First up, one of the most experienced agents in the country, and a regular contributor on our sites – Mr Murray Lee, who has worked for and been an independent agent for 47 years and strongly feels ‘we don’t get enough credit for what we do, never mind in the agency world itself, but also within our local communities’.
“I have been in my current local area since 1976 and more recently - between 1994 and now - specifically in Golders Green, NW11,” he tells me.
“This area is predominantly covered by mostly independents (some franchises, of course) and only one major chain.”
Murray has been joint owner and MD of Dreamview Estates since 2012. “Our reputation is strong in the area and people return to us time after time. I personally have sold and re-sold one same flat four times since 1994 and more recently a vendor who bought through me in the late 80s came back to me to re-sell her flat. I bet no other chain could say the same?”
During the first lockdown, the agency endeavoured to make sure its office was covered for emergencies and ‘never let one tenant down’ when it came to arranging urgent repairs.
Since November 2, a few days before Lockdown 2.0, the agency has been back behind locked doors with basic staffing, trying to carry on its business as best as possible.
“We have recently been collecting and delivering a prescription for a vendor who was unable to get out herself,” Murray says, to highlight the agency’s willingness to go above and beyond for its clients.
Murray is also well-known in the industry for his pivotal role in the Say No To Rightmove campaign, which really took off during the first lockdown – when Rightmove and the other portals were being heavily criticised for their response – but has lost some momentum since.
Estate Agency Union - a database of more than 300 agents compiled by Murray – was one of a number of pressure groups demanding change from Rightmove on its pricing and fee structures.
Away from work, Murray is a GoodSam responder and involved in a number of other charitable or community initiatives. He has just been accepted by www.communities1st.org.uk to help shop for local people, while during the pandemic he has been a driver on the team of You Donate, which delivers meals to frontline NHS workers and others fighting Covid.
He used to do a hospital radio show for Watford General, but with the studios out of bounds (for obvious reasons) he’s set up from home, playing out live on a Friday night via Periscope from 8-10pm.
He also set up his own Just Giving page to raise money for the NHS, originally by delivering Easter eggs to kids stuck at home and later by riding a bike dressed as a French onion seller! Through this, he’s raised more than £3,400 from 131 supporters.
In this year’s upcoming Agents Giving awards – taking place virtually on December 4, with a virtual afterparty! – Murray has been nominated in five categories for his charity work.
Fine work all round, Murray – and here’s to many more years in the industry doing your thing.
Making waves on the Sussex coast
Next, we head to the South Coast - and specifically Brighton, Hove and Mid Sussex - where well-established independent agency Mishon Mackay is based.
Steve Neocleous, business development director at the firm, says he can wholeheartedly make the case for the independent agent having been an area sales manager for a corporate agent running three different areas across Kent and Sussex in the past.
“The significant difference is that we are staffed up with people who want to make a difference for their clients and achieve the very best result they can, who try their level best to give good advice and who grow their business based on referral and recommendation,” he says.
Mishon Mackay has been established in the area since 1987, with seven offices stretching along the coast from Portslade in the west to Rottingdean in the east. This includes four offices in Brighton & Hove itself, as well as a village office in Hurstpierpoint, Mid Sussex.
“We pride ourselves on being Brighton & Hove’s leading independent estate agent and we also have a thriving lettings team and a specialist Land & New Homes team,” he adds.
“We believe that we dealt with the first lockdown well, adopting a ‘pause, not pull’ strategy on protecting the pipeline of sales, increasing communication with prospective clients ensuring that we had business to come back to when we reopened.”
He says the firm is also ‘very strong indeed’ with its social media communication, using the Iceberg Digital Lifecycle system to get its name and brand out there.
As anyone who follows agency news closely will know, and as we broke at the time on EAT, Mishon Mackay was recently announced as one of the founder members of the new, Bruce brother-owned Boomin portal.
“We remain family-owned but have an experienced senior management team who meet regularly to plan the next moves for the business,” Steve says.
“Most importantly, though, is our team of conscientious managers, negotiators and admin staff, all of whom have worked extremely hard and often far in excess of what might be expected of them as we got busier and busier once the Chancellor announced the stamp duty holiday. Brighton & Hove is predominantly made up of high-quality independent agents, so we have to be at the very top of our game to compete, survive and thrive!”
Improving gender equality
Sticking with the South Coast, and Brighton’s near-neighbour Lancing, where Jacobs Steel has one of its seven offices. I spoke to that office’s branch manager – Mel Daddow – and two of the company’s MDs, Pat Barton and Matt Jacobs, for their take on how the agency is giving women a chance to shine in the industry and how it is attempting to bring innovation to the sector.
The Lancing branch you manage has an all-female staff - was this a deliberate ploy or just a happy accident?
Mel: A happy accident, in all honesty. We have a very good recruitment process in place and often attract females looking to get into the industry. Roughly half of our entire workforce across the company is female.
Do you use this USP in your marketing, or is it actually quite an indictment of the industry that it's a USP at all?
Mel: The equality aspect is used within our marketing, particularly around International Women’s Day, but not on a regular basis. Our focus isn’t on sex or gender, it’s on quality of service; and it shouldn’t be a USP in our, or any, industry. We are fighting to innovate estate agency and that starts with equality.
Jacobs Steel has an impressive number of female branch managers, but this isn’t typical across the industry - how can female representation in the property sector be improved?
Mel: Women often feel that it’s a choice between family or a career, but employers need to see that there are a huge number of benefits in having a balanced senior workforce. If our industry was able to offer more flexibility to working mums, for example, we feel this would lead to a massive shift in empowered female agents and an overall improvement in the reputation our sector precedes.
How many staff do you have in your office? And how many does JS have in total?
Mel: In our Lancing office we have five staff, all female, directly employed by Jacobs Steel. Overall, we currently have 44 staff; 24 of which are female.
Which portals do you use to advertise property?
Pat: We advertise on Rightmove, Zoopla, OnTheMarket, Homesearch and Facebook Marketplace; and will be advertising on Boomin.
Is social media a key part of your marketing strategy?
Matt: We have an in-house marketing manager who oversees our social media. We have the largest social media following locally, with in excess of 1,500 followers on Facebook, 1,600+ on Instagram, and 600+ on Twitter. Social media and digital marketing as a whole absolutely forms a key part of our marketing strategy.
How has Covid-19 affected Jacobs Steel?
Pat: During the first phase of lockdown we were, like many agents, extremely nervous. However, we used the time to keep on top of in-hand sales as much as possible and perfect our digital campaigns in terms of keeping our clients updated.
As soon as we re-opened in May, our efforts throughout lockdown saw a huge return on investment and all of our branches retained their market leading positions. Like most, we had to think quickly and adapt the way in which we work both online and offline; but our efforts have paid off ten-fold.
Lockdown has also shown us that it is possible for agents to work from home when it’s needed and this allows greater flexibility for our staff.
What is the company’s main mission statement or goal?
Matt: To provide value to homebuyers, landlords and tenants across East and West Sussex. We strive to innovate the way estate agency works, connect with our communities and maintain our respected and trusted reputation.
Cracking answers from all our latest featured independents – keep your eye out for the next in the series two weeks from now! And if you want your agency to be featured, get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time…
*Nat Daniels is CEO of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.