The phrase ‘game-changer’ has been hugely overused. But when applied to how Covid-19 is changing the way estate agents will work in the future – it’s accurate.
That’s because the game has changed, different rules and new techniques are now in play if agents are to survive and thrive.
Before I talk about the future, I want to remember the past. In 2013, there was the horsemeat scandal. Trust in supermarket food chains plummeted, and people turned to their local independent butchers in their droves.
The public wanted certainty. They wanted to know exactly where the meat they were buying came from. They wanted to trust the person selling it to them. They wanted to deal with a person, not a faceless brand.
And I see parallels between that period of history and how I believe local, personal independent agents could steal a march on their corporate rivals in a post-Covid-19 world.
For the record, I see EweMove franchisees as local independent agents supported by our team and covered by our umbrella of back-office services.
Bad news for cheap agents
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the future of agency. One thing I’m confident about is that the ‘new normal’ is bad news for cut-price and impersonal agents.
Doing things, the right way, will take more time. Gone, at least for a long time to come, will be the revolving door approach to viewings.
More care and more time will be needed to see sales and lets through to completion. And taking the time to do things properly doesn’t fit the cut-price model of estate agency.
The rise of the personal agent depends on the individual being supported behind the scenes so they can spend more time talking with their clients and delivering results for them.
Just as the horsemeat scandal made a large section of consumers appreciate their local butcher, I think there’s a significant portion of clients who will seek out and value the personal service, expertise and advice fairly priced agents provide.
The agents who provide that level of personal care, adapt to new ways of working and listen to what their clients want - will come flying out of the traps.
Before the lock-down and during it, the industry has been flooded with stories, news articles, webinars, and commentary around the movement towards ‘personal agency’, ‘hub-and-spoke’ models, associate employment and self-employment.
Ultimately though, even these different types of ‘going it alone’ options come with a risk that your career and future is not entirely under your control.
I can see three key groups of people who are potentially at risk of others’ decisions about their futures.
1 – Employees who have been called back to work, but remain worried about how long they will remain employed for, due to the potential lack of job security.
2 – Employees who are made redundant and need to consider their next move.
3 – ‘Pseudo self-employed’ people who work in each territory for a territory owner or head brand, only to find later that their assumed exclusive ‘patch’ has been reassigned to someone else or taken away altogether.
Another option to carve out a self-employed career is to start your own agency. But there’s a problem. To do this entirely alone is very high risk. With so much to do and thousands to invest.
You must plan your brand and marketing strategy. Set up operating systems which are legally compliant, work out your operating procedures and customer service strategy and so on.
All of which leaves less and less time available for you to do what you love and need to do – which is to get in front of customers, help them and sign up new business. Because if you don’t generate cash, you haven’t got a business.
Even if working from a high street shop is your idea of the way forward, you’ve still got an enormous overhead to maintain and manage, which will distract you from your key objectives.
Much has been said about the new breed of ‘easy start’ agencies where new, eager agents want to start their own business, by paying desk rents and contributing to marketing funds, by giving away up to 50% of their hard-earned commission, but then having to operate in non-exclusive territories.
These options have been around for many years and are more common in the United States, but have struggled to gain traction in the UK, with only a very few showing any signs of sustained success.
Then came the breed of pay-up-front online agents who built their UK operations workforce with local property experts, self-employed on the promise of owning territories and growing their business by building their teams, of even more ‘LPEs’.
For many, their patch grew ever smaller, and earnings dwindled until they had to give up, while only a very few made good money. And what of the customer service impact?
There is also the hub and spoke models and employing ‘associates’ who would primarily earn commission only. But how secure is this employment when times turn hard as we have seen with the Covid-19 lockdown?
Either being furloughed or being ‘dropped’ was and remains a real risk – after all the hard work that went into developing an assigned ‘patch’, people may rightly feel hard done by.
So in summary, the race is still very much on to see which of the models will win in the ‘new normal’. And the simple test for anyone to consider is to examine ‘control’. Who controls the customer journey, who controls their business, who controls customer engagement and who controls the earnings and income from fees charged?
Ultimately it is the personal agency model where the agent can control all these aspects, be their own boss, have exclusivity in their operating area and directly link their rewards to their efforts and customer service delivery, that will win through.
And in this race, I know which horse I’m going to be backing. Thanks for reading.
*Nick Neill is Managing Director of EweMove