Several agents have asked me whether they should consider ditching their high street offices and move to an out of town location or serviced offices, as recently suggested by Ben Taylor, Managing Director of Keller Williams UK.
In my view, there are six compelling reasons why agents should retain a high street presence.
Firstly however, let’s take a look at why the Keller Williams’ office concept is possibly better suited to where it originates, the USA, than here (And by the way I’m a fan of KW!).
In the USA there has always been less of a need for agent visibility than in the UK. Here, we always had to feature our precious instructions in the window for buyers to see, and to impress sellers that we were ‘actively’ marketing their property.
This is because we were the only people allowed, or expected, to market the property. Most instructions were/are on a sole/multiple agency basis meaning that only buyers registered with the listing agent/s could be offered the property. We therefore relied on as much buyer footfall as possible in order to generate viewings and subsequent sales.
In the USA it’s different, as almost all properties are offered via a multi-listing service (MLS), whereby every agent has access to every instruction on a half commission type basis, where the wonderful 6% fee is split between the listing agent and the introducing ‘buy-side’ agent.
This means that once an agent registers a serious buyer, there is an extremely high probability that the agent will secure a sale. Why would the buyer register with more than one agent if he/she gets access to all properties in the area through their one preferred agent? (That’s why American agents give such a brilliant service to buyers – they don’t want to lose them to another agent).
In the UK there is only a roughly 6% chance of any buyer purchasing through a given agent – they’ll buy through the agent who happens to have the right property on their books. Hence we don’t treat them that well! So, we always had to rely on numbers.
But, you might say, buyers come from the internet now, so we don’t need a traditional office. Correct. I’d even go so far as to say that the purpose of a high street presence is no longer for the convenience of buyers, or sellers for that matter. So why have one?
1. Visibility. When we say ‘high street’, I don’t necessarily mean a presence in a town where the high street is pedestrianised and therefore only gets limited footfall. Volume of eyeballs is the issue, so a busy road, with both pedestrians and especially road traffic is key. Local people need to be continually reminded that you’re in business. Your visible office is as important as your for sale and sold boards. I even know some agents who have several offices, but not all are manned – the others are simply ‘shop windows’!
2. Confidence. At a time when agency is becoming increasingly faceless, the 89% of vendors who have not chosen the online route, surely prefer the reassurance of knowing that you are a real estate agent, with real people, in a real office, nearby. Without such an office you’d have to seriously ramp up your marketing spend to offset your invisibility.
3. Commitment. Clearly an agent with a local office is committed, both to the business, and importantly, to the neighbourhood as the local property expert. I haven’t done any research on this, but it stands to reason that people are more likely to trust the opinion of their blatantly local agent than that of some remote office, which could even be a temporary serviced office that also serves as a taxi booking depot or import business.
4. Marketing. Your office is not only your 24h a day silent salesperson, but the way it is designed and presented, gives a clear message as to your agency style. Be it ‘slick contemporary’, ‘cheap and cheerful’ or ‘seriously upmarket’ the image your office presents plays a significant role in the type of client you attract. If you don’t readily convey a strong image, you could well fall between market categories.
5. Familiarity. For marketing to be effective, it must be conveyed across multiple channels in order to become deeply entrenched in the public’s mind. In this respect, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. So social media, digital marketing, boards, leaflets, letters, newsletters, branded cars, sponsorships and your office presence all play their part.
6. Repetition. Call it brainwashing, but any marketeer will tell you that in order for any marketing device to be effective, the consumer will usually need to be exposed to it at least six times within two months. If potential vendors drive past your competitor’s office every day, but they don’t see yours, then you are instantly at a significant disadvantage.
You have to work somewhere, and while a more visible office may be more expensive than a unit on a business park, this extra cost can surely be offset as a marketing expense for the above reasons. And hey…you might just get the odd walk-in too!
*Richard Rawlings is an award-winning trainer and marketing consultant to estate agents across the UK.