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No agent reading this will be under any illusions that the agency market is a particularly competitive sector to operate in.

I suspect even those corners of the country which might be rather remote will still have their fair share of agencies all actively competing for local market share. Add in the emergence of online agencies and there is no doubting just how competitive the agency world really is.

The fact of the matter is that this level of competition is not going to recede anytime soon. The residential property market - both sales and lettings - is (quite rightly) regarded in a positive light which inevitably means that individuals and businesses recognise the commercial opportunities and seek to be part of it. We are therefore likely to see growing numbers of both high-street and online operators coming to market in the months ahead.

To provide some idea of growth in the sector - at least in London - my eye was caught recently by some research into branch numbers in the Capital. While the analysis only used Rightmove data, it suggested that each London borough has an average of 83 high-street agency offices, with Westminster having 179 and Wandsworth over 150; Barking & Dagenham was further down the list with just' 25.

Those behind the research seemed to be suggesting that the market had reached something of a saturation point in parts of London and questioned whether this many agencies were actually needed.

I am a great believer in the free market and instead prefer to think that consumers and the market will decide when a saturation point has been reached - businesses of all kinds, whether agency or not, survive or fall on their ability to win business and operate profitably and those agency offices who are unable to take the heat of competition will eventually leave the kitchen.

The market will dictate whether the number of agency offices in any area of the country rises or falls, and therefore for those active in this marketplace, the principle concern should not be the number of competitors but the service your agency is offering, the tangible value it provides, and your ability to differentiate within such a highly competitive marketplace.

Within any competitive sector, it is vitally important to have (and utilise) those USPs which make your agency stand out from the crowd, and it is critical to have confidence and belief in your proposition to make sure you are not dragged into a race to the bottom when it comes to both price and service.

Our own offering is about quality - be it that our brand is the largest of its kind in the world, or the look and feel of offices around the globe, the marketing of properties, the deployment of technology and portals, or perhaps it is the one-to-one service we give in the UK to clients so they know exactly who they are dealing with at all times - a truly personal approach.

It's important to recognise that no one element of your proposition is going to be the sole differentiator however it is likely to be a combination of factors that ultimately results in the prosperity of the client relationship and thus the success of the business.

Repeating this achievement again and again should mean you benefit from references and referrals, and be able to use those success stories to market your business far more effectively against that of the competition.

When it comes to eyeing up the competition in your area, don't think about the numbers but instead benchmark the quality of what you're up against. Some of us might have 200 agencies in competition locally or you might be going head-to-head with just one other, the point is the same.

Successful agents will be able to develop a proposition which places them above that competition, which accentuates the quality of the service, and focuses on results. In my view, long live healthy competition and extensive consumer choice.

*Rob Clifford is Chief Executive of CENTURY 21 UK, part of Shepherd Direct


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