Are Estate Agents really all the same?

Are Estate Agents really all the same?

We hope you all had a lovely Easter and with better weather and the traditional upturn at this time of year, it is time to "Spring" into action and make the best of the lively market conditions.

Stock as ever remains key to success and differentiation is the only guaranteed way to grow market share. So how different is your business? How different are your staff? How different is the experience that customers have with you compared to what they get from your competitors?

Now is the time to reflect and review everything you do to attract instructions. We have just carried out some consultancy work with an agent who were being called out to 3 out of every 10 valuations in their town. By introducing new ideas and tweaking current practices, they are now getting out to 4 of every 10. This achievement, alongside an improved conversion rate as a result of our valuers training programme, means the bottom line is going to look very much better in the second half of 2014. We are now working with them to increase their strike rate still further.

Feel free to pick up the phone and have a chat with us as to how we could help your business. In the meantime, enjoy the newsletter!

Tough at the top!

My first managerial position back in 1987 still sits in my mind as one of the most challenging periods in my estate agency career. I was literally thrown in “at the deep end” and, more by luck than judgement, I ultimately swam rather than sank! After six months in the role, I was sent on a management training course, and things suddenly made sense. My only regret was that I should have attended the course before accepting the position rather than afterwards.

Even today, there seems to be a large number of estate agency managers around the country, who are hardworking and well-intentioned, but have not been provided with sufficient support in the acquisition of the requisite skills and knowledge to supervise successfully.

The majority of estate agency managers tend to have been promoted suddenly to fill the role of team leader as a result of an unforeseen gap being created by the departure of the existing manager. The successful appointee for this position normally has a simple profile including successfully climbing the typical estate agency career ladder from junior negotiator up to assistant manager. Alongside this, a combination of length of service, selling and/or valuing track record and having a face that fits often play a major part in the recruitment decision.

However, in many cases of such promotions, not everything goes smoothly.

It is tricky transition whatever the circumstances as such a move can throw the individual concerned onto an incredibly steep learning curve, largely because he or she becomes instantly responsible and accountable for the work and results of a team of people rather than simply just their own. The challenge of this change of role is frequently compounded by the fact that many new managers are promoted from within the group they have to subsequently supervise, necessitating an alteration in key working relationships.

New skills have to be learnt and adopted quickly, while often the new manager is expected to continue to make their appropriate contribution to hitting the agency’s sales and instruction targets.

As a result of the aforementioned hurdles, a worrying number of fledgling estate agency branch managers do not last long. They are sometimes seen as a wrong choice by the superiors who appointed them in the first place, or the managers themselves lose confidence and leave, subsequently reappearing at a competitor agent down the road at a more comfortable lower rank! They cannot be blamed for feeling unable to admit that management was not what they expected and in turn not what they want to do. As a result, a quality employee is lost to a rival.

A replacement manager is swiftly chosen and the whole flawed cycle continues.

There are a raft of management books and theories that vary in relevance to the fast-moving estate agency branch environment.

One which seems to sit comfortably with estate agency branch managers is John Adair’s concept of action-centred leadership. This revolves around the idea that there are three key areas that the leader needs to focus on, namely the leader’s responsibilities towards the tasks, the team and the individuals within the team. The leader sits at the hub of these three key areas.

“Task” duties will include ensuring all the appropriate jobs get done and hitting targets by planning, monitoring and checking. The “team” responsibilities will include motivation, communication and team building. The “individual” duties will incorporate coaching, development, counselling and discipline. A correct balance between these three areas will ensure effectiveness in each, leading to good results, a focused team and motivated individuals.

A balance of time and energy needs to be maintained by the manager to ensure effectiveness in the three key areas.

However, there will be times when priority has to be given by the leader to one of the key areas over the others. For example, when taking over an office producing poor sales figures, concentration in the “task” area will be important to drive out improved results. Equally, when the staff are not gelling as a group, the manager will need to devote more time to improving the team ethic to ensure they are performing as a collective unit, maximising strengths and compensating for weaknesses. Finally, a new starter or underperformer necessitates a manager to focus on those individuals for a period to bring them on to the desired level of effectiveness. It is rather like spinning plates!

There is undoubtedly a direct relationship between the effectiveness of a team leader and the results that the team produce. Those football fans among you will doubtless recognise the pivotal roles that Jose Mourinho and the now retired Sir Alex Ferguson and have played in their respective teams’ achievements in recent years. It is interesting also to note the dizzy heights that my own beloved Luton Town have achieved this season under the guidance of our first expert manager in some years.

The best managers recognise that leadership is an activity, not a status.

