Keller Williams, the US agency which allows agents to work from hub-like ‘market centres’, says it now has 130 freelance agents in this country following a dramatic recruitment of 20 individuals during October alone.
The famous US agency, which launched in the UK back in late 2014, now has four market centres - two in London, one in Leeds and one in Glasgow - which serve as bases for co-working office space, training and mentoring; agents can, alternatively, use their homes as bases.
There is now a plan to open a fifth centre at Bromley in Kent, to be run by the agency’s new chief operating officer, Andrew Benn, who has 30 years' experience in agency and has just joined the firm from Spicerhaart.
“There’s no better way to understand the business than running a market centre - it may be unusual for a chief operating officer but it’s the right way to do things” explains Benn in an interview with Estate Agent Today.
He says the roles of COO and market centre chief are “very much aligned” and adds: “As a result I can talk with credibility about our way of doing things, which is based on allowing our agents to do a great job.”
Despite coming most recently from a company with a more traditional approach to agency branches, Benn is an enthusiastic advocate of market centres, and of similar hubs being introduced in London by rival firms such as Harding Green and Agent & Homes.
“We think we’ve got a robust model for all markets. We haven’t got traditional offices but we have a traditional set of values in some ways. Our philosophy is that agents add the most value to all aspects of a transaction, whereas for example the online or hybrid model believes it’s the computer that adds the most value” he says.
“We’re not anti-High Street but we’re very pro-agent. Our values are agents’ values - they can work flexibly, they can operate as they wish. We don’t lose the value of good agents because for some reason they can’t work strictly to traditional office hours and can’t be sitting in old-school branches” insists Benn.
He says Keller Williams has a new programme - called Initiate - which allows agents who may be wary of setting up their own business to have a better understanding of the administration involved in self-employment, and can even provide some business finance. This could, for example, take the form of payments up-front to ease the transition of an agent from being employed to self-employed.
Benn says new market centres do not to rely wholly or largely on advertising to generate stock, but to rely instead on more traditional word of mouth and recommendations.
“It’s a case of doing something well - the first transactions - and then getting people to spread the word” he says.