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December 2008 / January 2009

Wanted — a one-legged ballerina!

...How to ensure clients will believe you are an honest estate agent..o

DAVID PERKINS offers another
timely lesson from the past...

HAS this been the worst year ever for estate agents? Within living memory, I guess so. However, estate agents have been around for quite a while.

A recent TV programme mentioned Pompeii and the various discoveries still coming to light in that once-so-prosperous Roman city. Apparently, they have identified one shop in a high street location which was an estate agency!

But as we all know, estate agents are nothing if not gregarious: they love to cluster wherever the planners will allow the necessary consents.

You will recognise the street: it’s the one with all those new voids! If I am right, I imagine they will soon be digging up a few more from under the lava!

Of course, their businesses also came to a truly abrupt and fiery end. That was in AD79, by which time the city was already very old as it was first developed by the Etruscans in the 8th Century BC.

However, by the 5th Century BC, the Saminites had evicted the Etruscans and turned Pompeii into a Greek city, which would no doubt have had a quota of estate agents.

In fact, quite a lot is known about the Greek estate agents who ran Athens at around that time and I sure some of the brighter boys would have had their overseas branches.

They also had a form of Property Misdescriptions Act. Anyone caught misleading the hoi polloi risked instantly being put to death in public – no OFT warning notices! Mind you, I have met some people who think a fast death would be too good for us.

My recent articles have adopted a ‘back to basics’ theme which has seemed popular, so this month I thought I would look briefly at something I am sure the Greeks and Romans would have done.

As far as I know, they did not have telephones but they did publish property particulars as copies have been found.

No photos, though, so the applicants would have had to go and inspect the desirable villas accompanied, presumably, by a sales negotiator in one of the firm’s chariots.

In an earlier piece, I remarked that if we were not Andrews’ most profitable office back in the days when I was with them, we were most likely to have been beaten by Eastbourne — and Eastbourne’s secret was accompanied viewing.

The branch, then in Gildredge Road, was right opposite the railway station, then the place to be for any estate agency network ‘growing places’.

Look how Mann & Co built its business on all routes into Waterloo; Connells through Buckinghamshire and into Marylebone; and Bairstow Eves in Essex fanning out from Liverpool Street.

Not only was Andrews already a familiar name for Londoners but every serious applicant would be picked up by company chariot straight off their train and taken around the houses for the day.

This technique they had off to a fine art while the applicants never got near any other agency.
The staff knew where to go, which streets to avoid, and what to show them.

The chat in the car soon gave guidance as to what the couple really wanted. After the first two or three visits an astute negotiator often knew what they were going to buy.

They were then shown the best available property prior to lunch followed by something less suitable immediately afterwards – just to reinforce their wise choice.

Once it was all sorted, and they had paid a deposit, the couple would be put onto their train back home. Many would have exchanged contracts before their next visit!

Not only did this success mean that Andrews had a large share of the local market with plentiful direct instructions, but they were totally trusted by the other firms and could show any other agent’s property if a rival ‘for sale’ board had attracted attention.

Any resulting half-sale was always honoured implicitly.

I have just mentioned a deposit and many of you will have heard me lament the demise of deposits as they were such a useful tool.

Not only did buyers stick once they had parted with real money but sellers were also reassured and would happily take their property off the market.

Then, if the buyers had a change of mind they’d be in for their money straight away. No stalling an agent along for weeks when they had no real intention of ever exchanging contracts and were probably buying something else completely!

What killed deposits, unfortunately – and it was never our intention – was the Estate Agents Act Accounts Regulations which required official receipts, separate clients’ accounts, and auditors’ reports, etc.

Okay, as a consumer protection measure a degree of bureaucracy had became inevitable, but it is still a shame.

That said, my branches went on taking deposits long after most other agents had given up and our lower cancellation rates reflected this. However, the Eastbourne manager was so strict he would not even report a sale to Head Office unless he had taken a deposit, or contracts were already exchanged. As a result of their skill at accompanied viewings and deposit taking, his cancellation rates were ridiculously low and his branch profit ridiculously high.

So what I am driving at? Well, I mentioned quite recently that this is the way North American Realtors operate. Once they have identified a serious applicant they latch on to them like glue until they have signed on a dotted line.

Over there, they hate staying in the office – floor duty as it is called. They have a rota showing when it is their turn to mind the shop. This is seen as dead time so some buy their way out. Nobody sells by telephone — and nobody ever comes in either.

Presently, while quality applicants are decidedly less plentiful, it might be an opportunity to try a bit more personal selling and accompanying the few buyers who have little option but to buy something. I nearly said ‘ideal opportunity’ but that might be a bit extreme!

It is too easy to rely on particulars (paper and, increasingly, electronic) forgetting that particulars do not sell houses.

I am convinced that the more photographs you use, the less effective those particulars become! A picture can create a ‘no-no’ so quickly: put in enough and everyone could find an excuse to give it a miss!

You have all sold houses to people who have not seen the particulars. And when you have accompanied people around a few houses you will have read the body language and picked up a few vibes and probably know pretty well what they are going to like and to buy.

If you have got it already, great! If not, get hold of it fast before they find that very property but through another agent!

To be successful you need two supply lines – qualified applicants who must buy and suitable property belonging to people who are desperate to sell. Both are out there, even now.

One tried and tested way to pick up property is still a ‘Wanted Advertisement’ where there are two firm rules which must be followed.

Firstly, all the individuals you feature must be genuine and, secondly, they must have agreed to your publicising their requirements in this way.

For some reason, people do not trust estate agency publicity so you must never do anything which appears to justify their judgement.

This comment is most critical in relation to wanted advertisements where nobody believes them, full stop!

Hence my insistence that every one of them must be 100 per cent genuine in every particular and I have devised a special form for this purpose which the applicants in question have to read, complete and sign.

You must have enough applicants – even in this market – to find one or two who are genuine would-be buyers.

If you know what they want, where and why, and have a clear idea how much they can afford you are on your way. My next rule: the more unusual their personal story the better.

Our brilliant advertising guru taught me this trick years ago – things like: ‘Must have off-street parking’ may work but it pays to be a bit different.

Successful headlines I still remember include: ‘Can’t stand double glazing!’; ‘Must house two grand pianos’; and the classic ‘One-legged retired ballerina needs a bungalow’. Then be as specific as you can.

That said, however specific you are, you’ll be amazed at the replies you will get — as daft as: “It says it must be a bungalow, but do you think your dancer might consider our three-storey town house?”.

Do not say ‘No’ over the phone, always say ‘Maybe’ and go see them.

Once there, there will be time enough to explain why not and with luck you’ll still get the instructions.

It is as though the reply to that wanted advertisement was merely an excuse for their call.

However, assuming any property is remotely suitable, you must, must, must produce the featured individual!

This is so critical that you must lay it on the line with the applicant at the outset.

“I will find you the property you want on one condition: when I ring you up and say ‘please come and look at this’, you come, regardless – my professional credibility will be on the line!”
I made the point about people not believing estate agents.

Even if the house is miles away from what they are after – as your ballerina hobbles in they will realise you were telling the truth!

From now on, the owners will believe you to be an honest estate agent: they may even accept your current valuation! But there again, perhaps not.

Happy Christmas!s

Contact David Perkins at
PO Box 333, Carterton,
Oxon, OX18 3WZ,
on 0870 350 1865 or at: