Why leading agents love a tougher market

dinnerreservationI booked a restaurant last week for my wife and I. Like all things nowadays I had the opportunity to book a table online and as I’d visited the restaurant before I knew the exact position and table I’d like. It wasn’t a special occasion like a birthday but was ‘special’, as like most people with children and a family, we were celebrating being able to actually do something on our own for a change!

I took the decision to phone and book. I got instant rapport with the waiter I spoke to and yes, on my arrival we were met by the same guy and shown to the table – he remembered our ‘you’ve managed to escape from the kids’ conversation. At the end of the meal he got my thanks and a modest but appreciative tip. 

This week whilst in the office I’ve been wondering about my choice of phoning versus booking online. I guess it’s a question over communication and connection with your potential customer. If I hadn’t spoken to anyone in the restaurant I may’ve got the same table but without making that personal connection it may’ve been given to someone else who did.

Making that ‘connection’ is just as important in estate agency. Over the last month or so I’ve seen more and more people visiting our two Plymouth branches. Some are Sold stc, yet many have not put their own properties onto the market – what they have in common however is that they all couldn’t find anything new that matches what they are looking for available online.

When the market gets a little tougher, simply thinking that placing your property onto the internet will get you moving is now not enough. You may get a buyer, but if you are buying onward and in the middle market (not a cheaper investment property with no chain or a much, much larger property where the owner is likely to have a second residence to move into), you’ll be like well over 80% of sellers who need to find a property to move into.

NOW is exactly when good high street agents earn their money. Putting a face and story to a name means that a good agent will start to chain build. Having a buyer in mind before you even visit a property to value and knowing that you also have a buyer in mind for their own. This comes with experience, knowledge of the industry and having the ability to be able to talk to people in a relaxed environment.

But what if I am going to go into rented? Unfortunately the rental market is just as lean as the sales market for quality property. You can see why some people stay put.

Like I’ve always said, marketing the property is the easy part but when the market gets a ‘little tougher’, that’s when your choice of agent could pay dividends or unfortunately leave you wanting.

It’s funny to think that being able to walk in to an office and speak to a professional and knowledgeable person is fast becoming a real point of difference when choosing who to market your home. But that is exactly what seems to be happening across the City.

This is and will continue to be a testing market, but likewise having been in the industry ourselves for over 4 decades, we have seen differing markets before. Good agency, chain building, clever and innovative ideas to sell houses and win instructions will be key. Being able to simply build rapport and a working relationship is just as important.

The upside for High Street agents like us here at Mansbridge Balment is exactly that…… buyers and sellers need a point of contact, a place to talk to an expert, discuss strategy and get an intelligent view from an Agent who thoroughly understands his or her patch.

Simply thinking that placing your property onto the internet will get you moving is now not enough. Talking to an agent face to face and explaining your requirements over a cup of tea could make all the difference.

Do you take sugar?

 

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Buy now – but pay later?

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I’ve been helping out in my aftersales department this week and I must say it’s massively strengthened what I already knew – that we are so lucky to have our own dedicated department to chase our sales. It’s no coincidence that so many of our glowing reviews on www.allagents.co.uk individually mention our fantastic members of staff.

Whilst it’s great to be voted ‘The best agent in Plymouth 2016’ by our customers on this Independent review site, little is known of the real turmoil that is starting to have an effect on the Industry.

Poor practice through estate agents and solicitors is nothing new of course but through my own Regional N.A.E.A role I was made aware a year ago of some concerns nationally over the impact that new, well publicised companies with National TV exposure and coverage were having on the industry.

The problem is not in losing potential property Instructions, but when these companies are involved in a property chain. I’ve talked previously about chains falling through because vendor’s time expectations are not being established from the outset and poor or non-existent financial checks. Those valid shortcomings aside, I’m seriously concerned at bad practice hurting the Industry that I, Mansbridge Balment and other likeminded companies in the City do so much to maintain high standards in.

What help to the industry is a central aftersales department who won’t answer the phones or a central email address that won’t reply to emails at any point along the sales process?

And why an earth would an ‘Estate agent’ want or need to speak to anyone in order to get a sale through to exchange and completion if they’d already been paid upfront?

It’s a sad state of affairs and something that both the National Association of Estate Agents and Local Industry Associations are keen to address. Similarly distressing is that I’ve been made aware of contracts signed by sellers being marketed with these companies that are not Industry standard ‘NO SALE, NO FEE’ estate agent terms of business – some say it is akin to a ‘Loan agreement’, effectively meaning the vendor is in debt whether or not the property achieves a buyer. This is of course not good for the seller and certainly not good for the industry as a whole.

Anyone who knows me or has read this blog knows that I love new ideas and fresh concepts. I openly encourage new ideas in the industry as without them we become stale and uninteresting to our potential customer base – so this is not about that. But in the cold light of day I work in an industry that despite every sinew of common sense shouting ‘we need regulation’ – it isn’t happening. And it won’t happen soon. Because of this I can seriously see agents in the not too distant future ‘turning away’ offers from buyers who have Sold stc but have properties involved in their chain with poorly run, national companies included.

Until the government puts the Estate Agency Industry sector as a high priority, self-regulation could possibly become the norm. If this is the case you’ll certainly be reading more about agents and buyers favouring sellers who have sold with more traditional agents. Agents you can speak to and who want, and need, to see the sale through to completion. Agents who want repeat business and want to build lasting relationships.

Everyone is open to choosing who they want to sell their home through and as long as you are aware what you are getting into then fine, I wish you luck.

Just remember that if you ‘Buy now’ you sometimes don’t pay until much later – but you will pay.

Let’s hope that in time it’s the industry that doesn’t end up counting the real cost.

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get. Even the Victorians knew that!

You can learn a lot from the past. Not far from my City Centre Office is a wealth of Victorian architecture and along with the common acceptance that the age created the foundations for ‘Modern Britain’, the Victorians seemed to have it ‘licked’ when it came to the meaning of ‘Value’.

For me, one of the most prominent social thinkers of the time, John Ruskin, captured it beautifully when he stated –

“It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”

Don’t get me wrong, there will always be a place for ‘cheap’ in the world. Businesses like the Pound Shop or similarly named are successful because they offer what they promote – cheap goods. Buyers rarely visit to purchase something that has a long life, is of the highest quality or something that could be given as a special gift. Unfortunately in other business fields there is often a big difference in what you get, compared with what you expected to get – and it’s rarely positive.

A friend of mine recently chose a local garage to fix their car. Phoning around for quotes they went for the second cheapest. What should’ve been a simple job became a long and complicated one, where lack of expertise and knowledge ended up costing him far more money (and perhaps more importantly time). My friend is not a fool but ended up feeling like one. He’ll say it himself that he knew that it was a gamble and if the original garage had been capable of doing the work agreed, to the correct timescale and pricing, he would’ve saved some money. Unfortunately it very rarely works out this way of course.

The same could be said of selling your own property (usually your biggest asset) and making sure you get the right agent from the outset. With so many agents claiming to offer ‘everything’, often there isn’t a clear picture on perceived value for what you pay.

I’ve spoken about it in a previous post but both locally and nationally in the Estate Agency Industry it is something that perhaps needs greater clarification.

A low fee may initially be enticing but that’s usually because there are a smaller number of people (1 or 2?) to pay a wage to. Even the most capable people in the industry cannot answer the phone whilst undertaking a viewing, valuing a property, chasing solicitors, giving a vendor a marketing update, answering phone calls, replying to email and website leads, booking viewings, valuations, 7 days a week etc, etc – you get the picture.

“If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”

You can learn a lot from the past.

I don’t want to market every property.

There, I’ve said it. It’s a bit of a statement I know – in a world where every estate agent will tell you that they ‘want’ your property (without even knowing about you, your property, your own needs and your own timescales).

Sometimes it takes experience to say, NO. Perhaps the prospective seller does not ‘value’ the extra services a company like Mansbridge Balment offers and simply wants the lowest fee, the vendors expectations on price are too high or on odd occasions we feel that we simply could not work together with the vendor – sometimes the right decision for both parties is to not get involved in a ‘partnership’ at all.

And that’s what selling a home is – a ‘partnership’ – one where the Seller does their part and the Estate Agent does theirs. A lot of people forget that.

When I first started out valuing property for a different company (many years ago) I was told about the 3 point triangle rule – (1) Great property at the right price 2) Realistic vendors 3) Good fee for the services the company offers). As a valuer if you could get two out of the three points ticked, then you took the instruction.

It seemed a simple premise to begin with but actually, my early days as a valuer came with it a lot of pressure to win a listing and I’ll be honest enough to say that I took on a few properties that I should’ve steered clear of. Hindsight and experience now shows that it would’ve been so much better and easier, to stay truer to those three points. I can blame some of my early mistakes on enthusiasm of course but those three key valuing points are perhaps more strongly relevant than ever.

