The push for greater sustainability, energy efficiency and generally being ‘green’ has existed in the agency world for several years - but this time it feels different and more urgent.
I won’t waste time stating the reasons why. Just look at our unexpectedly mild autumn so far and the spate of floods in recent years to see that old weather patterns are changing. Oh, and stand by for nasty shocks this winter and beyond when we see higher fuel bills!
Global targets set at COP26 may appear high level and international, yet the more I speak with buyers - younger ones in particular - the clearer it is that they see the sustainability agenda as more important now, at an everyday level, than ever before.
Agents have to respond not just because we all have a role in combating climate change, but because being green is a sign of integrity and authority; agents who choose not to make a virtue of this, risk losing business to others who do.
Many in our industry, of course, are ahead of the game and don’t need tips from me: but for those who are still considering what to do, here are a few suggestions.
Don’t Downgrade EPCs
Many agents have historically felt EPCs were overlooked or not understand by buyers and tenants; therefore even if a property had strong energy performance, the subject was given little attention on a viewing or during discussions with customers in the branch.
That’s changing now with more purchasers aware of energy efficiency, and with renters in particular becoming more informed about upcoming stricter energy targets for the lettings sector. So if an EPC is ‘good’ it should be one of the main selling points in your marketing.
First Impressions In The Branch
There’s one over-riding incentive to make your branch look and feel more energy efficient - it will reduce your running costs.
No one expects a full office-refurb but a gradual replacement of lights with LED fittings and motion-sensor devices, and replacing old desktop computers and printers with A** or A*** rated newer versions will reduce your own energy bills over time.
Maximising online documentation - especially on the lettings side, where there is so much mandatory paperwork these days - will do the same. It will also probably be the most visible sign to your clients that you’re being energy-conscious in your approach. And you can, of course, return to traditional printed material if a particular customer wants it.
It’s key to complement all this effort by not being apologetic for ‘going green’ but making it part of your USP. Just as you may well emphasise your strong local knowledge and great experience selling or letting homes successfully, so make your eco-credentials one of the reasons you want customers to choose you over some less green-thinking rivals.
On The Road
Several small agencies have already gone hybrid or, better still, all-electric when replacing a company car or fleet.
Because most agents’ journeys for pitches and viewings are short, there is little hassle in buying an e-vehicle - the Yorkshire chain Verity Frearson did exactly that over the summer, switching to electric MINIs. And there’s even more incentive in London and a few other cities where road charges are sharply reduced, prompting Chestertons to switch to E-BMWs. I hear several other larger chains are about to make similar announcements.
And talking about viewings - well, are you continuing with at least some virtual viewings even now the pandemic involves fewer restrictions than before?
Some canny agencies use online videos for ‘first viewings’ and then filtering out the less serious buyers - so the in-person viewings are devoted to stronger would-be purchasers. This saves time and energy getting the agent and the car to unnecessary appointments.
Become A Green Authority
One thing that has always impressed me about agents is how they share community information - they know the new shop that’s about to open, which schools have performed best, whether there are clubs and societies where newcomers can quickly get involved in the community. Now it’s time to do the same about energy efficiency.
There are many excellent guides for existing owners or new buyers and tenants (forgive the plug but my own Move iQ site has several, ranging from green mortgages to how to interpret an EPC and energy saving tips in the home).
With energy bills increasing right now and being a source of worry to many, any agent who can point buyers in the right direction for advice - topped up by local information - will be seen as a trusted guide. That’s likely to pay dividends in the shape of repeat business.
We’ve heard many people recently saying we’re at a tipping point on climate change.
For us agents it means being serious about going green. The good news, however, is that it’s perfectly possible to combine this with becoming more appealing to customers and being more efficient and cost-effective in how we run our day-to-day working lives.
*Phil Spencer is a presenter, author, businessman and property investor. Phil’s consumer advice platform Move iQ, is a website, YouTube channel and podcast. Each preserve and reflect the same impartiality that consumers trust and base their property moving plans. Coming soon: Move iQ Pro, Phil’s resource to support the property community. Stay tuned ready for launch!