The Keller Williams franchise agency, one of the largest in the world, is relaunching in the UK on Wednesday with the aim of bring US-levels of realtor service to sellers.
The agency actually launched in this country for the first two some two years ago with the aim of recruiting up to 5,000 estate agents within five years, in around 50 ‘super offices’ which it calls market centres.
However, the man who originally bought the UK master franchise - Donald Morris - succeeded in two years in opening only three market centres, and most of the agents employed (believed to be fewer than 100) were concentrated only in London and Leeds.
Now there is a new owner of the UK master franchise, an American realtor called Matt Fetick; unlike his predecessor he has substantial experience of the sector (he owns three Keller Williams offices in the US, directly sold 270 homes in 2016, and has 300 realtors working for him).
Fetick, in an interview with Estate Agent Today, says the structure of Keller Williams in the US will be applied in the UK too; and Fetick says that this time the organisation will go for a hard launch using people with substantial start-up expertise, to avoid the problems that the previous UK master franchise holder experienced in expanding the firm.
So each UK market centre will be run by a franchisee, who recruits freelance agents who at first split their earnings 70:30 with the franchise employer, with the potential for successful agents to ultimately earn 100 per cent on some transactions. Individual agents must also pay for the extensive training and IT support that Keller Williams supplies.
As with his predecessor, Fetick aims to open 50 market centres in the UK in the first five years, each of which would employ around 100 agents - making a 5,000-agent total.
“I want to say at the outset that this isn’t the Americans coming to the UK and saying this is the best way to operate. We’ve got our business model for selling homes, which we think is very successful. But there are lots of great British agencies operating different models - we’re not saying ours if the only way to do it” emphasises Fetick.
He recognises that the British estate agency industry is at the moment expanding with online fixed-fee agencies - Fetick calls them “the discounters” - challenging traditional agency in some sectors. However, he unashamedly says Keller Williams is going to go to the other extreme, offering a commission-based fee structure to support what he calls “a US level of realtor service, which at the moment isn’t offered in the UK.”
Keller outlines what that means, and how it differs from existing traditional agencies in this country.
“The individual broker - equivalent to a negotiator - is incentivised to do everything, and to do it well. A buyer instructs him and from then on he is responsible for everything - I mean absolutely everything - until completion of the deal” says Fetick.
“That means the broker is the point of contact for the buyer and the seller. The broker chases the solicitor, chases the surveyor, chases the buyer, chases the buyer’s agent. All the time there’s feedback to the seller but it’s the broker who does everything” he says.
“Because there’s no salary for the broker, but 70 per cent of the fee at least, he is incentivised to do a first class job and to see it through to completion - he doesn’t get anything at all if the completion doesn’t happen.”
Specifically there will be two levels of service. The first provides what Keller Williams calls "a complete service including professional home staging and marketing, conveyancing for both the buyer and the seller, mortgage broker fee and express searches". This is likely to involve a fee of 2.0 to 2.5 per cent, says Fetick.
The second level would be the more traditional sale and marketing of the property, without the extras such as conveyancing and mortgage brokering which the buyer would be free to source themselves. Fees for this service would depend on individual requirements, says the firm.
As in the US, the Keller Williams model in the UK will see individual agents’ faces on For Sale boards, and Fetick emphasises that - against the popular caricature image of estate agents being unpopular - “our brokers will be highly-regarded professionals.”
His recruitment programme for franchise holders and the agents will be aimed at attracting existing experienced agents and those from outside the industry. Fetick is confident that the Keller Williams training model is so strong that it will instil a US-style level of customer service, whether or not the recruit comes from within the industry.