Mind Your Language…

Recognition, however grudging, that one’s competitors in business are good at what they do leads to the essential conclusion that we need to be better than good to stand out from the crowd. “Exceptional” is a standard that many of our sales and lettings agency client firms now aspire and ultimately adhere to, in order to attract and retain more business.
Any organisation that continually works to be exceptional at what it does needs to maintain a flawless consistency in how they present themselves to their customers. A key part of that is the language, vocabulary or phrases that we use – in particular during telephone conversations.
The proper use of the telephone and how to announce yourself, put a call on hold, conduct a call, transfer a call and take messages need specific training. The reality is that many of us will not have had such training and our standards will vary. As a result, reviewing these elements should be part of our journey in our continual quest for excellence.
How many times have you phoned a business, started by saying “Hello. My name is Mr/s X. I wonder if I could speak to somebody about….”, only to be transferred and then asked what your name is and why you are calling, sometimes more than once. It happens to me more often than I’d care to mention. Effective telephone techniques include listening intently from the outset, jotting the name down and using it during the subsequent conversation, as well as establishing the reason for call quickly and accurately.
It is important to consider the phraseology in face-to-face communications with customers. Many of us may admit that we have become a little lazy in our use of language and influenced by film and TV in a way that is not always positive. We need to be very conscious of tone and content when talking direct with our customers. The reality is that style and quality are both classless and international. The warmth and attractiveness of accents, from whatever corner of the globe or the UK add character, without which we would be cookie-cutter replicas lacking the individuality that makes each of us different and memorable. High calibre telephone techniques are not about accents or backgrounds – it is about being professional and using appropriate language.
On regular occasions, when booking training venues, I request confirmation of the equipment provided – an example being a flipchart or projector screen. An all too common response is “That should be fine”. What does that tell me as the customer? Essentially, that I will turn up and maybe the equipment will be as I requested, but then maybe it won’t. Answers of “Absolutely” or “Of course” give an entirely different impression.
Another example of the language of exceptional customer service is the phrase “You’re welcome”. These two words sum up perfectly the mindset that we need to have and the way in which we need to interact with each and every customer. Emphasis can be added by saying “You’re most welcome” or “You’re very welcome” so as to vary the response. Clearly you must mean it – or else it is just another version of ‘have a nice day’.
Whenever I hear “You’re welcome” said with obvious sincerity and warmth in an establishment, I am much more confident that I will be looked after and I believe that the person concerned understands his/her commitment to me as their customer.
The other side of the coin are phrases that are totally unacceptable and should never be used as a response to customers. These include “No problem” or “No worries” or “No bother” or anything similar. The implication to any customer is that although they have not been a problem or worry or bother on this occasion …… they might well be on another occasion! Such phrases carry negative implications and are inconsistent with the journey to “exceptional” standards.
Lexicographer Erin McKean suggests that “perhaps the ‘no problem’ of service workers is a way to reclaim some measure of power — ‘no problem,’ after all, does remind the customer that their request is technically within the power of the employee to grant or refuse.” So, there seems to be a problem with “no problem”, hence why “you’re welcome” wins hands down!
We can help agents improve their telephone techniques. In the hands of an untrained user, the telephone can be a lethal weapon. It is essential to ensure that you cover this as a specific training item where you are responsible for a customer-facing team or if you use the telephone yourself within your job role.

Are Lettings and Sales operations really THAT different?

