5 Ways Estate Agents can improve their offering.
Updated: Jan 28, 2021
It’s been a strange 10 months. The CV has caused no end of problems and financial strife for millions with jobs and businesses lost; children being home educated: and of course the appalling and sad loss of life. We’ve all adapted to change (to varying degrees of success), but one industry that has performed surprisingly well is the property sector, namely Estate Agents. The Stamp Duty saving and pent up mover’s frustrations caused a surge of property to hit the market and subsequently STC. It’s been madness.
There will always be a property market. Contrary to belief, it’s driven by more than speculation and profit. Births, Deaths, Marriages, Divorce, Job changes, the list goes on and on. Having just gone through the process of selling our current family home and looking for another one, although some things have changed from the days I was running an EA in London, some of the basics are also still lacking.
Here’s where I think some agents can improve:
Starting from the point that everybody knows that online marketing is the way the vast majority of agents capture leads and enquiries there is no need to compare the usual property sites, but the information put on them is worth considering. As a home buyer is it frustrating that some agents seem to opt for no more than 6 photos of a house. Equally as frustrating are the artistic shots of taps running or the Vendor’s dog. All nice to see but now more than ever people want to evaluate a property before committing to a viewing. A showreel of pointless photos (or not enough of them) are a wasted opportunity and would be buyers cannot get a qualified impression of a property without the right type and amount of information. Walk-through videos are helpful and perhaps this should be adopted in the future after CV frees us from its grip. It’s also surprising to see a number of details missing floorplans – you’ve got to have one. It doesn’t need to be interactive but it should be accurate and clearly viewable online. There is no excuse for the poor imagery or poor details.
2. You don’t know your stock
I remember showing a house to a celebrity couple some years back. We’d just been given the instruction and as a keen negotiator I hit the phones and booked as many viewings as possible. It was a £3.5m house and as I showed the couple around, the husband was getting more and more infuriated with my response to his questions which at the time was something like ‘ I’ll find out and let you know’. He was right to be angry. I had dragged him out to view a house I knew nothing about and yet I was the one standing between them and spending millions of pounds. I never made that mistake again.
It’s not just the big expensive houses that require a little homework – they all do. I’ve been on viewings (as a buyer) where the agent didn’t know the first thing about the house, the neighbours, what was over the hedge, where the nearest anything was. It’s lazy. It only takes a few extra minutes to ask the kind of questions one expects a buyer to ask and then to share it with the people who are doing the viewings. Even better, win the instruction and get the team around there to see the property and ask the questions for themselves, before they speak to buyers. You cannot have all the answers but the better you know your stock, the more likely you are to sell it.
3. Your pitch isn’t unique
The levelling up of the marketing playing field has narrowed the gap somewhat between the more progressive agents on the High St and online and this makes it a little trickier to differentiate between them. Every agent that came into our house said the same thing, a couple even said ‘we all advertise in the same places’ but didn’t give any compelling argument what else they did that was valuable for me as a seller. We got the usual cursory look around the house, then a pitch about why photos taking aloft a pole are better than the competitor’s drone or that they have sold more than anybody else. We got printouts of stats showing one leading in exchanges over a given month Vs the next person (who also is the ‘leading’ agent) with sales agreed for a slightly different period of time. The terms are similar. The brochures. The assurances that they are the best in the town. The slow response in receiving the valuation letter, and somewhat surprisingly, the complete lack of follow-up after the valuation – maybe it’s me? I was sure to be polite and ask reasonable questions, but notwithstanding the fact that it might have been me, I hear this from friends and family all the time, EAs aren’t communicating enough.
Making a decision based on personality, or worse - the fee, is what most people are resorting to and whilst this is important, it rarely reflects the agent’s ability to sell your property. Most know what other agents are saying so why not offer something different? Something valuable for the seller or a simple service that costs nothing but makes a positive difference? Offer to help the sellers present their homes in a way that best reflects them or perhaps talk about how your ability to transact a sale means fewer fall throughs and money saved on legal fees. Emphasise your role is more than just sticking a house online - if it isn't, do something about it.
4. You don’t know your worth
Considering point 3), getting the right fee for many is almost impossible. Why would somebody pay an agent a penny more for doing what they determine is exactly the same job or process as a competitor? And that’s entirely right – why would anybody? I recall one particular agent pitching to me the experience and ability of their staff. The thousands of homes sold over the years and all the drone marketing the internet would take. It was impressive. Then we came to the fee. They started off by saying all of their extra input means they cost more (not that it has any benefit to me or the asking price, in fact they offered a valuation lower that most others). Instead it was simply the experience and expertise I would be paying for – and their overly flash car parked on our drive. They went on to finish up with a declaration as to why this made them better than all the others. When I responded by saying I wouldn’t pay more than the next highest fee quoted (0.25% lower) - they instantly dropped their fee to match. Why?! We were so close, but they blew it.
Ah, but this is good for me isn’t it? Getting all this extra for the same price? No. Not really. If they failed to protect their own fee, how could they protect my asking price? Why would anybody drop their fee when they have something genuinely different or beneficial? What about the experience of their team or their years of experience - is this not worth anything?
In property it’s almost accepted that to win instructions, no matter how different or better your offering as an EA, you have to accept a lower fee? Stop it! It’s not true in the slightest. If you can justify your fee, protect it. If you can't, put that right.
5. You don’t communicate enough
On an almost weekly basis we get an invitation through our letterbox. Not to any exclusive party or club but for a ‘free, no obligation valuation’. I don’t purposely mock the initiative, if it works, it works. I have however found that although a lot of effort is put into winning an instruction, not enough is done to keep them. Maybe we were unlucky the first time around when we tried to sell. Our agent, one of the more successful in our area, went weeks, sometimes months, without any updates. They aren’t the only ones. Friends are trying to sell with another large national chain and they tell me they’ve not heard a peep in weeks either. No viewing feedback. No new ideas or suggestions. No guidance on what can be done to improve the prospects of selling the house. Nothing. Even when were asked pre-offer questions (according to the email) from potential buyers, there was no response to our answers. This is such a common gripe and yet it’s so easy to fix. Sure, nobody wants a pointless call every two days with nothing new to say, but a call weekly/fortnightly and after each viewing is surely a minimum expectation? In the months we've been looking for houses, we've not had one call to follow up or get feedback. When I called to offer feedback after one particular viewing the agent was aghast and suggested it was good I called him as he wasn't going to call me - he didn't even do the viewing, instead arranged it directly with the seller.
As an individual it’s very easy to criticise on the methods deployed by many agents when it comes to marketing or selling a house, but these basics were being neglected when I first started in property nearly 20 years ago. The movement online seems to have shifted the emphasis away from the personal and actionable elements of selling a property, but online is not a new phenomenon. It’s always been about getting the fundamentals right.
It’s not always down to price or that a buyer is always found in the first 2 weeks. It’s also not just down to marketing. I don’t think I know of one agent that talks about their ability to progress a deal effectively and efficiently. One that can show a minimal fall-through rate or that demonstrates their commitment to the seller over and above most that sees the buyer as their client. At a time when EAs need to stand out above competitors, it’s not Rightmove or Zoopla that will get you a larger market-share. If you want to win more instructions and be more effective in selling them, start at the beginning. Get the basics right.