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By Nat Daniels

CEO, Angels Media

OTHER FEATURES

Property Natter: backbone of our industry – Aspire-ing and roaring to greatness

Firstly, Happy New Year – here’s to 2021 being less chaotic than the last!

In the final part of our series on local independent agents – for now, at least – I spoke to Matthew Dabell, the co-founder and joint owner of Aspire, Craig Webster of Blackpool-based Tiger Estates and Barry Walker of well-known Glasgow agency Walker Wylie.

Without further ado…

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Matthew Dabell, Aspire

When was Aspire Estate Agents founded and by who?

Aspire was founded in 2003 by Andrew Townend and myself, Matthew Dabell. There was no lack of agency experience - Andrew had built up Townends, then been a major shareholder and a part of Kinleigh’s expansion to finally become KFH, before setting up Aspire.

I had held director positions at both agencies. Although a 21st century brand, Aspire was an early-adopter of the franchise model, having incorporated Hugh Henry (established in 1880) - one of the original franchisees.

Aspire has recently been fully merged back to one owned-outright agency, having been run as a number of franchised branches. The unification was spearheaded by myself and my co-director Tom Ward, taking the group forward in this next decade.

What was the reason behind the founding of the agency? And what are its main goals?

Andrew and myself had both become frustrated with being part of larger organisations, where changes were slow and structure was everything. There’s nothing wrong with a good structure, of course, but it was becoming harder to attract top quality staff and we wanted to create a more individual agency with service at its heart. 

From the start we employed only the best agents, those that were generally local to the area, great networkers and people who cared about local matters. Founding Aspire meant we could realise our dream to be a customer-focused, less bureaucratic, agency.

How many staff and branches does Aspire have?

We currently have six physical branches across SW London, together with a specialist Development & New Homes Department based in Fulham and a large property management department, based close to our clients’ properties. We currently employ 40 staff.

Which of the portals do you use? And do they offer good value for money, or are they merely a necessary evil?

We currently use the three main portals. We were gold members of OnTheMarket and whilst we would be the first to admit it’s been a bumpy road, we are great believers in agents having some control over who is using their data to create another business.

Let’s be a bit controversial here. Not every portal offers value for money - we’re charged a huge amount for advertising our own hard work and marketing assets. We do, however, recognise that the public probably prefer to have one place to look for everything and therefore use Rightmove due to its brand recognition. But I am sure this monopoly will change over the coming years.

Is Aspire a fan of social media when it comes to marketing and engagement?

Very much so. We have always embraced new technology. We heavily used Twitter in the past but now concentrate our efforts on Instagram and Facebook. Our strategy isn’t to treat these channels as listings tools, and we rarely post our new properties.

Instead, we try to keep our feeds amusing and community-focused, with a little bit of property porn thrown in for good measure! We’re really proud that our social media accounts attract both staff and clients, as people perceive Aspire to be a company they want to be involved with. But ultimately, it’s all a bit of fun and that’s what people enjoy.  

Do you feel like smaller agencies are often overlooked with so much focus on the big corporates and franchises? Do independents have to work harder to be noticed?

Perhaps in PR terms, but I am not really sure that really matters at the coalface. Of course, PR is useful for general brand awareness, but we get a lot of local PR by immersing ourselves in our local neighbourhoods. We have no ambition to be the next national chain – that is not where our skillset lies. 

We employ staff who are ingrained locally and every sale or let really matters to them. It’s no coincidence that when we work alongside a larger national brand on a joint agency basis selling larger new home schemes, we outsell our competitors at least 2-1, thanks to our local reputation and leverage.

How has Covid-19 affected Aspire?

Clearly the first lockdown in March was a bit of a blow. London had really benefited from the decisive election result but the lockdown resulted in quite a large number of fall-throughs on sales. However, the post first lockdown bounce continued throughout last year with some record-month figures being recorded across Aspire in both sales and lettings.  

We were very pleased to hear that the property market would be allowed to continue during the November lockdown last year and we were busy right up until Christmas Eve agreeing a number of lets and sales across the group during those last few days.

And, lastly, where do you see agency in five years' time?

We’re not into world domination! We are great believers in building each branch to be the best it can be before rapid expansion but we do have some interesting plans for the Aspire brand over the coming years - watch this space! 

We are always on the lookout for the best quality staff. We have a very good record of retaining our teams, with many people having been here for 5 and 10 years and some senior members even longer. Lettings is a big part of our business and certainly increasing our lettings book will form part of our future plans.


Craig Webster, Tiger Estates

When, why and where was Tiger Estates founded? And by who?

The company was established by myself in Blackpool in 2008, through the purchase of two failing property management companies, which I modified to become Tiger Estates. Amalgamating the infrastructure and staff established the sturdy foundations of success that we enjoy today.

