Time for change?

Time for change?

 Autumn brings a change to the weather, the landscape around us and the amount of daylight hours we enjoy. Whether it will also bring a change to the property market remains to be seen. Either way, change is a key issue for estate agents right now.

Market conditions dictate that sales and lettings agents cannot rely on a natural flow of business. Transaction numbers have fallen significantly year on year, with low levels of available stock the main concern - "Property drought reaches crisis point" was one recent headline attributed to a story about the fact that the average estate agent reported a 20% drop in the number of people selling up since June.

So, stock remains key. As a result of this fundamental business challenge, if agents are going to seize sufficient market share and dominate their market place, it is not enough to simply work harder or keep fingers crossed. It is crucial to change and to raise standards.
One estate agency firm we run training for runs a business development meeting in their branches every month, allowing every single member of the team to have an input into how their company could adapt and improve, during a two hour get together with no interruptions. Mystery shopper calls are listened to and reviewed, customer feedback is studied and dissected, close scrutiny is made of what other agents are doing, brainstorming is carried out on how to improve the customer experience and detailed market share statistics are monitored and discussed. This honest forum has spawned a whole raft of ideas that have ensured superb results in the face of stiff competition. A market share of 27% in a town where 12 agents operate is not a coincidence.
Remember the old adage "If you focus on results, things will never change. If you focus on change, you will get results."
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The most important time of the year?

Against this background potential customers are being promised answers by some of the new entrants into the market that seem to suggest the solution is oh so simple!

One thing is for sure that just carrying on doing things the way we have for the last few years, and in many cases benefitting from large increases in prices will not be the long term solution to a drastic reduction in transactions. The only solution is to increase our market share of the deals that are taking place, and to encourage sellers to the market who need proactive motivation from us.

And yet many agents do not seem to have understood the basic principle that the most important thing we can do is contact more and more potential sellers.

Far too many Estate Agents have not set themselves a challenging valuation target which is closely monitored in every morning meeting and also scrutinised as to how they can increase even marginally the number of instructions that they take on that actually end up exchanging.

It would certainly be a good idea for staff to be incentivised on valuations booked between now and Christmas, and also to increase the number of face to face reviews with the vendors of properties that have not sold after a month of marketing. I am seeing more and more agents book these face to face reviews in the diary at the point of instruction.

The old phrase “People buy differences” is as true as ever and we need to ensure that we are creating more differences in the reliability and standard of the customer service we deliver, thus personal contact (rather than by phone or e mail)  is more important than ever.

Customer expectations are still rising and we cannot just point a finger at them and say they are unreasonable - we need to become better at educating them in the realities of the market. This will only happen if we seek to solve their “complete problem” not just selling their property. Too often the only face to face contact we have with our client is at the point of valuation. We need to increase these face to face opportunities whenever possible.

So here are some great ways to invest time over the coming weeks:

·         More negotiator revisits to current stock this month

·         More face to face vendor reviews

·         More home visits to show our clients properties that they might buy and then allow them to negotiate on their own property , either locally from our own stock in in conjunction with other agents elsewhere

·         More specific focus on valuation follow ups and Autumn Valuation campaigns

The next 6 weeks will separate out the proactive and customer focused agents form the rest and be reflected in our end of year results and the stock of properties with which we enter the New Year.

What are you doing to protect your most important asset?

The most effective training in any industry is that which focuses on the needs of the company and has clearly defined objectives as to what that training is going to achieve. Behavioural change for the better, by way of enhanced knowledge and skills, will no doubt be at the heart of any such programme but the clearer the goals, the more likely the training is to succeed.

An example of this is a project I embarked upon recently where the objectives were unambiguously set down from the dawn of the training. Namely, to increase the appraisal to instruction conversion rate from 38 per cent to 50 per cent while maintaining a minimum average commission percentage of 1.3 per cent and an instructions to exchange ratio of 70 per cent. With these key goals clarified at the outset, all training content and principles needed to be directly linked to the achievement thereof – in other words, ideas or techniques which had no bearing on the objective (however interesting they might be) had no place in that particular training course.

