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Estate Agents Can Survive the Downturn

by Alison Feemantle

The housing market is unsettled at best and among the victims of the current property climate are Estate Agents. In March, the Times newspaper revealed that 80 agents had closed their doors in February of this year due to low sales volumes and the increased costs of running their business in the first place.

That would tend to indicate a gloomy outlook for Estate Agents as a whole as we enter the second quarter of the year but  Richard Murray from Eurolink technology limited – a market leading consultant to agents in the UK believes that if businesses are pro-active, they can deal with the current situation and stave off the threat of closure.

“The screws are tightening and estate agents who can’t run a tight ship are sadly diminishing,” Richard Murray warned.

“We are often called in to estate agencies to find solutions to cutting costs and increasing productivity and we find that simple changes can make a huge difference.“

As they continue to provide assistance to help agents thrive in the current market, Eurolink have issued a list of top ten tips for an efficient and cost effective property business.

1. Automation: Streamline your processes, in particular, the repetitive manual ones which take up valuable time that is better spent on negotiating and closing deals.

2. Setup a solid IT infrastructure: Ensure your systems are functional, reliable and easy to navigate and that staff are well trained in using them.

3. Maintain a dependable IT support network: Use a reputable IT support provider to ensure consistently quick access to data and to prevent being caught out when systems go down.

4. Keep staff knowledge up to date: Provide regular training sessions and news updates for staff, advising them of new legislation changes, local events and your key point of difference from local competitors, and how these might affect business practice and your varied client base.

5. Customer Relationship Management: Ensure that your software application can deliver all of the relevant contact information for every individual client you deal with. Understanding who the person is and what they mean to your business will ensure that all potential opportunities can be explored.

6. Integration: Utilise one software system for both estate and lettings work. This allows for the cross sharing of customer data, reduced data storage and is cost effective (you only pay for one license, one technical support team etc.)

7. Familiarity: Implement a software system that is familiar to your staff, as a complicated and unfamiliar interface will make adoption difficult. A product like the Veco-onesystem™ which appears similar to Microsoft Outlook allows for easy navigation and will mean staff take less time to embrace the latest and most innovative technology.

8. Organisation of data: A complete software solution allows your business to free itself from the restraints of filing cabinets and storage units and is also environmentally friendly.

9. Streamline customer communications: Link your network phone system to your software solution to enhance customer communications by delivering a fast and knowledgeable service.

10. Security: Store data in a secure software storage facility. Information can still be easily accessed by authorised staff, and access can be monitored.

By following these tips, Eurolink are confident that any agency can thrive through the harshest of market conditions.

“Your offering needs to provide more for less – that is, less cost to you, the business and less cost to the customer,” Richard Murray added.

“Innovative technology can improve business decision-making and, ultimately, customer service, which is one of the benefits of IT advances of the last few decades.”

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Internet Marketing for Estate Agents: Google Places

by James Cole

In my last article on internet marketing for estate agents I introduced PPC or Pay Per Click advertising using Google Adwords to put your business at the top of search results.

Today I’m going to be explaining how you can use Google Places to do the same thing – but for free!

The fundamental aim of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is building your website’s credibility in a way that Google sees fit to place it at the top of its search results for a given phrase.  For example if you are an Estate Agent in Knightsbridge and you think you’re customers are looking for estate agents on the web by typing in ‘estate agents in knightsbridge’ then you want to be top of the search results for that term – don’t you?

Luckily for small businesses Google has changed the way search results appear in recent years and we now see videos, news and other types of media streams within search results.  One introduction is Google Places – essentially the information about busiesses or places stored on Google Maps now finds its way into search results – and generally ABOVE natural search results for ‘localised’ searches (like ‘estate agents in Knightsbridge‘).

Google positions business listings for google places high in search results

Click the image above to view full size

So a Google Places entry can put you at or near the top of search results and help clients find your website in this way.  But Google Places results will display a number of estate agents in your area, and you want to be top!

