I’ll be honest.
Earlier this year, when Peter Knight gathered a select group together and announced his intention to launch the Best Estate Agent Guide, I was sceptical that he’d pull it off. The sheer scale of the undertaking sounded unbelievably daunting. Might he have bitten off more than he could chew?
Thirty thousand ‘mystery shops’ later, and with the co-operation of Rightmove, the job is done. And Peter and his team have pulled it off.
On Friday the launch of the Guide took place at EA Masters 2017, a conference and black tie dinner where the top agents in the country, as identified in the Guide, came together for a day of high-quality speakers and an evening of celebrating achievement.
Not only has the Guide been published but also the Property Academy’s survey of sellers, landlords and tenants. There are many fascinating statistics to take from it and in the first session of the day Peter Knight outlined some of them: 10% of sellers who have not sold within six months are likely to change agent. If it goes beyond six months with no sale, 38% will change. As EYE noted a short while ago, the average sale fee is now just on 1% + VAT. Some 40% of landlords are paying less than 10% for a fully-managed let.
The survey gives the lie to several misconceptions that are held by quite a number of agents – if the comments on our pages are anything to go by.
Just 9% of vendors chose their agent because they offered the cheapest fee. A whopping 70% of potential vendors and landlords do not read online reviews. Of the 24% that said they do read reviews, 42% look at Google, 36% look at the agents’ own website, 11% look at Trustpilot and 7% look at allAgents.
Turning to the Best Agent Guide, Peter said it has three main aims. To be a reliable resource for consumers; to reward the good agents; and to raise standards within the industry. He clarified the role of Rightmove by categorically stating that RM has only supplied Property Academy with the results of analysis of its own data.
Property Academy has not been given direct access to that Rightmove data. Overall the RM data amounted to 25,000 agency branches, 1m properties, 3m transactions, 50m leads and a staggering 3bn property views.
I have long held the view that the two most over-used words in agency are ‘customer service’ and that far too many agents have not got a clue what they mean. I’m really sorry to have to say that the stats confirm it.
In the mystery shopping exercise the least good agents really shouldn’t be in business. As the story above says, 46% did not ask for the caller’s name, 50% did not take the caller’s telephone number, 65% did not ask for an email address. And, worst of all, 40% of web enquiries went unanswered. Is it really any wonder the public holds some of us in such low esteem?
With those abysmal examples of ‘customer service’ ringing in our ears it was time for Darren Shirlaw to take the stage and give us a mathemetician’s view of the economy and profitability of business. In a nutshell, Darren contends that under immutable laws of math the economy follows a cycle of 18-year boom followed (after a recession, I presume) by 14 years of flat-lining. At the moment we are on the tail end of a flat-line period and the economy should start to grow again from 2021 (Brexit permitting, I wondered).
You had to be there to understand Darren’s assertions that the profitability of growing an agency business could be predicted with total certainty based on the number of branches being operated. Suffice to say that if you have 1, 4 or 12 you are profitable. If you have 7 then you are less profitable than you should be.
I’ve heard the name ‘Josh Phegan’ bandied around many times but this was the first occasion on which I have heard him speak. It was interesting to hear the ‘guru’ of the Australian real estate industry, and his message of extracting full value from the lifetime of a customer was persuasive, especially in relation to mining old valuations. Phegan also strongly suggested that since the customer is not interested in the politics of the estate agency world, neither should be agents. “Don’t get involved in bickering about onliners, focus on the customer.”
I reflected that the pages of EYE would be a little less lively without a daily dose of bickering about onliners…
Matthew Syed gave a fascinating talk on ‘The Science of High Performance’. I did initially think that he was going to be so highbrow that most of what he said would go straight over my head but in fact it turned into one of the most compelling presentations of the day. His first-hand insights into how Dave Brailsford and Team Sky transformed the fortunes of British cycling were extraordinarily interesting and the revelation (again, first-hand) that Google spent time and a lot of money analysing the most effective shade of blue for links on a web page was fascinating. The differences between a fixed and growth mindset were highlighted with the example of James Dyson who went through 5,126 prototypes before finally launching the dual-cyclone vacuum cleaner.
After an intense morning session it was time for our delightful presenter, Gabby Logan, to call a halt for lunch and the 1,000 delegates vacated the vast conference hall in search of smoked salmon bagels, filled wraps, a variety of hot dishes and a selection of exquisite chocolate and lemon fancies. There was also time to visit the section of the hall where the exhibitors (or ‘supporters’ as they are described by Property Academy) were displaying their services, and to meet up with a considerable number of friends and acquaintances.
Into the afternoon session and Dean O’Brien, head of O’Brien Real Estate in Melbourne, Australia, gave us an insight into how he and his partner have grown the business from one office and four team members in 2010 to 20+ offices and over 300 team members today – and they are still expanding. The overwhelming message was the clarity of purpose in the organisation. Not just having a vision and a commendable set of values but making them intrinsic to everything that everyone in the organisation does, every day. It was not surprising to hear that Mr Phegan had a part in the immensely impressive business structuring.
Then came two truly fascinating presenters. Julian Treasure is a communications expert and is the author and presenter of one of the top 10 TED talks of all time. In a compelling 20 minutes he gave a superbly measured talk on how to handle face to face and public speaking.
I have done my fair share of the latter and I learned things I never knew. Julian was followed by an equally riveting speaker in the shape of hostage-negotiator Richard Mullender. When the preamble tells you that this man successfully negotiated with the Taliban in Afghanistan for the release of three UN workers it is time to pin your ears back and listen. And that is what Richard talked about – the art of really listening.
It was done with a lot of humour and not a little grim detail – like the fact that he and his team deal with about 150 potential suicides each year, and on average “we only lose one”.
The last speaker of the day usually pulls the shortest straw but a considerable proportion of the delegates stayed to hear Tamara Lohan MBE talk about how she and her husband founded and grew the global travel brand of ‘Mr & Mrs Smith’.
The message of “create intent in a customer, don’t just serve it” was an object lesson in how to build brand loyalty. She also emphasised the importance of using technology but at the same time ensuring it does not become “too much tech and not enough touch”.
This had actually been a recurring theme throughout the day and something nearly all the speakers alluded to. There was not a single ‘proptech’ presentation on the stage and the absence was striking. People were speaking of how the pendulum is swinging back towards real customer contact and more than one emphatically exhorted agents to simply “pick up the phone”. This was not meant to dismiss ‘proptech’ but simply to give a reminder that most proptech is an aid and a tool – it does not replace proper human contact.
The conference came to an end and every delegate I spoke to said they had been impressed with the breadth, quality and subject matter covered in the day. I take a fairly jaundiced view of these types of events but must say that this one was refreshing.
The speakers were first-class and gave truly memorable and useful talks which were practical and thought-provoking in equal measure. Hats off to Property Academy for creating such an engaging and lively programme.
After a couple of hours to change into best bib and tucker it was off to the gala dinner and an evening celebrating the winners of the Best Estate Agency awards.
Having had such an enjoyable day it was a considerable pleasure to find myself seated at ‘top table’ with the lovely Gabby Logan on one side and the equally lovely Sarah Kemp on the other.
Quite what I did to deserve that is beyond me. They probably felt much the same…
- The Rightmove link to some of the main presentations is here: http://hub.rightmove.co.uk/julian-treasure-speak-people-want-listen/