Tiger Estates was set up as a lettings and management-only business initially, providing clients with all property management services under one roof to maximise the returns from their investment. We look to challenge tradition by embracing technology - bringing a cutting edge to our services - and still look to do the same today. We used technology and youth to work differently to our competitors.

In 2010, the residential sales market endured a turbulent period, and many established estate agency businesses were closing down or switching their focus to lettings and management. I took the bold decision to open a second office in the South Shore area of Blackpool and entered the estate agency market. Having completed thorough market research, we felt that a different approach to estate agency could prove rewarding for people looking to sell and would suit the changing local market.

We were the first Fylde Coast agent to both introduce fixed fees rather than the traditional 1.5% commission structure and to provide floorplans, virtual tours and digital display marketing.

Within nine months of trading in estate agency, another opportunity was made available to us, with the largest estate agency in the South Shore area facing bankruptcy. Through networking and friendship, we were quickly able to acquire the client contracts of Troy County Estate Agents for both their sales and property management. Subsequently, we rebranded as Tiger Sales and Lettings, operating across South Fylde, Blackpool and North Fylde.

In 2015, we purchased the prominent corner sited former NatWest bank on Whitegate Drive in Blackpool to continue our expansion.

What was the inspiration behind the name?

Always looking to challenge tradition, I wanted a company that could become a recognisable brand that could be used across various industries and sectors.

Tiger was a strong name, easy to spell and the marketing could be very recognisable with striking images. That would allow the company name to stand out against our competitors and more importantly be a name to be remembered.

The name also encompasses strength and power that we will stand strong to protect our clients’ interests.

How many staff/branches do you have?

We currently have three offices. Our head office covering Blackpool Central, North, Thornton-Cleveleys, Poulton-le-Fylde, Fleetwood. Our Highfield Road office, also in Blackpool, and our Preston office - which is a hybrid office - located on the Docks at Preston and servicing the entire Preston, Kirkham, Freckleton, Warton, Ribble Valley and South Ribble locations.

We currently have a team of 25 property professionals, split into two teams either specialising in property lettings and management or traditional estate agency, serving 1,800 managed rental units and 500 properties available for sale or under offer.

Which portals do you use?

We’ve always used Rightmove and although they infuriate me, as they do other business owners, you cannot hide from the fact they are still the biggest portal generating the majority of leads and provide a positive return on investment.

We also use Zoopla - although we do not use Zoopla Pro due to familiarity with Rightmove. I’m very interested to see how Boomin could work in the market with a very different approach.

For generating additional valuation leads we use GetAgent - which I view as a good portal - where we pay on success.

And do you use social media lots?

We have started to use social media over the past five years for brand awareness and are always looking at new ways in which we can utilise it to our advantage against our competitors.

We use our social media platforms to promote some of our properties, as well as using it as a marketing tool to promote our services. What’s more, we have Facebook groups set up to provide tips and advice to landlords, house buyers and sellers.

We have over 3,000 followers across our social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Barry Walker, Walker Wylie

When, where and why was Walker Wylie Estate Agents founded? And by whom?

Walker Wylie was founded by me and Stuart Wylie in May 2016. After several years working in estate agency, we both believed it was time to offer the citizens of Glasgow a better way to buy and sell property.

What is your agency’s main mission statement or goal?

To bring trust and transparency to estate agency, and home sellers across Glasgow.

Which portals do you use?

Along with advertising on our own Walker Wylie website, we use the portals Rightmove and Zoopla. We have found these to be the most effective portals for selling property as they’re the most widely used across Scotland.

Do you make much use of social media?

Absolutely – in this day and age, social media is a hugely important part of estate agency. More people than ever are using social media on a daily basis, so being able to advertise our clients’ properties on the likes of Facebook is essential. We work hard to ensure that we are posting fresh, engaging content to help build our follower base and ultimately give our clients’ properties better exposure.

How does the market differ north of the border in Scotland?

The main difference is probably the use of Home Reports in Scotland. By law, all sellers in Scotland are required to have a Home Report carried out by a RICS-registered surveyor. The report provides potential buyers an overview as to the condition of the property they are looking at. In England, the law only requires sellers to have an Energy Performance Certificate, which comes as part of the Scottish Home Report.

And, finally, how has your agency coped with Covid-19?

We’re incredibly lucky and grateful to say we batted it out of the park last year in spite of the ongoing pandemic. We opened our first high street office on June 29 when the housing market reopened. August 2020 saw our best sales month on record since we opened our doors back in 2016 and we’ve also taken on another member of staff due to the increase in demand we have experienced.


Many thanks for the answers, guys – and for all our featured agents so far, from Glasgow to Cornwall.

Until next time…

*Nat Daniels is CEO of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.

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