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By Nat Daniels

Nat Daniels, Angels Media


TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

Sam Hunter – ‘does Homesearch pass the Ronseal test? Yes, we do’

In this week’s In Conversation Today, I speak to someone who has made an excellent impression on the property industry in the last few years with his honesty, wit, forward-thinking outlook and advocacy for good mental health in agency.

Sam Hunter, chief operating officer at property data firm Homesearch, the company he founded in 2017 alongside Giles Elwood, was previously an agent in Australia before moving to London and strongly believes that tech and data can help property professionals work more efficiently and with greater confidence.

In addition to his work with Homesearch, he has co-hosted The World Class Podcast with love2move’s Mark Worrall since August 2019, where they chat each week to a property person on their topic of expertise. 

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Here, we discuss Homesearch’s progress, the future of agency, the impact of the pandemic, improvements he would make to the sector and the importance of agents being open about their mental health.

When Homesearch launched, the offer to agents of data on every property in the country was innovative and perhaps unique. Now, many others appear to offer the same thing (most recently Zoopla with its My Home tool). How does Homesearch respond to that and keep some form of USP for agents? 

Too many businesses, not just in our industry, are focused on just responding to what else is happening out there. We’d rather find the new path. I grew up watching Star Trek and to ‘boldly go where no one has gone before’ has always stuck with me. 

Our culture is about building technology based on what industry might look like in 10/20/30 years and leading that change, rather than about what others around us are doing. That’s how we will continue to deliver for our customers. 

In the last two years, we’ve gone from an idea to a business with an incredibly strong foundation, and we’ve had the added benefit of being able to work with the customers we’ve acquired along the way to test some thinking around how the product should grow. That’s resulted in a laser sharp focus on what Homesearch needs to be for those agents that put their faith in us - both now and long into the future.

We do offer something unique and it’s the agents that use us that would back that up most. I have a load of sticky notes in front of my desk and one of them reminds me to always ask myself: “Does Homesearch pass the Ronseal test?”. Do we do what we say we do? Do we live up to our promise? Do we help agents search for homes to instruct? Yes, we do. 

You said in a recent video that there will be 50% fewer agents by 2030 – what makes you think this? 

You can already see a consolidation of good businesses happening now. Connells saw value in Countrywide and went for it. There’ll be a natural rate of attrition as time goes on.

More independents will be sold to other independents and corporates alike. ROPA will play its part in this, too (if it ever happens). And, of course, there will be closures. The race to the bottom always stops somewhere. It just isn’t feasible (or fun) to run a business at such low fee or service levels.

I see all of the above as positives for the industry. Less agencies, better (not just more) competition, higher fees all lead to a more proactive, sustainable, buoyant market for agents and their clients.

Do agents now need to be more streamlined and more focused on tech and data? 

The business should focus on tech and data. What technology should fundamentally do is facilitate information and communication at scale. Technology should be a tool that allows agents to better serve their customers.

Buyers, sellers, tenants and landlords will always need trusted advisers. The agents themselves should focus on the people.

How could the pandemic change estate agency for the better? 

The lockdown showed us all it was possible to progress relationships away from a desk in an office, and that ‘viewing tours’ don’t necessarily serve anyone except the agent and their KPIs.

I’ve definitely seen a more personal level of service being offered in the last nine months than any of my (admittedly short) time here in the UK and I think that will see this industry in good shape long after the stamp duty changes switch back.

If you had the power to make three instant improvements to the sector, what would they be and why? 

Dangerous question for an expat who’s only been here six years to answer! 

I’d like to see CPD enforced, not just talked about.

I’d like to see a minimum level of commission set above the 10% most are on. Life shouldn’t be about money, but people can’t do their best work when they’re forever thinking about their bank balance. Estate agents provide a valuable service. It’s a tough job sometimes and their efforts should be valued and rewarded appropriately.

When safe to do so, I’d love to see a push on open homes. Gives an agent so much time back in their diaries and helps create a level of natural competition that can’t be beaten. 

You have a podcast which you co-host with Mark Worrall – can you tell us a bit more about it and what the main goal of the pod is? 

We love our industry and felt like we had something to share so we started it two years ago as a bit of a hobby and it’s grown from there. Every week we interview people from the industry and they get the opportunity to share their opinions and experiences.

The main goal is just to help. It’s something we do for a bit of fun and we get kind feedback every week that it’s helping our listeners in their day to day (and it helps us both, too, as we’re both fired up after an early morning Tuesday recording session).

You are a keen advocate of mental health awareness in agency – what do you make of Agents Together’s work on this? Can the industry still do much more?

Sarah and Sam do a great job of spreading awareness around the issues facing many people in our industry. It’s clear to see their work has had an impact already and I think as Agents Together matures, it’ll grow to be a go-to resource for us all.

It is genuinely so heartening to be involved in these conversations and to see more and more people talking about mental health, particularly in our industry.

There’ll always be more to do, and most of the time it can be as simple as checking in on one another with sincerity. Asking how someone is, and meaning it, goes a really long way. People can always give me a shout, it’s often easier to open up to a virtual stranger than it is to someone close to you. It might be the door to my spare-room (until June 21 at least), but it’s always open.


Thanks, Sam – keep up the great work! The next In Conversation Today will appear in two weeks time.

*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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