Foxtons looked for direction after becoming ‘a big flabby corporate’, says interim CEO

Peter Rollings

Well-known estate agent Peter Rollings, former managing director of Foxtons, from 1997 to 2005, before becoming chief executive officer of Marsh & Parsons in 2005, remaining in that position until 2016, is now back at Foxtons as interim CEO.

Having rejoined Foxtons – as a non-executive director – earlier this year, Rollings has reflected on what went wrong at Foxtons in recent years, sharing some useful tips and experiences for estate agents along the way. 

Speaking on The Guild of Property Professionals’ Home Stretch podcast, Rollings discussed his journey in estate agency and the ethos behind Foxtons.

Providing a brief history of his career, Rollings says that he cut his teeth in estate agency at business called Lane Fox & Partners, a London based estate agent that sold country properties. From there he joined Foxtons Fulham as a negotiator in 1985 when they had just launched zero percent. The campaign led to them gaining 370 instructions in just three months. Rollings rose within the business as it grew, being appointed as the Managing Director in 1997.

“During that time, we grew the business and focused on doing things our own way, very differently to most other estate agents. While we loosened our opening hours a bit from the previous 9am to 9pm, seven days a week schedule, we were still open longer than most and worked extremely hard, which meant we were able to keep our fees high, something we still do. Our average fee is 2.38% across our 61 London offices,” said Rollings.

In 2005, Rollings left Foxtons and together with a partner bought Marsh & Parsons. The business was sold in 2011, with Rollings exiting the business in 2016.

He commented: “After a stint investing in and working with a few smaller businesses and a couple of non-executive directorships, last December I was asked to sit on the Foxtons board as an NED. I believe that every estate agency board should have a practitioner on it, someone who has sold or let properties and understands the business from the ground up.

“I was excited by the prospect because I felt that the brand had lost its identity and being on the board would give me an opportunity to help turn it around. In my view it had become a big flabby corporate that had lost its sense of why it is in business, which is to provide a great service and, bluntly, to get more money than anybody else could for our clients – that is our job and that is why we charge a premium fee.

“Whether we are able to do that or not is totally reliant on the business strategy, the people we employ, remuneration, training, marketing and an unshakeable belief that we’re better than the competition.”

While Rollings is currently the interim CEO of Foxtons, part of his role was to find the person who would take over the role.

He added: “We hunted for a new CEO, and over my tenure with Foxtons I have probably employed most estate agents in London at various times in their lives!  We identified Guy Gittins as the perfect choice. He has previously worked at Foxtons for a number of years and understands us and our culture, furthermore, he has been hugely successful at Chestertons, so he has a fabulous all-round view of not only Foxtons, but other businesses as well. He can bring all this experience together to rebuild the modern-day Foxtons.”

Foxtons is renowned for charging higher than average estate agency fees, but is that model sustainable as the market gets tougher?

Rollings commented: “We turn down quite a lot of stock. In a good market, it is difficult. It is in a tougher market that we really earn our stripes and grow. So, as we head into what we expect will be a somewhat tougher market for the next few months or year, I fully expect that we will grow market share.

“In terms of stock, we are the biggest agent in London, but whilst we have a lot of high-end stock [over 200 in excess of £2m] our ‘sweet spot’ is the mid-market in most areas we cover. We do ‘fee match’ at those higher levels, but our average sale price across London is £580,000, which in London is comparatively low.

“However, £580,000 at 2.5% to 3% is like most other agents selling £1.5m houses at 1% – that is the key. If you reduce your fee from, say, 2% to 1.5%, you have to sell 33% more properties just to stand still in a market that doesn’t hold more stock, so why bother. It is about sticking to your guns, fighting for the fee, and showing why you deserve it.”

To help ensure that standards are maintained throughout the business, Rollings said that Foxtons has area directors covering eight to ten offices, both in lettings and sales.

He continued: “Lettings is a magnificent business and in fact, we have just had three consecutive record lettings weeks, which is significant considering we have been in lettings for 30 years. While lettings and sales are equally important to us, we have been more focused on lettings more recently and it has produced some incredible results for the business.”

Rollings concluded by advising independent estate agents to consider joining a mentorship group, where agents can share ideas and learn from each.

He added: “Ddo not over complicate your business, which is what was happening at Foxtons. Essentially, estate agency is a simple business and is about doing the right things brilliantly. Call people back, charge a proper fee, show your worth, send the best people out to valuations, ensure your marketing is smart and stands out from the crowd, and try to do things differently from competitor agents. The key when doing the tasks, is a relentless attention to detail,” he concludes.

Listen to the interview on The Home Stretch Podcast.

 

Homesearch EOS
x

Email the story to a friend



3 Comments

  1. 40yearvetran08

    Peter Rollings is a legend. He has hit the nail on the head when he says that every estate agency board should have a practitioner on it. When he ran Marsh & Parsons it must have been apparent that being controlled by the LSL board, which does not include anyone with an agency background, was constricting the business and particularly growth. Agency goes up an down, it always will do. When times are tough you need to look at the quality of your front line staff and make sure you employ the best you can. You need to put your arms around them and make them feel wanted not cut numbers and offices to cut costs. Accountants just do not understand estate agency, the result is they mess up good businesses. Marsh & Parsons is a classic example, it is in disarray because the bean counters will not spend the money to put it right . Perhaps Peter could move on there after Foxtons? Whatever happens LSL need an estate agent on the board, unless they have already decided financial services is what they want to do, sounds a bit of a repeat of Prudential etc.

    Report
  2. mo1597

    I still can’t understand how Foxtons can justify the fee they charge. What’s more shocking is that there are people out there paying more than double for a job that a local agent can do far better and with a lot more personal customer service for less than half that price.

    Report
    1. Retiredandrelaxed

      The fact that people are prepared to pay Foxton’s fees, rather than instruct a lower fee, local agent, does suggest that Foxton’s people are better at convincing potential customers that Foxtons are worth their fee. Being cynical, it does’t matter whether Foxtons actually are worth more, what matters (in terms of wining the instruction) is that the Foxtons people are better trained and motivated to convince the customer than the other agents.

       

      No disrespect intended, mo1597, but it might be more of a reflection on the other, local agents than on Foxtons

      Report
X

You must be logged in to report this comment!

Comments are closed.

Thank you for signing up to our newsletter, we have sent you an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Additionally if you would like to create a free EYE account which allows you to comment on news stories and manage your email subscriptions please enter a password below.