As I write, the market is property scarce, meaning the possibility that properties try over optimistic prices just because there are more buyers out there. But buyers are not stupid. Many of these properties linger on the market jumping from one agent to the next until someone stands up and says what is wrong with the property or owner mindset.

It’s a massive generalisation of course, but the people who successfully achieve a sale on their own property to good timescales are those who are straightforward and easy to deal with, those that have honestly looked at pricing and made their own property competitive and those that know the difference between what they pay and what they get.

This is the same if the property is niche or difficult to sell because of its situation, design etc. Most negativity against estate agents is due to having the wrong advice from the outset and subsequently the ‘relationship’ turning sour. In many instances an individual / company have not delivered on what they promised. For myself and other Independent Full Service Estate Agents like us here at Mansbridge Balment, being truthful from the outset is the key to success. Sticking to your own knowledge, experience, comparable Sold properties and ‘common sense’ can mean ‘trust’ is built from the outset and we can get the right price, from the right buyer to the right timescales.

Experience shows that we don’t want every property and we don’t want to ‘help’ everyone. We can then use all our focus on those sellers who see value in what we do when we ‘go above and beyond’ selling their home.

It’s a selling ‘partnership’ with honesty from the outset. It’s Mansbridge Balment.

When is an ‘Estate Agent’ not an ‘Estate Agent’?

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I’m going to perhaps surprise you. Being an ‘Estate Agent’ is not just about advertising your property and getting someone to offer the right price.

Just 2 years after we opened in Plymouth in 2004, 7500 Estate Agents sold 1.8 million houses nationally. In 2015, the number of agents had boomed to 18000 ‘Agents’ selling the lower figure of 1.2 million houses. Out of those properties Sold in 2015, statistically 95% of houses were sold by a ‘FULL SERVICE HIGH STREET ESTATE AGENT’ like ourselves.

I was speaking to a one such agent the other day about emails coming through on the internet from websites such as Rightmove.co.uk. He had actually been able to drill down information to such an extent that he could state that well over 75% of people that emailed about a specific property – ended up buying a different property with his company.

This is not only a testament to having the right amount of trained staff to be able to ‘sell’ a better suited alternative property, but for me, yet another key indicator of the INCREASINGLY WIDER GAP that is happening within the Industry itself.

You can’t seem to go a couple of weeks without seeing another ‘Agent’ opening up in the City these days. Being established in Plymouth ourselves for almost 15 years, we know how hard it is to be a successful independent business and I don’t have a problem with a new company opening. My irk however is often in the majority of those new companies using the words ‘ESTATE AGENT’, when clearly ‘Sales Agent’ or ‘Advertising Agent’ would be a far clearer reflection of what many offer?

Of course, if you are not offering the FULL SERVICE you should not be paying FULL PRICE – so I understand people choosing to go with low-fee agents. But when they purport to be the same as every other offering it is totally mis-leading. Many have no experienced staff to answer the phone, no knowledge of the local market, no after-sales team in-house you can speak to or visit, No financial and chain checking, no care, no attention, no customer service – no clue..

Whilst many sellers will be happy with what they’ve got for a seemingly low fee (and acceptance that the customer service bar was set at a low level to start off with) – classing differing levels of service etc under the same ‘ESTATE AGENCY’ banner, causes confusion to the general public and dare I say, is a threat against those agents offering the FULL ESTATE AGENCY SERVICE – career ‘ESTATE AGENTS’ like ourselves here at Mansbridge Balment and others in the City.

So, let’s be honest about this. Advertising your property for sale and gaining interest, even an acceptable offer, does not make you an Estate Agent. It is about so much more and all ‘ESTATE AGENTS’ are not the same.

If you are thinking of moving make sure you really delve into the detail of what an agent does for the fee you pay. You’ll find out that not only are there are some strikingly different offerings out there – you’ll also find out that you get what you pay for too.

The experience to listen

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There is a real difference between ‘getting a sale’ and ‘negotiating a sale’.

 

Last week I met a couple in their late twenties who were planning for the next exciting period in their life. Before I talked about their own property I listened patiently, answering when needed and finding out all about their plans and how their next move needed to fit around timescales and exacting requirements. A day later I heard from them that they wanted us to market their home because we were the only company that they had out to value who they felt genuinely listened to what they wanted to buy and what type of purchaser they wanted themselves.

 

I’ve spoken recently in the Plymouth Property News about the difference between estate agents who list and those who actually want to move people. Yesterday I read a quote which typified why on this occasion I believe I was successful.

 

‘Most people think selling is the same as talking. But the most effective salespeople know that listening is the most important part of their job.’

