This week’s Natter is dedicated to three contrasting agencies doing things differently, from a recently established hybrid to a design-led, Insta-friendly company and a small, family-run agent operating without a high street presence which immerses itself in its local community.
Without further ado...
‘The most followed agency on Instagram’
As you know, I’m always eager to shout out about agents with a difference – and The Modern House certainly fits that bill.
The agency, recently crowned the Best National Estate Agency at the EA Masters, was co-founded in 2005 by Matt Gibberd and Albert Hill, who are certainly not your conventional estate agents. They both studied Art History at university and worked as writers and editors for design publications before founding The Modern House, with a focus on crossing over architecture and commerce and selling beautiful, design-led homes.
I caught up with Hill to find out why The Modern House places such a key focus on social media channels such as Instagram, where the agency has a huge following.
“The Modern House has always endeavoured to do things differently which is why we have channelled a lot of effort and resources into our Instagram page from early on. As a result, we have a powerful social media network with over 179k followers on Instagram alone – far more than any other UK estate agency.”
“Instagram allows us to tell the stories of the properties we are marketing and curate their presentation in unexpected and creative ways, whether it’s a mid-century house with a fascinating history or a new-build with an interesting approach to contemporary design,” Hill says.
“We recently brought on a development on Hackney Road, called Hide. All the kitchen cupboards and wardrobes were made a few doors down the road by local east-London furniture designers. We were able to visit the studio to see the furniture being made and then showcase this on our Instagram account once the homes went live.”
He says that Instagram also enables the company to reach potential future employees, “who appreciate our company culture. Through the platform we can document work trips, team meals and seasonal outings which really helps when we are looking to attract talented professionals.”
Hill concludes by saying the agency’s use of Instagram is constantly evolving, much like the platform itself. “Recent research suggests that users are increasingly using it as a search platform and a transactional platform. We always need to keep reviewing how we use it to communicate with our audience.”
It's certainly one of the most unique agencies around, and lives up to the billing of being ‘an estate agency like no other (Evening Standard)’. Its use of Instagram is unparalleled and it has arguably the most stylish website of any UK estate agency.
‘Embracing the evolution of estate agency in the digital world’
I also recently spoke with Daniel Bond, managing director of Henley-based Bonds Estate Agents, which was founded in 2017 as an “independent, new and exciting hybrid estate agent that bridges the gap between your expensive high-street agent and the 'not so personal' online agent.”
First off I asked him why he launched his agency. “Bonds was born out of a desire to embrace the evolution of estate agency in the digital world, whilst maintaining traditional values in customer service. Our aim was really simple, to provide local agent expertise with the highest level of personal customer service and modern methods of online marketing to reach ideal buyers and tenants, without charging expensive upfront costs or fees to our clients.”
Bond opted for the hybrid approach because ‘we saw the opportunity for a business model that allows us to optimize digital and social media, as a core pillar of our marketing strategy, both for the development of the agency itself and to promote visibility of customers properties’.
He says the agency is able to generate 12,000 promotional video views by potential customers in the area for less than the price of a half page local magazine ad, enabling prominent reach and exposure in a busy market, ‘plus cost savings that are passed on to customers in our 0.5+ VAT sales fee and 5%+ VAT fully-managed letting fee’.
“With 98% of property searches starting online we were confident in the changing customer journey and a downward trend in the need for a high street office presence, including dying footfall. We believe that our clients should benefit financially from this new status quo,” Bond adds.
What top tips and advice would he give to any agent considering going it alone?
“Expand and invest in your team as soon as possible. You can only start to grow your business when you grow a great team.”
He also says continued investment in raising awareness of your brand in your local area is key.
“A blanket approach doesn’t work anymore,” he insists. “If you want to stand out, tailor your marketing to your audience and be clever with the power of online and social media to get the right message to the right people at the right time.”
He adds: “Don’t listen to the doom and gloom or hype in the media, whilst other agents might be contracting, it’s important to focus on being competitive and maintaining a positive growth mindset. Set yourself apart from your competition with a ‘can-do’ proactive attitude, don’t rest on your laurels and always put your clients at the centre of everything you do.”
Lastly, I ask him what he thinks the future of agency will look like.
“In our area we have seen even established high street agents closing their doors. It’s a sad but real indication of how the industry is changing and the opportunity for more agents to utilise the digital space when it comes to property.”
He continues: “We also expect to see a rise in the number of online tools and services being used to enhance a client’s journey. We currently have online tools including instant valuation, booking for viewings, a landlord property management portal, tenant repair reporting, fee comparison, stamp duty calculator and online tenant application, and many more in the pipeline.”
He believes that the agencies that will thrive will be those that are able to be adaptable and flexible to needs of individual clients, recognising that no two clients or property transactions are the same.
‘A unique approach to running an estate agency’
Saxon Shore Estate Agents, based in Faversham, Kent, has only been operating for two years, but is already making a splash.
The small, family-run agency – which operates without a high street presence but instead immerses itself in its local community – was recently awarded ‘Faversham Business of the Year’ at the Swale Business Awards.
The business, set up by brother and sister team Richard Gates and Liz Jeffery in 2017, specialises in selling properties throughout Faversham and the surrounding area.
The judges were impressed by Saxon Shore’s achievements in a short period of time, particularly given its unique approach, saying: “Saxon Shore is operating in a highly competitive and mature market with some very strong, well-established regional competing brands. However, they have proven that through strong leadership, a great team and dedication and commitment to all of their customers it’s possible to not only compete with the status quo, but more impressively surpass them. They have dared to be bold and do things differently and this has been key to their success.”
“Despite the current climate, our business has achieved great things over the last two years,” Richard Gates tells me. “We started the agency from scratch, with no retail premises, using our expertise in online marketing and communications to promote our properties to potential buyers. In addition, our extensive involvement in the community and knowledge of Faversham, ensure sellers trust our advice on selling their properties.”
Liz Jeffery adds: “To win Faversham Business of the Year means the world to us. None of this would have been possible without the continual support we receive from the Faversham community. Many customers took a chance on using us when we were still a young, untested business. Many others recommended us, worked with us or joined with our community events.”
Brexit saga rumbles on
As the new saying goes, there are three certainties in life: death, taxes and Brexit uncertainty. We now have another delay, with the EU granting an extension to January 31 2020 as Boris Johnson decides to take us back to the polls for a general election (just what we all wanted for Christmas!).
Voter and Brexit fatigue will surely be in the Oxford English Dictionary before the year is out, reflecting a nation weary of major votes (almost one a year since 2015!)
Until next time…
*Nat Daniels is the Chief Executive Officer of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.