For many years, the majority of agents have stuck to the tried-and-tested 9am-6pm opening hours framework. But is this now changing, with an increase in the number of agencies labelling themselves as hybrid, a rise in the number of agents operating hubs or serviced offices, and a general move towards more flexible working hours?
What’s more, with the modern world leading to people working all hours of the day and night, and a huge rise in shift work, part-time work and the so-called gig economy, do agents need to be more flexible to meet demands for services outside of traditional working hours?
To get an insight into how opening hours have evolved and changed in recent years, I spoke to two different agents from separate parts of the country – Cardwells Estate Agents in Lancashire and James Anderson Estate Agents in South West London – for their take on matters.
‘Weekends are often the perfect time for viewers’
Andrew Cardwell is the Managing Director of Cardwells Estate Agents, which was first founded in 1982 and has been run by the Cardwell family ever since. It covers all areas of Greater Manchester and Lancashire, but with a particular emphasis on Bolton, Bury, Walkden and Worsley.
“Cardwells Estate Agents are open seven days a week,” Andrew told me. “Our offices close at 6pm on weekdays, but we can accompany viewings later when required. We find that Saturdays and Sundays can be very fruitful, often allowing potential buyers the opportunity to view when they have fewer working commitments. Weekends are consistently popular with viewers and are a key part of our service.”
I asked him if there are particular hours of the day that are busier in terms of activity, calls and footfall.
“It is noticeable that we receive several offers to buy, and applications to rent property over the weekends,” he answered. “Weekends are often the perfect time for viewers, so it is important that we are available for them.”
“With regards to footfall into the offices, we have town centre offices in Bolton and Bury and the footfall picks up during traditional lunch break times,” he added. “Having the town centre presence means that clients can call in at their convenience in person to collect property details, make appointments or even just pop in for a chat.”
What about flexible working hours for staff? “Our colleagues enjoy an element of flexible working hours to allow for childcare and medical appointments,” he said, before I asked him whether it was realistic for an agency to be open 24/7, as certain hybrid/online agents claim to be.
‘Estate agents can’t be open 24hrs a day’
“It’s not realistic for any estate agency to be open 24hrs a day, 365 days a year,” he continues. “Estate agents are professional people, who need time off to spend with their families and to relax, just like everybody else.”
He said the agency had trialled opening until 9pm a few years ago and found that there were very few incoming calls and often people were too busy with family commitments to discuss property matters into the evening. “It was quite simply not worth it,” he said.
‘Local knowledge is scarcely available from online firms’
Nevertheless, given the recent advances in technology, he believes it is realistic to still provide an online service to clients 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“Some online agents claim to be open 24/7, but in reality, it is basically no different to what we do, as we offer the opportunity for clients to make viewing appointments online 24/7, can provide marketing materials, emails, etc.”
“The difference is that when the office is open (7 days), our clients will speak to qualified professional staff who know the area that they are working in very well, and often live there. This type of local and community knowledge is very scarcely available from the online firms.”
I finish by asking him whether he thinks agency opening hours will remain the traditional 9am-6pm in the future, or whether they’ll become more movable and flexible over time.
“It will be interesting to see, but at present the 9-6pm office hours in the week with evening appointments available, in conjunction with opening over the weekend, seems suitable to meet the market needs at present.
‘Closing at 6pm was not particularly customer-friendly’
James Anderson Estate Agents, which covers both lettings and sales in a number of South West London locations, including Barnes, Sheen and Putney, recently moved to retail business hours (7 days a week, until 9pm weekdays). I asked director Paul Eperon what motivated this decision.
“The DIY online estate agents with national call centres that have entered the market in recent years are trying to reshape the industry,” he said. “All traditional high street agencies are of course also online and have been for a decade. We believe that face-to-face interaction is valuable to our customers for building the professional and trusting relationships that we are proud of.”
Paul added: “It is important to always be at the forefront of the industry. We felt that the traditional proposition of closing at 6pm and often only being open for a few hours at the weekend was not particularly customer-friendly, which is why two years ago we decided to open all of our offices until 9pm and to make ourselves available all day on a Saturday and Sunday.”
‘Lettings applicants love to look at properties late into the evening’
Are there certain times where the branches are particularly busy? “In terms of peak period the results vary but lettings applicants love the ability to look at properties late into the evening, particularly during the evenings when there is more daylight. Serious property purchasers also seem to love these options when available to them.”
But is a move towards retail business hours the future for all agents? Paul reckons the entire industry adopting such hours is unlikely for the very reason I am asking the question. “As the traditional 9-6 working day does not apply across the whole of the working population anymore – there is a greater ability to visit our offices within normal working hours today than 20 years ago (with more flexi and part-time working hours offered by employers),” he said.
I concluded our discussion by asking whether James Anderson had seen positive results due to the change in opening hours.
“Asides from happy lettings applicants who are impressed and grateful at the ability to arrange viewings for almost any time, in all honesty we have not seen a positive change in business,” Paul admitted. “However, this is of course difficult to measure directly in relation to our change in opening hours. At the present time the market is relatively cold because people do not seem to want to move because of Brexit.”
Very interesting answers from both our featured agents. Thanks very much.
The next logical question is: what are your opening hours? Have these changed? And do you expect them to change in the future? Let us know in the comment section below.
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.