Here we go again – more optimisation to get to the top of search results.  Read on to find out how (it’s easy).

Firstly – do you have a Google Local listing?  If not create one here.  If you do, have you claimed it?  This means you identify yourself as a representative of the business so you can edit the listing.

Second, add information to your Google Places business listing.  This will not only help Google decide to place your business higher in the search results but it will increase the number of visits from customers who instinctively click the business listings with more information.  The more photos and videos (yes videos) the better.

Third, reviews.  Yes its a dirty word in many quarters and many business owners shudder at the thought of disgruntled customers (yes at some point every business will have one) ranting about a poor experience online.  But you have lots of contented customers too – right?  Why not ask them politely if they’d submit a positive review of the experience and let other potential customers read about how great your service is?

I hope you enjoyed this basic introduction to Google Places, of course there is more to it than this but for now – go and claim your listing and add information!

To join my private email list to receive SEO tips for estate agents by email (not published on this blog) send me an email using the contact form entitled ‘Estate Agent SEO Tips please’.

Or, use the ‘subscribe by email link below’ to receive articles from this blog by email.

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A Typical Day in the Life of an Estate Agent

by Sarah Halloran

If you are just starting out in your career or thinking of a career change, becoming an estate agent could be for you.  It’s unfortunate that some individuals have given the profession a bad name, and indeed the large majority of estate agents today are honest, hardworking, and ambitious to learn more about their industry and how they can help their customers more.

Before we talk about a typical life in the day of an estate agent, it’s important to know there is never a typical day, and this can make the role exciting, challenging, and perfect for somebody stuck in a rut and bored with their current job.  If you are serious about a job as an estate agent, property negotiator or lettings agent then why not pop across to our Property Jobs board to find some inspiration and browse hundreds of jobs across the UK.  You could find a local role that’ll take you out of the daily humdrum and push you into the exciting world of property negotiation!

Okay, let’s take a look at the role in a little more detail…

Getting the Day Started

Your working day will probably start off in the office where your start time will usually between 8.30am and 9.00am.  A morning meeting is usually held first thing to kick the day off, discuss new properties, give updates on existing listings and transactions, and talk about any other business that anybody wants to discuss.  Once the meeting has finished, your day as an estate agent will commence!

Playing Catch Up

A lot can happen in a day and you’ll be spending a large amount of your time on the phone catching up with a variety of people.  In addition to dealing with paperwork, existing accounts and advertising new listings, you’ll also be taking calls from anxious clients and dealing with potential new buyers and sellers walking in off the street.  The morning is a great time to make phone calls as it’s usually a little quieter.  A large proportion of your time will be spent calling solicitors to check the stages of each of your outstanding purchases and sales, and if you are also handling lettings, dealing with tenants and landlords to get lettings paperwork, tenant agreements etc.  finalised and agreed.

Perfecting the Sales Pitch

Another large part of your role will be to inform any buyers on your books about new properties that you think might be of interest to them.  This involves giving out property details and liaising with the vendor and the buyer to set up appointments for viewing.  A major criticism of estate agents in the past is a breakdown in communication levels and it’s vital that you interact with your existing clients regularly.  A large aspect of your role as an estate agent will involve a lot of ‘selling’ – you need to make a property sound attractive to a buyer and in some cases you also need to ‘sell’ a buyer to a vendor.  For example, first-time buyers are always highly sought after as the property chain will be invariably shorter.

Build a Rapport

Paperwork and phone calls aside, it’s the property viewing where an estate agent really comes into their own.  This is the point where you can really push the good points of a property to make that all important sale or encourage a letting.  Accompanying applicants on property viewings will take up the rest of your day and it’s important to build a rapport with your client straight away.  Find out what they are after, what they don’t want, and what is likely to tick all the right boxes for them.  You’ll be expected to have your own car in most cases and a clean driving license.  Carrying passengers is also a requirement from time to time.