A training needs analysis is the key starting point – it is worrying how few managers know how to assess training needs. This ‘training gap’ is actually relatively straightforward to identify – it is the difference between where the employee is now, and where you want them to be.

Some training that agents carry out is, with all due respect, slightly ‘after the horse has bolted’ – by which time bad habits have been formed. An induction programme for new starters in your company (whether industry experienced or otherwise) ensures that those recruits hit the ground running and that managers/directors do not have the pressure of dreaming up ad hoc training approaches each time an employee comes on board.

We have designed and supplied induction training materials and manuals to a number of agents and it is no coincidence that their staff turnover is lower as a result. Employees who are inducted properly and receive ongoing training support inevitably stay longer and ultimately the company will benefit from higher staff retention and a team who feels they are being invested in and developed.

In short, your training programme for 2016 needs to be geared towards specific behavioural change – in other words, that the attendees will genuinely do things differently as a result of the training. This could be that they qualify applicants to an exceptional standard, that they improve their ability to secure viewings or referrals to mortgage advisers or conveyancers, or that they become more competent at negotiating offers between clients and applicants.

Once you have decided what the specific behavioural change is, you have two options – to design and deliver a training course yourself, or to outsource to specialist training providers. Whilst the former will seem an attractive option from an initial cost perspective, it may, potentially, be a false economy in the long run, as the effects on behaviour will be less likely to be achieved.

It is often forgotten that the staff who will be attending the course should be informed as to why that is happening – some may see it as a punishment if you don’t explain the rationale to them properly. Remember the ‘WIIFM Rule’ – your staff may well be thinking ‘What’s in it for me?’ and it is your responsibility to answer that question positively to eliminate any resistance to the idea.

A training course should be an interactive, engaging, stimulating and enjoyable event – some I have witnessed (and attended) over the years have failed to tick a single one of those boxes!

If you do decide to do it yourself, ensure that it doesn’t become a ‘tell’ session – this will achieve little or nothing.

A session on each of the key areas of essential skills and knowledge needs to be included, and within each of those, discussion and deliberation, ideas and conclusions, and agreed action plans should be driven by the group as much as by the trainer. Agreed changes are far better ‘owned’ if they are reached by consensus rather than coercion.

Outsourcing is likely to be an easier and more effective, although admittedly on the face of it more costly, option. Of course, it is important when assessing the true cost of a training programme, to calculate what time and input might be necessary when carrying out a ‘DIY’ approach. The management hours going into designing, writing and delivering the training will soon mount up and thus the outsourced option may not be as expensive as initially thought.

Given market conditions and taking into account the improvement in performance that a well-structured and delivered training course can bring, the question ought not to be ‘Can we afford to train our staff?” but rather “Can we afford not to?”

Julian has been drawing attention to himself…

“For many years, I have been staying in hotels for two or three nights a week, usually left with a default setting of watching forgettable television programmes for entertainment.

One evening I absentmindedly drew a picture of the lead singer of a band I like and texted a pal to ask whether he recognised who it was. He came back instantly with the right answer and requested I draw a different singer of whom he was a fan. I duly obliged. He asked if he could buy it. I replied that he could have it. He insisted on paying. I insisted he needn’t. The impasse was broken by my suggestion of a donation on my Justgiving page. He donated &30. Thus the seed of an idea formed.

I embarked upon the goal of a sketch per day while I was bunkered down each night in one of Lenny Henry’s purple pads (other cheap hotels are available) and posted each one on Facebook and Twitter. People kept buying them. My fundraising total grew each day.

A four week road trip to France and Italy meant it was difficult to adhere to the “one a day” rule but twenty or so new sketches were done and posted.

To date, over &2500 has been raised with another &1000 or so in the pipeline based on the number of requests that have come in. Just this weekend, I drew someone’s son and the father donated &100.

It strikes me that everyone is a winner here. I like drawing the pictures. Thankfully people seem to like them enough to buy them. And no doubt Macmillan like receiving the money generated.”

If you would like to donate to Julian’s cause or see some of his work, visit https://www.justgiving.com/Julian-O-Dell/

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...

"The best way to see a light at the end of the tunnel is to go and turn it on!" - Peter G Hold