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Veteran agent urges new recruits to join 'general practice' agencies

One of Britain’s most respected veteran estate agents, Hugh Dunsmore-Hardy, is urging new recruits to the industry to join what he calls a ‘general practice’ estate agency that can teach them the full range of disciplines on offer.

“I was very fortunate in starting my career with the orginal Hamptons & Sons at their only London office, where under one roof was Town, Country, Commercial and Auctions. They gave me the opportunity to experience every different strand of the business and to see where my path lay” says Dunsmore-Hardy, who this year marks 50 years in the industry.

“Begin your career with a company that can give you as broad an insight into the different aspects of residential and commercial business, or what used to be described as ‘general practice'” he urges new recruits.

During his career Dunsmore-Hardy was perhaps best known for his time as president of the National Association of Estate Agents starting in 1991 and then three years later  becoming the organisation’s first full time chief executive.

He worked for the NAEA for nine years. He left at the height of the industry crisis over Home Information Packs, promoted by the then-Labour government and opposed by most agents - but controversially backed by Dunsmore-Hardy.

He joined Winkworth in 2003 as a non-executive director. 

In an interview with Estate Agent Today he says the biggest change he has seen during his career has been the development of technology “and how it has transformed consumers' ability to access property information.” 

He says this has developed from running off black and white property images on a duplicator - how property details appeared half a century ago - to today’s flurry of portals and digital platforms. 

“Consumers are now spoilt for choice ... so the pressure to always be up-to-date with the latest technology is high” he says. 

His interview also covers his views on how agents communicate with clients today, how portals have transformed the industry, and how some things - like buyers’ desire to aspire to better, bigger homes - have not changed so much.

It’s a fascinating insight into how our business has evolved. The full interview is below.

EAT: What do you regard to be the single most important change you have seen in half a century of estate agency?

Hugh: The most important change that I have seen is the development of technology and how it has transformed consumers' ability to access property information. My early days involved running off black and white images on a duplicate machine! Consumers are now spoilt for choice with an endless supply of online portals and digital platforms, so the pressure to always be up-to-date with the latest technology is high. The advances in 50 years have been enormous, we can access almost anything now! 

EAT: What, if anything, do you regret about the way estate agency has changed in that time?

Hugh: I feel that the standards of communication with customers via email and text messaging has almost taken a step backwards from the days of sending letters. The clipped communication that takes place through texts and emails seems less professional and has the risk of being misconstrued or misinterpreted. 

The days of writing letters required us to be far more considered and our communication was therefore carefully crafted. The immediacy of texts and emails means that from a young age, we are not encouraged or trained to pay as much attention to the important details or to take time over the way we communicate. 

EAT: The rise and rise of portals in the past 15 years has changed the way the public searches for property - has this diminished or enhanced the need for agents, and the work they do?

Hugh: It hasn't necessarily diminished the need for Estate Agents because the process of buying and selling a property is an emotional experience for all parties involved. When dealing with a transaction, both sellers and buyers have totally different objectives; buyer to achieve the best price and seller to achieve the highest price. That is where the skill of a competent and professional mediator comes to the fore, and that will never change. 

EAT: These days there seems to be several business models for estate agencies, from corporate to franchise, from traditional to online: if you were setting up in business today, which would you adopt?

Hugh: Unfortunately, my recollections of life in a corporate environment has highlighted the difference between estate agency being a local business, and that there is not a one fit all. Hence, therefore, why there has been a continued growth of new independent firms opening. When I was with the NAEA, I had an opportunity to see how franchising operated in the States and also in other countries such as Australia by meeting many of their representatives. I believe that the franchising model is the most effective in order to run a successful property business. It has the best of both worlds and is a tried and tested model. I am also not just saying that because I happen to be a director of Winkworth. 

EAT: The public appears to ‘know’ more about property these days, because of Phil Spencer and co and because of the internet - has this made the job of the good agent more difficult or easier - or hasn’t it really changed?

Hugh: I think the advent of so many property programmes will continue to feed the public's interest in property which, from a business perspective, only goes to fuel demand. As consumer circumstances change, they still believe that improving their lifestyle is often demonstrated by moving up the property ladder. The increase in consumer property programmes hasn’t made the agents' jobs more difficult or any easier, in my opinion. All i'd say is if it helps people to understand the process better, it can't be harmful to us! 

EAT: And finally, if you were asked for words of encouragement for young people considering a job in agency today, what would they be?

Hugh: My advice would be; make sure you can begin your career with a company that can give you as broad an insight into the different aspects of residential/commercial business, or what used to be described as ‘general practice', as possible. I was very fortunate in starting my career with the orginal Hamptons & Sons at their only London office in Arlington Street where under one roof was Town, Country, Commercial and Auctions. They gave me the opportunity to experience every different strand of the business and to see where my path lay.  

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    I have really enjoyed reading this well thought out article and agree most whole heartedly with what I have read. Michelle Director Clear Vision Homes Ltd

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    Hugh is a very likable and affable gentleman as this proves. I worked at Winkworth for a few years and his help and guidance at times were needed. He is someone who really looks at the nuances of transactions but then puts on the human hat (emotional hat) and tries to look in from that perspective. When Hugh talks it is well worth listening.

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    Hugh is a great chap, I had the pleasure of working with him for a number of years. He is one of the very few gentleman left in agency and talks a lot of sense.

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