If the applicant falls in love with a property then they will usually make an offer.  This is the time to close the deal and it can take a lot of hard work and negotiation on behalf of both parties to do this.  Once an offer has been accepted, it’ll be your responsibility to handle the transaction and see it through to exchange of contracts.  This will involve lots of liaising with financial advisors, solicitors, surveyors and of course the clients themselves and anything can happen at this stage!  Pre-empting or preventing problems is one of the many skills you will learn as an estate agent.

Is It For You?

In summary, the role of an estate agent is an exciting one!  The atmosphere in the office is usually charged with adrenalin and moods can sometimes fray, but when you make a sale it can put you on top of the world.  The job can be challenging and frustrating, but helping a client move into their dream home, is ultimately very rewarding!

Remember, you can view lots of new estate agents jobs on our Property Jobs board to find out more about the role and whether it’s for you.  We’ll also be featuring lots more articles and guides on a career in property so watch this space!

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Welsh Local Authority Causes Anger by Opening Estate Agency

by Sarah Halloran

Competition is rife in the estate agency industry, but you never expect to face competition from your local authority.  Imagine the surprise amongst Welsh estate agents then when a Welsh council decided to be the first local authority to launch their own estate agency.  And then imagine how that surprise turned to anger.

Property Bay - Neath Port Talbot

Irritated estate agents have forwarded their complaints about Neath Port Talbot council to First Minister Carwyn Jones and other public figures with senior status.

Neath Port Talbot however have steadfastly defended their position and plan to let and market houses for sale in Wales.  Trading under the name of Property Bay Wales, the council has launched a website although right now they are only advertising one property.

Steve Kidwell, the council’s coordinator for housing regeneration and renewal, said “Property Bay Wales trades within the open market in the same way as any other private company and does not require funding from the council. All running costs are funded by trading income. Although it does not cost the council anything, all income it generates through its services are recycled by the council into local council services.”

Mr Kidwell went on to add  “It is fair to say that the estate agency is at an incubation stage. Assuming that it develops further, there are a number of markets that we are currently interested in other than that of a traditional estate agency service – for example, online “virtual” services.

“This is because we do not have a traditional shop front agency and much of our work is online, targeting disadvantaged groups that cannot move home as they are unable to afford the traditional sale fees. We can also provide a service for clients who specifically prefer a local authority approach.

“The company aims to apply core local authority principles, offering a customer-centred approach and value for money. There is no doubt given the current financial climate that it’s a competitive market, but difficult times require creative solutions.”

Local estate agents see the scheme differently and have branded it as a waste of taxpayer’s money.  There is also frustration about the money being given to the council as business rates and that it is funding their new venture into the property market.

Another Port Talbot estate agent, Peter Morgan,, said: “Whatever the council says, it is able to undercut established estate agents because it is using its own offices and doesn’t have the expense of operating on the high street. Their standard fee is £895 plus VAT – I wouldn’t get out of bed for that,” he said.

“It leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.”

Many estate agents are expecting the latest venture to fail.  Cardiff-based estate agent Kevin Francis, of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Wales, said: “There’s an awful lot more to selling property than just advertising homes on a website.

“I haven’t heard of a local authority setting up its own estate agency before, but supermarkets have tried and failed. Superficially selling property sounds like a good and easy way to make money, but there are many potential pitfalls and it is by no means as easy as it sounds.”

A spokesman for the National Association of Estate Agents said: “So far as we are aware, this is the first time a local authority has launched an estate agency of its own. Our view would be that whoever works for an estate agency should have qualifications that are appropriate for the industry.”

So, what do you think?  Should local authorities be allowed to get in on the action or keep their noses out?  Is it a case of healthy competition or being priced out of the market?  We’ll be keeping a close eye on this one and report back!

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Going Going Gone!

by Sarah Halloran

If you are thinking of buying a property at auction it’s a great time to do so.  There are a huge amount of opportunities on the market right now and more and more people are turning to auctions in order to sell a property quickly or snap up a bargain.  The slow market and increasing number of houses being repossessed has resulted in a dramatic surge in auction sales and it’s good know the advantages as well as the risks involved with buying a property this way.

