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By Nat Daniels

CEO, Angels Media


TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

Sarah Edmundson – how Agents Together is helping the industry to talk

Mental health – and the importance of good mental health – has become a vital thing for all of us in the last year, perhaps more than ever.

The estate agency industry has also started to take steps towards becoming more open when it comes to discussing mental health, which even now can still often be viewed as a difficult and taboo subject despite the great strides taken in recent years to remove the stigma.

Sam Hunter from Homesearch has written a number of excellent articles for EAT on the subject of mental health and agency, including this one, while we’ve also seen high-profile agents open up about their issues with depression.

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At the same time, research has shown that the property industry needs to do better when it comes to mental health support and employer wellbeing, with some 75% of agents reporting going to work feeling mentally unwell. Over half did not report this because of the stigma associated with the subject. 

It was within this context, and with the aim of improving support for agents, that Agents Together was launched in June 2020 by the Bruce brothers of Purplebricks and now Boomin fame, with a £1 million donation from Kenny and Michael, who have since been directly involved as mentors.

This connection has led some to question the sincerity and credibility of the charity – with some suggesting that it was merely being used as a vehicle by the Bruce brothers to soften the industry and get into agents’ good books ahead of the launch of their new portal. But the brothers have always insisted the two things are very separate.

After initial scepticism from many, it seems most have been won round by the work of Agents Together, which has well-known names like Chris Watkin, Stephen Brown, Iain White, Michael Day, Harry Hill (the property version) and Samantha Jones on board as volunteer mentors.

The foundation says its mission is to help the agency industry ‘steer its way through the unique challenges of today and to take full advantage of the opportunities for the future, that will create and preserve a healthier, well-run and respected industry’.

Sarah Edmundson – a business coach and consultant, as well as the owner of estate agency training platform Allstars - was appointed as CEO in May 2020 with the aim of leading a group of industry professionals in helping individuals within estate agency ‘to attain a healthy mind and healthy business’.

Here, we discuss Agents Together, the Bruce brothers’ involvement and which skills and disciplines agents most require extra training in.

Agents Together appears to be a big success now: how easy was it to get the original mentors and trainers on board?

Thank you so much for acknowledging the success of Agents Together - success in charitable terms is quite different to that in business terms. Our measure is simply: “how many people have we helped?”, and that is now at well over 250 just in terms of mentorships. The Winning Ways series and the Hub at agentstogether.co.uk are also helpful to many.

I believe the phrase is 'nothing worth doing is easy’. A lot of people put in an incredible amount of effort during those first few months and that energy shows no signs of wavering. 

When Michael approached me, there were already some well-known industry people in place as founders. Those people and now the incredible philanthropy of over 141 mentors has been a driving force behind the success.

What has been most humbling is people who I know are very busy coming forward to give their time to others. That, for me, is what this is all about - a collective effort to do better and be better.

The charity was kicked off by a substantial donation from the Bruce brothers - how is it likely to be funded going forward?

Michael kickstarted the charity with a very generous donation of £1 million; a key part of my role is to effectively and carefully manage that to ensure it ultimately benefits the industry. I take that very seriously - and I am a Northerner, so it is easier!

We have no intention of looking to the industry for fundraising at this time, or at any time in the future and Michael has indicated that if we continue to help people, he will continue to fund our work. So, the team and I are focused entirely on ensuring we support as many people as we can!

Agents Together talks about issues previously ignored or hushed up by the industry, particularly mental health: have you had scepticism from many quarters?

This is a really pertinent question. On the whole, the industry has woken up to the fact we have to take wellbeing, mental health, and collaboration more seriously. I think this is actually reflected in wider society - the pandemic has allowed many of us to talk about and think about mental health in a much more open and honest way.

That being said, our recent study showed that 62% of people felt their mental health was worse than it was pre-pandemic and further to that, despite 89% of people saying that mental health should be on the agenda in workplaces, only 15% had any knowledge or education on how to make that happen.