 

The main objective of an estate agent is a simple one – you have to achieve the best price for your vendor. This is ONLY done by; 1) thoroughly testing the market. This means all avenues are covered through extensive marketing and 2) An understanding that you need a high level of SKILL in order to negotiate the best value for your client, and not just ‘make a sale’.

 

Often the most important people in an estate agency are not the ‘Directors’, ‘Managers’ or ‘Valuers’ but the people who create opportunities – the ‘Sales Negotiators’. When this position is not suitably filled with an experienced member of staff, I witness ‘negotiators’ who cannot negotiate, deals that cannot be made and most importantly the vendor and buyer not being listened to.

 

Speaking from my own viewpoint, I’ve witnessed many opportunities being created by our own ‘Negotiators’ out on viewings and in the office, simply by having the experience to listen, ask the right questions and build trust.

Coupled with giving the right marketing advice to the vendors from the outset, listening and understanding sellers and buyers needs in particular, are so important and key to achieving the best result and sale price.

So far this year we have seen real success with ‘old fashioned estate agency’. Simply having enough staff to get on the phone, to actually talk to people about vendors property (often before it is even advertised) and listen to buyer’s needs. It has enabled companies like Mansbridge Balment Plymouth to get the right price from the right buyers, time and time again.

 

Unfortunately as an industry, both locally and nationally, there are more and more people leaving the Estate Agency world. This is a by-product of the amount of properties selling falling year on year nationally, and salary levels made substantially from commission not being achievable for many agents. With this in mind, experience at the important introductory level of ‘Negotiator’ is lost and often filled with people with little or no experience of the industry and the art of negotiation itself.

 

There is a real difference between ‘getting a sale’ and ‘negotiating a sale’ – make sure you choose the experienced estate agent who listens enough to know what the difference is.

Is your estate agent an Advertiser or a Mover?

I had an interesting chat this morning with a seller on with another agent in the City about the changing state of Estate Agency and their own property sale. As well as agreeing that I needed to visit his own home to get his sale on the right track, he ended our conversation with the acceptance that before he started to sell his home he didn’t know that there were companies who just ‘advertise’ and companies who want to work together with the owner to enable them to ‘move’.

It got me thinking. Just yesterday I visited a property where the previous agent called in to value had left some lovely graphs and pie charts based on who had gained the most instructions in that postcode throughout 2016. On first glance it made good reading for that particular company as they had by far and away the market share of listings in the area. They very kindly left on all the instruction numbers from other agents too. Because of our own particularly wide area coverage, Mansbridge Balment Plymouth were about number 5 on the list.

When you delved into the figures a bit deeper however and looked at percentages of properties Sold against properties listed, it was clearly evident that actually we were at the very top in selling 85% of properties that we had taken on – whereas the other agent had listed 3 times as many but only sold 40%.

This begs the question…Who would you choose? An agent who lists the most or an agent who sells more of what it lists?

The industry is changing. I’ve thought for a long time that there is becoming a much clearer difference and split in the industry than simply ‘online’ v ‘traditional’.

For many years there have been companies who have paid a valuer for every property they list (advertise) and for many ‘corporate owned’ businesses they do this because they take a view that the industry is based on numbers and it forms a key part of their business model. Others like ourselves (typically Independent Estate Agents) do not pay our valuers per listing. It is important to get property onto the market but it is more important to get the property at the right price and offer the correct route to market for the seller to enable them to move.

One of the reasons for choosing an Independent Estate Agency is, that our main reason is to get you moved. It’s how we make our money. It’s what pays our staff and running costs. It’s what makes business viable.

I believe that the choice in estate agency is not now ‘online’ versus ‘traditional’ but between choosing a company who will just advertise your property and those who want to move you and your property.

The ‘Advertising’ Estate Agency will make more from the associated ‘add-ons’ of mortgages, solicitors and insurance from new buyers and sellers etc than they ever do from selling property. In my experience, valuers who are paid to List (Advertise) a property are more likely to recommend an over optimistic price and sometimes an incorrect route to market to win the listing. Because of this it could be argued that the Estate agency itself has a focus that isn’t simply on moving people but on advertising the property – selling is often a welcome by-product but not its main focus.

The Estate Agency who is not paid per listing typically thinks about every aspect of the Moving Process, giving the best advice and route to market and also in my experience giving a more accurate price because moving the seller is its number 1 focus.

Will you choose the Retail model or the Moving model? The agent who lists the most properties or the agent who sells more of the properties it lists?

I know who I’d choose.