Where to Look

You can find out about local and national auctions through estate agents, newspapers, and our online property auctions directory.  Many auctions are also advertised by the roadside so look out for signs advertising local auctions.  If you are buying in a new area it is a good idea to do some research before you decide which auctions to attend.  There is plenty of information online that can assist you so that you don’t make any hasty decisions.

On the Day of Auction

Before you head off to the auction house, it’s a good idea to call up to make sure any property you are interested in bidding on has not already been sold or has been withdrawn.  You should also ensure you have your deposit to hand – many auction houses accept cash or cheques, but it’s best to check beforehand.  You will normally need 2 forms of identification in order to register.

Once you have been issued with your bidding number you’re ready to get started.  If you are interested in a particular lot it’s important to stay calm once bidding commences.  You should already have a maximum price that you are prepared to pay for the property and make sure you stick to this figure.  Many people get carried away by the bidding process and have bid well over the odds as a result.  It’s a good idea to gauge interest in the property before you start bidding yourself.

All lots up for auction will have a reserve price which is the minimum price the sells is prepared to accept on a property.  This figure is not disclosed, but if bidding doesn’t reach this figure the property owner may well decide not to sell on the day for anything less.  However, the guide price (that is the price the property is expected to sell for) should give you a rough idea of what the reserve price may be and hopefully this figure is in line with what you are prepared to pay.  Otherwise you may be in for some touch negotiations with the buyer or lose out on the property completely.

Tips for Bidding at Auction

Buying or selling a property at auction has a host of benefits and is becoming more and more popular across the UK.  As long as you stick to the golden rules below you should find the process enjoyable and very rewarding.

  • Always research the property you are interested in fully
  • Make sure you have your finances in order and the required deposit (usually 10%)
  • Get to the auction house early to register and take stock of the environment
  • When bidding commences, don’t get carried away – remember your budget!
  • Bidding can be intimidating so try to stay calm and focused

More information on property auctions in the UK can be found in the resources section on The Big Property
List website.

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Record Rise in Complaints Against Estate Agents

by Sarah Halloran

The Property Ombudsman received a record number of complaints last year against estate agents.   The number of complaints raised in 2010 was the most the office has received since it was first established 20 years ago.  The previous peak was in 2008.

In total, there have been 1338 new cases raised; a number which the Property Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, said was unacceptably high especially when property transactions were well below the normal levels.  He also blamed this dramatic rise on an increase in the number of disputes involving property sales.

The number of disputes was split quite equally between letting agents (672) and estate agents (646) whilst the rest of the reported complaints were related to the management of residential leaseholds, home information packs, and problems with advertising and marketing.

Agents operating in the South East of England received the most complaints accounting for approximately 26% of the total complaints raised.

Mr Hamer has called for the Government to impose stricter measures and improved protection for landlords and tenants so they do not become a victim of the practices performed by rogue letting agents.  Letting agents, unlike estate agents, are not required to belong to an ombudsman scheme.

The figure reported by the Property Ombudsman shows a 40% rise in complaints since the office first opened its doors.  So why the sudden increase and what are people complaining about?  Quite worryingly, the Property Ombudsman has admitted it is “baffled” by the sudden sharp rise, but that one obvious explanation could be the current slump in the market.  Seasonal factors may also play a part in these figures – general business in the housing market tends to slow down during the build-up to Christmas before picking up pace again in the New Year.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and this could also be a key factor in the number of complaints raised.  Many of the complaint cases released by the Property Ombudsman cite problems with underhand marketing, issues with estate agents taking commission even when they had been dis-instructed, and issues with the small print in contracts.

However, what should become clear is that the number of successful transactions far outweighs the number of complaints and there are a decent number of estate agents who are focused on doing a good job.  It’s simply a case of avoiding those agents who take shortcuts or who fail to deliver a good service.  A good estate agent will explain their contract to you, explain the fees payable and tell you exactly how they are going to market your property.  There are of course complaints that never reach the Property Ombudsman as they have been resolved by the estate agent themselves and it’s always a good idea to raise any concerns early on in proceedings.