This is the work we are now focused on as I meet with a working group of 15 volunteers and professionals to develop a toolkit for the industry. We expect this to be available in Q2. Ultimately, mental health should be on a parity with physical health. We know we need to take care of our bodies; we need to see our minds in the same way. Proactive prevention of mental ill health is one of our key goals.

Training is likely to become increasingly important in a more regulated agency industry: how would you describe the approach of agency companies to the issue now?

I am in the privileged position of wearing two (sometimes more) hats in the industry. My role at Agents Together is part-time so that I am able to deliver training under my and Bryan Mansell’s Allstars brand.

This gives me a particularly unique perspective on sentiment within our agency community. The bare facts are these - the best, most successful and happiest people and organisations globally are those that have a commitment to learning, developing and improving.

I am sometimes frustrated by the misguided approach that length of service means you do not need to have a learning mindset – ultimately, this is what leads to complacency and can ultimately lead to businesses and their people becoming stale.

We only have to look at professional athletes to see that you can be the best in the world and still have a trainer/coach to help you level up, keep you committed and introduce you to new and innovative ways to enhance performance.

If ROPA slides further down the list in terms of government action, will training be on the backburner for the agency industry?

Many businesses take the development of their people seriously, regardless of the necessity for a qualification. That being said, some do not. I don’t see this changing if ROPA is delayed, and in fact I am contacted daily by forward-thinking businesses about upskilling their teams.

Training should not be something that we do because the government tell us we have to, we should embrace continual improvement and a desire to learn. I just hope that when ROPA is delivered, it is reflective of the industry in practical terms, with a keen eye for the future, not just a tick box exercise of legislation and compliance - that way, it will be beneficial to agents and our consumers.

What disciplines or skills are most in need of more training for estate agents?

Keeping my Allstars hat on here - really good basics should never be underestimated. Likewise, nor should the fact that agents are in essence marketers who offer a professional home moving service.  We spend a lot of time in a (virtual now) training room helping agents to position themselves as trusted advisers, and that comes from, in the most part, communication!

In my humble opinion, the future of training is around defining and refining customer experience, understanding in detail the journey of customers, how it’s evolving, and the value agents can add each step of the way.

That will invariably be inclusive of technology, which when adopted wisely should transform the experience for the customer. Furthermore, over 70% of our training is now at a management level. Leadership is everything and its importance, regardless of someone’s experience levels, should never be overlooked.

Much has been made of the pressure on conveyancers in recent months - how should agents communicate with conveyancers so as not to put further pressure on an already fragile relationship?

I have been quite saddened to see some of the exchanges and finger pointing that has been going on across the sector recently. Everyone is under pressure. It’s almost a cliche now, but these have been unprecedented times. I think it’s really important we remember just that before we impart blame.

The reality is people don’t go to work to do a bad job, in most cases people are giving it their all, and when you see 24% (Jan 2021 vs Jan 2020) more completions in a month with the same or lower resources this is going to cause friction, stress and pressure.

Sarah Edmundson – how Agents Together is helping the industry to talk

I encourage everyone to take a breath before they press send on that email or pick up that phone, be respectful and most of all consider how you are going to make the person at the other end feel with your words and actions.

In more practical terms, ensuring you have a communication pattern agreed with your partners (agents/conveyancers/mortgage brokers), to ensure that less time is spent interrupting and more time producing! 

At Agents Together, we have recently announced our support for The Conveyancing Foundation and Law Care, in the hope that we can bring about greater awareness for wellbeing across the different sectors. But, and I cannot be clearer in my thoughts here, widescale reform is badly needed in the home moving process in England and Wales - the process, the systems and the technology is antiquated and is overdue an overhaul.


Great answers, Sarah. Many thanks for your time.

The next In Conversation Today will appear two weeks from now. In the meantime, Happy Easter from me!

*Nat Daniels is CEO of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. You can follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels. He also writes a regular column – Property Natter – which appears in the Weekend Features section every two weeks.

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