So are Lettings and Sales THAT different? Well of course they are, assuming lettings does not involve generating valuation enquiries, winning quality instructions at the right fee, attracting interest in those properties, accurately qualifying prospective applicants, conducting effective viewings, successful negotiation techniques and so forth….hang on…so perhaps they are not so different after all?
Obviously the ongoing responsibilities and client contact where properties are managed do contrast to the “one hit” sale approach, but the “front end” or “sales” element of lettings demands the same disciplines, skills and focus. Too many lettings/property management agents have been reliant on technical knowledge of the legal and administration side of the business, but have sorely lacked a cutting sales edge. With so many new practitioners competing within the lettings/property management marketplace, exceptional sales skills within the process may make the difference between success and failure.
Huge numbers of lettings agents, representing a large majority of those I have spoken to in recent months, have been bemoaning the lack of available stock. We have worked with a number of our client firms to rectify this unsustainable situation. Some have been previously too reliant upon the “churn” of existing stock and maintaining activity levels through relets rather than actually growing the business by way of securing managed deals with new landlords.
Building a database of local landlords is crucial if there is an objective to grow the business. Every landlord dealt with by the company, past and present, whether they did business with your firm or not, should be on that database. Canvassing locally through effective leaflets and targeted letters has proven a useful method for some agents. Research on the internet can help access useful information as to who owns rented property in the area. Arranging, advertising and hosting an investment buyers/landlords information evening is a great way to get your message across to a captive audience. If the lettings agent has an associated sales operation, the list of local landlords can be expanded by accessing the records of any investment buyers who have registered looking to buy over previous years. Even if these customers did not buy from your agency, the chances are that they bought elsewhere and therefore may well still be a current landlord.
A few exceptional lettings agents ensure that all new tenants registering as seeking rental property are asked about their existing accommodation. The tenant often gives the agent the details of their existing landlord, who is instantly added to the database. Some agents incentivise the tenant insofar as if the landlord goes on to become a client, the tenant is rewarded for the provision of the lead.
Populating a landlord database is time-consuming, but will reap rewards once it is in place. Monthly email or snail mail communication should be carried out to update those landlords on market activity and data, changes in legislation, new aspects of your service and, in short, to ensure that those landlords perceive your firm as the most active and knowledgeable in the area.
I initiated a “Top Ten Investment Purchases” feature in our estate agency’s newsletter some years ago. It lists the best ten properties for sale based on rentability and crucially gross annual yield percentage. All this time later, the feature remains the most read element of our monthly newsletter, and prompts contact from interested parties who are current or potential landlord investors. It is a sure-fire winner and one I would strongly recommend!
Many lettings agencies focus on “doing deals” and quick income rather than building their business and protecting their future through increasing the number of managed properties. Some sales agents who jumped on the lettings bandwagon in the midst of the last sales downturn rapidly realised that it was not as easy as they thought; some swiftly leaping back off the bandwagon when sales appeared to pick up again.
Some of those still involved have shied away from management as it is a responsibility deemed to be too much hassle or simply an area that is beyond their sphere of knowledge and experience.
“Let only” deals are all well and good, providing a bit of quick income. In truth, however, the regular income gained from an extensive portfolio of managed properties ought to be regarded as the bedrock of a lettings agent’s operation.
Ultimately, a steadily growing reliable income stream from managed properties provides the stability and profitability that safeguard a business over the longer term. This is an objective that takes time to achieve although the adoption of “best practice” principles will accelerate the process.
One key element to success is to ensure your management service stands out and offers genuine differences from that offered by your competition.
This could include greater frequency and quality of routine inspections, perhaps to include a detailed follow up report with photographic evidence of ongoing condition. Offering online access for landlords to keep up to date with progress on the letting or management of their property has been very well received by clients of firms who have set up such a facility. The assignment of a personal property management specialist to oversee all aspects relating to their property, a robust rent guarantee scheme (with minimal excess and small print!), an organised accounting process that pays the landlord swiftly and accurately, a smooth checkout process that minimises void period, and diligent reliable approved contractors will all prove to be instruction winners.
The other massive differentiator between reasonable and exceptional lettings agents that has been evident on my recent training and consultancy travels, has been the quality of the property valuers/listers themselves.
Exceptional companies ensure that their firm’s representative is sufficiently experienced, knowledgeable and skilled in securing the landlord’s instruction in the face of whatever competition they are up against. We have worked with a vast number of listers and trained them in the disciplines of fulfilling the role of an exceptional lettings instruction specialist.
These individuals are trained to talk a landlord’s language in terms of yields, capital growth, funding, returns and more, so potential experienced clients feel comfortable and confident in giving their business to someone on their wavelength. Equally, the lister can hold the hand of an inexperienced landlord and reassure the client that the potential risks and aggravation of letting a property will be alleviated by instructing the firm in question.
Alongside this flexibility, these valuers are adept at understanding and promoting their company’s USPs and selling the benefits of a managed service over that of let only, thereby not only winning the lion’s share of available new instructions, but winning them on the right terms and fees. Anything short of an exceptional approach in this key part of the process will mean business is lost to the competition, representing an increase in their chances of long term survival and success, at the potential expense of your own.

Extra training date announced..

That date and course details in full are...

Wednesday 4th June St Neots

Winning Quality Instructions (full day course with Julian O'Dell)

It will cover:

* Getting through more doors
* Best practice principles for before, during and after your appraisals
* Differentiating you and your proposition from your competitors
* Handling objections and closing successfully
* Securing the optimum fee

We look forward to seeing you!

 Each session costs &170 plus VAT per delegate to include lunch.

To book or for more information contact us on 01480 405583, email us at or visit our website


Thought for the day ...

"For success, attitude is equally as important as ability."
-- Harry F. Banks