If you feel you do need to make a complaint against your estate agent, the Property Ombudsman offers independent, impartial and free advice to members of the public who are not happy with the services provided by their estate agent.

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from → estate agents

To Sell or Not to Sell

by Sarah Halloran

It may not seem like the best time to sell your home when the housing market seems so unstable, but people are selling their homes and in some cases very quickly.  Perhaps you need a bigger house to accommodate a growing family or perhaps you are looking to downsize.  Whatever your reason for selling your home, sometimes putting it off just isn’t an option.

If you have decided to take the plunge there is a lot you can do to facilitate the sale of your house and most of our tips won’t cost you a penny.

Ready, Steady, Stop!

Before you go racing ahead calling the estate agents to pop up a ‘For Sale’ board, a little planning is required.  Preparation is essential before you put your house on the market and there are many areas where you can save time, money and stress.  Firstly, make sure you can afford to move.  If you are selling your home in order to purchase a new one you will almost certainly need a new mortgage and this could mean an increase in your monthly mortgage payment and other outgoings.  Getting your finances in place is one of the most important things you can do before you put your house on the market and it will save a lot of heartache in the long run.

Choosing a Good Estate Agent

Finding a trustworthy and productive estate agent can be difficult, but they do exist.  Many people choose to get a number of quotes from local estate agents and this is a good idea if you want to get the best deal.  Many estate agents will offer you a discounted price if you use them as sole agents on the agreement that you will not advertise your property with any other agent.  Don’t sign any agreement until you are happy with the fees and the marketing process your estate agent is going to use to promote and ultimately sell your home.

Getting the Price Right

It’s important that you are happy with the valuation your estate agent has given you.  If they have priced your house too high then you are unlikely to get any interest let alone offers and you certainly don’t want your home to be priced too low.  A good estate agent will have researched the market and know exactly how much your house is worth based on similar properties that are selling in your area.  You can also conduct some research yourself using one of a number of property valuation websites.

Good First Impressions = Second Viewings

It’s surprising how many people don’t bother to tidy up before a viewing or clear away clutter.  When people come to view your house they want to imagine themselves living there and lots of toys or clothes scattered around the floor can really put viewers off.  That’s not to say you need to live in a show home until you sell your house, but making the effort to clean and clear away can really make the difference and give viewers a lasting first impression.  Getting your sales pitch right is also important.  Brag about your favourite parts of your home, big up the short walk to the station and be a downright show-off about your garden being a suntrap.  Be enthusiastic and think about what made you fall in love with your house the moment you saw it.

It really is possible to sell your home if you put your heart and soul into it.  People are buying right now and whilst the market is slow a little patience and planning could be all you need to be in the running to receive an offer.

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Mary Portas on Estate Agents

by admin

Mary wants to start a revolution in the world of estate agents begins the Channel Four introduction to Mary Portas’ latest episode in her Secret Shopper series.  Good luck Mary is what I say, many have set out on that path.  Including most estate agents.

Despite the cliches and common gripes of buyers and sellers, Estate Agents play a valuable role in the transaction of houses.

Sure there are good ones and bad ones, like any industry, and no they’re not as heavily regulated and qualified as members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, but they get houses sold.

The show airs tonight (9 Feb 2011) at 9pm and judging by previous episodes in the series we’re in for some punchy scenes as Mary tells another small businessman how it is.  Estate Agents come in for a lot of flack in general and I don’t expect tonight to be any different.

A few cliches to listen out for:

‘buying a house is the biggest decision/ biggest investment you’ll make in your life’

‘sellers always think their house is worth more than it is’

‘there’s another buyer interested but for£2k more then the seller will accept your offer’

        I like Mary.  She says it how it is, but not everyone likes that and she has a very combative communication style – perfect for making small business owners hop up and down and get defensive (or reclusive – like one restaurant owner I seem to remember).  I don’t think many Estate Agents would want her coming round to tell them what to do.  But her ideas, passion – yes please.

        If you watched the show last night let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.

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        from → estate agents

        Ed Mead is carrying the Olympic torch (not literally)

        by Ed Mead

        For many who spent the tail end of last year trying to predict this year it must have seemed a doddle compared to forecasting now. Suddenly the press, and even me, are beginning to sense that although the year may be a dreadful dirge, it does look as if prices in London will end the year higher than they started. This is not saying a whole lot but from where I’m sitting there are occasional deals being done that simply beggar belief, whereas if you wander out of London, particularly in a Northerly direction, the stories are of a very different nature as the press are keen to let us know.2012 Olympics may boost small rentals in London

        Sadly all commentators agree that volumes will be a victim this year, and many fear this malaise will continue into next year which is depressing. But hang on a minute next year is Olympic year isn’t it?  We’re all supposed to feel good about that, and I’ve even registered for tickets as any self respecting Londoner should, but will it be enough to dispel the fog.

        One thing everyone forecast, and the auspices loom good, is that rental numbers will increase in London next year because of the 2012 Olympics being here. With perhaps the worst area for sales currently being small flats, no demand from first time buyers still, it’s very likely, and beginning to be the case, that buy to let investors are beginning to lick their lips and dive in.  I sat in a meeting with some heavyweight agents yesterday and all the ones I spoke to said if they had money they’d be buying investment property now.  The fact that they can’t shows the general level of nervousness and lack of income in the estate agency game at the moment, but perhaps whilst many top end agents gloat about how many £5m plus properties are selling those who deal at the bottom end might just be about to get their own timely boost.

        Ed Mead is a regular contributor to The Big Property List blog.  An Estate Agent for over 30 years, he has been writing and commentating on the market for over half of that as the Sunday Times Property Expert and The Agent Provocateur for the Telegraph.  He sits on the Board of The Property Ombudsman Ltd, has a regular LBC slot, and is happy to say it as it is.

        Other places you can find him online are the Douglas & Gordon blog and Twitter

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        2011 property market…early signs?

        by Ed Mead

        Frankly there wasn’t much appetite or excitement for predicting what might happen in 2011. It’s a mug’s game at the best of times and most of us in the business have been so worn down by the last few months of 2010 that anything would be better. So are the first signs good?

        Well it depends again on who you are and what constitutes good. If you’re an estate agent the chances are it’s not looking overly good right now. More of the same grind with no sellers and a frustrated bunch of buyers who have good mortgage offers but nothing to buy.

        If you’re a property owner in London chances are you’d be feeling happy with that as the lack of supply is creating the same effect as a strong demand, ie it’s keeping house prices up. Indeed for really good quality property this year is looking very good for values.

        But is that what the market needs or wants? For all the people jumping up and down delighted at any woes affecting estate agents it’s worth reiterating that estate agents are the bellwethers of the wider economy. If agents are going bust (and they have been, with 40% of individual agents out of work since 2008), and companies likely to this year, then it means the entire industry that depends on property: building, decorating, soft furnishings, surveying, solicitors, movers etc etc are all in trouble. If people aren’t spending on property the chances are they aren’t spending elsewhere. That’s a universal truth whether you like it or not.

        So there’s nothing much more to say as it’s early, and things may yet get busier, but if they were going to get busier I’d be seeing more sellers looking to get their properties valued now with a view to taking on the Spring market. I cannot grasp why sellers aren’t going for it with historical low rates for buyers likely to have bottomed out and price gains from the unexpected bounce last year still crystallised, and perhaps looking as if they may slip later this year. Perhaps we’re back in that dreadful spiral that potential sellers can’t find anything and so aren’t bothering to go to the market.

        As usual when these situations arise it’s difficult to see who’ll blink first, and with buyers very reluctant to pay the asking prices some desperate agents are putting on property, I think it’ll be sellers who’ll blink and go to the market, the only question is can the cleverer ones avoid a possible lemming like rush later in the year.

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