OPINION: Is Post Covid the ideal time for estate agents to fix a breaking business model?

Much of my time since founding Viewber has been spent delicately ‘suggesting’ that agents could service their consumers more effectively and cheaper whilst employing fewer staff.

Covid has applied a sledgehammer so, if there was ever a time to see if you really can do more with less, it’s now or never.

For aeons estate agents have had a monopoly on selling homes and most still use exactly the same business model.

Spend money up front, get the phones ringing, convert instruction leads, sell and then on to the next – for most agents the same staff carry out all those varying tasks.

Foxtons first bucked the trend back in the 80s.

I used to tell anyone who was thinking of using them to buy a pay as you go mobile and when finished, chuck in bin, otherwise you’ll be receiving a call from someone in Chiswick every couple of months for the rest of your life. Annoying but it worked.

Staff are STILL notoriously bad at working their database, just one example of the dichotomy at the heart of the existing business model.

A one size fits all approach to staff who may only be good at one thing but are expected to do all of them.

Most negs hate cold calling [who doesn’t?], but love getting in the car and getting out to show homes.

Some are hopeless at cross selling or getting offers, others dislike chasing admin paperwork once a deal is agreed.

Yet the fixed cost model agents use is still predicated on these negs being able to do all of the above.

Again, Foxtons were the first to take valuers out of the usual model and again it paid dividends.

The good news is that many of the constituent parts of the process can efficiently be handled by mature tech solutions.

Prospecting your database, getting data, keeping in touch with prospects, progressing sales, showing your properties – all can be sensibly and reliably done as and when they’re needed, not paid for year round as part of a substantial fixed cost.

It won’t have escaped your notice that two things left out above are the actual winning of an instruction and the soliciting of offers.

These need sensitive human interaction to be truly in the best interests of the client – in this case the seller.

I’m a career estate agent but am increasingly frustrated that the win/win opportunities to improve the customer experience for less money is staring most in the face.

Post Covid, with the fixed cost being forcibly removed – however unbearable that is, it must present many agents with the best opportunity to modernise they’ve ever had.

Ed Mead is co-founder of outsourced viewings service Viewber

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  1. Ric

    Shame we are all about “getting rid of people”… soon we will be telling vendors, buyers are not buying because they are being replaced with Tech and have no income… We could give them examples of the 2 people we just made redundant to replace them with a button or timer.

    Personally… Humans ALL the way.

    I believe COVID has changed how we should work, possible even where some staff should work from, but it has also definitely highlighted people CRAVE human interaction.

    Since mid March, it has felt like being a proper Estate Agent again… I think the reset button has worked in the favour of the hug people model, and go that extra mile ensuring your clients knew it was a human who made it happen.


    1. ARC

      I read it that rather than have less staff, have staff that are deployed in their most effective guise through specialisation, facilitated by Viewber picking up some of the slack.  
      Is that the gist, Ed?

      1. Ed Mead

        Well noticed ARC – thanks for reading all of it. ‘Staffing up’ to cover viewings simply doesn’t make sense and is not the best use of staff. Many companies use viewing staff, Viewber is just a freelance pay as you go version of the same thing where you book a person who lives locally, knows the area, is likely to be ex property and has access to a Sprift report – these days you miss a viewing and buyer is on to the next, how many times do you have to say no? If agents genuinely feel that they want their offices full of door openers [the public have repeatedly told us they just want to get in, hate being told no and genuinely don’t care if it’s an agent or a Viewber – indeed whisper this but most would rather it wasn’t an agent – see Iain White’s recent review], rather than well paid and motivated staff who can win listings from the database and sofa, and negotiate and close deals then many won’t be around for long. Something has to give and it’s fairly obvious to me what that is.

        1. Ric

          whilst employing fewer staff.

    2. Mothers Ruin

      I have to admit it’s been years (decades) since I’ve done everything myself and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’m exhausted and looking forward to the last of my staff coming back but lockdown has given me a new lease of life and it’s taken me right back to 30 years ago when I was working on the ground when I’d say ‘how about I show you round right now’. My business model is more likely to go the other way. I’ll do more viewings myself and outsource my VAT return and other non-income generating activities that many business owners do themselves.

  2. Property Pundit

    Agree with Ric but I’d go further and say I just don’t get agents using outsourced viewings. If you’re getting swamped with viewing requests, staff up in house.

    1. Ric

      100% agree… PropertyPundit… sending staff who will see the deal from start to finish and have a genuine local knowledge and interest.

      I personally don’t think you can grow a business and serve clients well with less staff. Makes no sense to me.

      I am trying desperately to get the teams to make sure the obvious viewers and buyers for new stock hear it from a voice before seeing it online or getting the match out… just in the small hope when they come to sell, they will remember we called them, they didn’t buy it via the portal.

      As for tech, for me it is about making some of the tasks they must do easier, so arranging viewings, or confirming matters in writing take seconds rather than minutes.

      But the core job of making people respect your brand must be lead by humans. (everyone can mail shot, text, video call…) being different seems to be speaking to people now… and I love this, having teams who have a natural ability to shine.



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