It's been two years since the SDL Group launched its franchise block management business, SDL Property Partners, the first of its kind in the UK.
We set out with a goal to support property managers who were looking to go it alone in block management.
Yet as the business grew, we found property managers were more risk averse than expected, with fewer managers taking the leap.
Instead over time, more and more property businesses across the market have expanded into or shown a growing interest in block management, including letting agents and surveyors.
Now it’s time to discuss what our team has learnt over the last two years, how the block management market is evolving and why more property businesses are looking at it as a new source of income.
It’s been just over two years since we launched SDL Property Partners in a bid to support property managers and property businesses looking to expand into or start their own block management company.
It was the first franchise business of its kind in the country so we were almost stepping into the unknown, but we saw that there was a real opportunity to support property managers who are passionate about service and who want to deliver an exceptional experience for their residents.
Members of the team, including myself, have worked in block management for many years so we have a good understanding of the challenges businesses face in the sector and what support property managers need to be successful.
We know that many residents have the relationship with the property manager, rather than the property business. So it usually means clients tend to go with the manager when they move on. We felt this could be a catalyst for encouraging managers to go it alone.
The key issue for property managers running their own block management business is that they find that they’re swamped by paperwork, banking, client accounts, all the back office jobs that take up their time and stop them focusing on the relationship with their residents – which is really key to their success.
So we wanted to give property managers that chance to start their own business, without losing that personal service. By partnering with us, they could plug into our support and we’d look after compliance and all those back office jobs for them, completely taking that hassle away so they can focus on maintaining relationships and growing their new business.
Expectation vs. reality
Convincing property managers to go it alone proved more challenging than we first thought.
It's not a quick or easy decision, no matter what industry you work in. For a property manager, you can sit in the pub on a Friday afternoon and think you know what, I can do it, but by Monday morning you want the safety and guaranteed income of your current role.
So, we didn’t get as many early adopters as we thought we might. The perceived insecurity of starting your own business has stopped property managers from taking the leap; they’re very risk averse and during the last two years the political landscape among other things has caused a lot of uncertainty in general – setting up a business hasn’t been a top priority for many people.
We decided to shift our focus more towards property surveyors and letting agents who had or wanted to acquire blocks, in a bid to find new income streams.
Since the Tenant Fees Act came into force, agents have made significant losses, up to £50,000 in some cases, and for smaller agencies that is a big hit. So, block management has become a viable solution to plug that gap in income.
With a change in focus, it meant we had to tweak our model and offering slightly so that it could best support letting agents and surveyors rather than just property managers working on their own.
We introduced training, set-up support, branding, marketing and minimum performance targets, alongside the back office support.
It effectively means we are saying to businesses we will take all the responsibility and barriers away from you, you have the freedom to go out and grow it – do what you love doing.
We’re finding more and more ‘property people’ are turning to block management. What’s great is most people we speak to about the opportunity and our existing partners all have one thing in common, they understand the value of service and have built their success in property around it.
And the interest is nationwide. Of course your more densely populated areas like London provides lots of opportunity but we have partners from the south coast, to south Wales through the midlands and up as far as Blackburn.
There are properties all over the UK that need passionate people to manage them and I think more property professionals are realising that their skills are tailor made for block management.
Looking ahead to 2020
Next year, I expect to see more property businesses look to block management as it continues to evolve, and I don’t mean just letting agents and surveyors.
Their background could be in construction or risk and loss management, whatever it is I think more people will realise that it’s a sector that has potential, and a lot of room for improvement.
With expected changes in legislation and regulation to come in the next few years, alongside more property people taking an interest in the sector, this will hopefully help to drive standards up.
The industry has been crying out for improved customer service for some time and it can only be good news that more and more people with a passion for service are coming into block management.
*Duncan Foster is business development manager at SDL Property Partners