doing things, engage with other practitioners via social media, and realise that 100% market share may be a pipe dream but look to edge closer to it by improving every day.

This is not meant a justification of why you should come on our training courses, but rather an attempt to make those agents who are fearful of change, who see no need to improve on their current skillset and who have the “We’re doing alright Jack” mentality to think more deeply, particularly in the face of a harder world and increasing competition.

After all, although it may seem a strange analogy, dinosaurs ruled the Earth many years ago, but their inability to adapt to the changing environment ultimately led to their demise. Let’s face it, you don’t see many dinosaurs around these days.

Apart from the very occasional one on our courses obviously.

Back to basics

During my first week in estate agency in 1983, I attended a training course which covered the basic skills required for my new role as junior negotiator. Certain lessons have been firmly embedded in my brain throughout my career, particularly those relating to the qualification and registration of applicants.

The training course included a checklist of 22 elements that needed to be covered during that first point of contact, and we were advised that the company regularly “mystery shopped” its offices to gauge the quality to which this key part of the job was being carried out. Having committed these checklist points to memory, I then ensured I dealt with every applicant every day on the premise that they might be the mystery shopper. After all, I was keen to do the job to the best possible standard and ensure that I made my mark on the company’s sales figures.

Nowadays, my training company conduct mystery shopper exercises for estate agency firms around the UK and the results are never less than fascinating. The original list of 22 key points, although many years old and constantly updated, still broadly forms the benchmark of how well these calls are handled, and the standard of follow up service delivered. The difference in quality between the best and worst is extraordinary. Feedback from business owners, whether the calls and follow up are poor, fair, good or exceptional, is that the exercises are worth their weight in gold for illustrating the strengths and weaknesses of the sales/letting operation within their businesses, and revealing the most pressing training needs.

Most (but by no means all) agents will establish key contact information (names, initials and titles of all parties plus all telephone numbers and email addresses) and a general idea of what the applicant is looking for.

However, the real areas for concern are the depth of information gleaned and the lack of testing of the answers provided by the customer.

Assuming that an agent is striving for exceptional standards of selling techniques to maximise results, it is alarming that many areas of key information are missed – the reason for and specific timescale of the proposed move, for example. This is partly down to lack of training, partly down to the fact that many software screens do not prompt the negotiator to ask the most critical questions.

Much of the facts established are not clarified – “I’m looking up to around &300,000 for a three bedroom property” is not enough! These points must be tested with probing questions like “So if I found you a property that had everything you are looking for, but only had two bedrooms, you wouldn’t consider it?” and “If I found you the perfect property, what is the very maximum you would be prepared to pay for it?”. It is incredibly rare to hear these questions asked during our mystery shopper calls.

Similarly, when the applicant states that they have sold their property, the negotiators seldom dig deeply enough to find out the quality of that “sale”. The avoidance of establishing an applicant’s financial capability is also a regular shortcoming. This failure to check the detailed ability of the applicant will inevitably lead to missed opportunities by agents spending the wrong amount of time with the wrong people, or equally worryingly, failing to spot the real “money making” customers.

The above represent just a few of the criteria that are measured by the mystery shoppers. The most recent mystery shopper exercise saw a top score of 12 out of the possible 22 – the other offices involved scored less and in one case, only 6! This is not a level of performance that will help sustain that business through what may well be a challenging market for the rest of 2015 into 2016.

Fortunately, the proprietor in question has now invested in training with us to ensure we help address these problems on his behalf.

For further information or to receive a copy of this checklist, please contact me on 07718 634235, email training@tm-royston.co.uk or contact me via twitter @agencytrainer

Tour Dates

The courses will be


 "How to be an Exceptional Lister"

This special training course is for sales and lettings valuers, and covers a huge 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, securing appropriate asking prices and maximising fees. It has been run for a number of our client firms as an in-house course but has never been run as an open event. The course has received amazing feedback and positively influenced the performance of all who have attended it.

The course will be a full day course being held in

 London on the 15th October,

  Bristol on the 28th October and

Manchester on the 17th November.

The course will cost &225 plus vat per delegate.

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...

Achievement is largely the product of steadily raising one's level of aspiration and expectation.

Jack Nicklaus