A new franchising business is to launch in the next few weeks, called Belong.
It is the brainchild of a career estate agent, James White, who believes it is the right time to launch.
He says he has zero interest in disrupting the industry, but does point out that medium to large agents seem to be struggling with high overheads, and that online agents have huge advertising bills.
“I don’t want to re-invent the profession,” he emphasises. He does however feel that the time is ripe for a franchise model offering a fuller than usual service to customers, and higher than usual fees.
Notably, it is the property franchise companies that have recently delivered the strongest results and which are still in growth mode.
White started in the industry as a 16-year-old school-leaver and rose to become a partner, for 15 years, at a well known brand.
After leaving the business, he took time out to travel, write some children’s books and do a degree.
White launched Belong in spring 2016, and is now keen to take the concept national, by franchising.
He currently offers the choice between a full service – called a concierge service – and a cheaper ‘retail’ service which offers savings for sellers wanting to handle some parts of the transaction themselves.
However, only the more expensive service will be offered in future, as vendors have shown themselves uninterested in the ‘pick and mix’ retail option.
White said: “We have found that by offering a full service with almost all of our viewings being accompanied by us, we are able to attain higher fees.
“The brand attracts busy middle market clients, so we don’t spend a lot of time running around after low fee level properties.
“Our concierge service is the one selected by almost all of our clients.
“The retail service has not proved popular, so we are dropping this when our new website is launched in a few weeks’ time.
“We use 3D virtual reality to display our houses, have our own YouTube channel and promote houses using individual paid-for social media campaigns which drive thousands of clicks through to our website monthly.
“As far as we can judge, the public like our unique style, and in particular it is attractive to the middle market which is what we were hoping for.”
White said: “We hope to appeal to professional minded estate agents who are frustrated with corporate life – those who would like to strike out on their own, but perhaps don’t have the vision or confidence to make the first step.
“We are hopeful that the brand will appeal to both women and men who want to provide a full service offering; however, we realise that women are under-represented at boardroom level in corporate estate agency, and this may be an appealing brand to them.”
White’s concept emphasises experience. He said: “In the first instance we will not be making any up-front charges to our early adopters, but they must be from an experienced agency background and be able to demonstrate their commitment to professionalism, honesty and integrity.
“An industry qualification would be a significant advantage.
“Franchisees really will be able to call their own shots with the ability to choose their offering and fee levels.
“A monthly franchise fee will be payable once they are established.
“In return we will provide a range of services including training, compliance, marketing support and genuine guidance.
“We have no intention to disrupt or re-invent a profession; we would simply like to share our brand with well-meaning agency professionals.
“We envisage the brand appealing to anyone looking to work from home, serviced offices or the high street.”