How did you go from being a barmaid to branch manager at Alan de Maid - and being crowned the top neg in Countrywide at only 32?
I have always enjoyed working and I believe you should smile and try your best every day in whatever you do. Progression is important to me and having a clear pathway of what I need to do pushes me on. Since getting my first ever job to my role now as branch manager, I am ultimately making a future for my son, and I am determined to make it happen and be the best version of myself I can be. It’s this determination that has driven me to where I am now, including placing third for exchanged income last year across the whole Countrywide network.
Is property something you've always been interested in? How did you first get into the industry?
I have always liked everything about property and remember being as young as eight watching Changing Rooms, which is where it all started. How fun it is now to see the different styles of homes and the character of people.
Whilst working as a barmaid, I was putting myself through my second round of level 3 studies at college. Once I passed this, I realised I wasn’t passionate about what I had trained in. As a barmaid, I served lots of local estate agents and decided I’d like to give it a go as I enjoy the customer-facing role. So I went handing out my CV for four hours a week (my only free time) and it took me four weeks and a couple of interviews before finally getting the job at Mann estate agents in Beckenham (also part of Countrywide). I started as a trainee and the rest is history!
Do you think it's important that there are more young - and perhaps more importantly, young and female - voices in the industry?
I started at the age of 24 and have always worked with a mix of ages. I find it is important to have the experience and guidance from older colleagues and I use that to help my training, but I also love the spirit of younger colleagues that find nothing is too much trouble and they are always so keen to exceed expectations. It’s really refreshing and inspiring. I think all voices - young, old, male and female - are important, and what we need more of is strong and confident voices. At Alan de Maid, we actually have more female managers than male!
Sometimes there is a perception that agency is still quite pale, male and stale - and stuck in the past a little. Is this an unfair reflection?
I have had the privilege of working alongside a multi-cultural team for the last few years and I have also worked for many senior female managers. Perhaps I am lucky to have this experience because I have worked for such large corporations like Countrywide and Connells Group, and where there are colleagues from a variety of different backgrounds, and the benefit that brings to an organisation.
What would be your top tips to anyone considering a career in agency?
I think hand delivering CVs is a great first step. You get to see the office and team and a face is much easier to recognise than a name. It might be the tipping point between getting a call back or not. Go for an area you love - I live, work and have my son at school in Beckenham. It not only makes me knowledgeable in my role, but my passion shines through when I speak about our high street and local amenities.
I have also found it career-changing to work for such a large company as there has always been room to progress my career, while still benefitting from a close-knit team - I love my team like family. Most importantly, be prepared for a rollercoaster ride! Some days are filled with smiles, offers and happy clients. Inevitably, some aren’t. It is simply part of the job we do, to be honest it’s what has kept me so enthralled with the job.
No day is the same as the last, but hopefully the good outweighs the bad. Once you get the job, it sounds simple but pick up the phone! It’s a highly competitive industry and sitting still won’t get you anywhere.
Have there been any noticeable changes since Connells Group took over CW - or has it been business as normal?
Alan de Maid is very lucky to be looked after by a long-running and results-driven management team, and this has stayed the same. As part of the wider group, we have had our recent company awards and I was lucky enough to be invited to our newly launched League of Champions awards ceremony last week at the Belfry.
This is the first time in a while we have been able to celebrate together in such a way. It was really inspiring to listen to the speeches from my peers from all areas of the business. We also have new staff incentives rolling out for the coming year which I think will have a great effect on everyone.
How did Alan de Maid cope during the pandemic?
I personally didn’t enjoy being away from my office environment, but I did stay in regular communication with my team which really helped. I remember thinking at the beginning that it was going to cause a price crash and we’d have lots of people withdrawing, however we were lucky to be considered an essential business and weren’t away too long.
Coming back was different, and getting used to wearing masks and social distancing was a whole new world, not just for the team but our clients too. We worked really hard coming out of the lockdown and went on to have the best year ever and really grew our market share! It’s another constant reminder to me that no matter how bleak things may appear, never give up as you will always come out the other side.
Lastly, how is the Beckenham market at present? Is there a lack of available stock? Are prices/rents still booming?
The borough of Bromley has had a higher price increase than any other borough of London, and Beckenham in particular has benefitted from that. From our local Beckenham Place Park being featured on the BBC News, to the opening of the new Apprentice-featured Dough Bakery, we have endless reasons to come and move to our town.
Outside space has been a huge driving force for the migration of our London-based buyers and this has only increased. Our fantastic schools, often with outstanding rated Ofsted reports, are another great reason for families to move here, whilst still having the connections into the city.
Prices have shot up drastically to compensate for the great offerings of the area vs lack of available properties. For every great property for sale there are at least 5-10 offers from great buyers and we are achieving much higher than asking price on most transactions.
Delivering a different kind of agency
I recently caught up with Alex Knight from fast-growing Kent agency Knight Edmonds, after it recently opened a new office which was formerly a Pizza Hut.
Launched by Alex and his business partner Sam Edmonds on February 29 2020, just 23 days before the first lockdown, the agency faced an uphill battle to survive but is now reaping the rewards.
“As quickly as it started it looked set to finish, but we dug deep and did what we could, achieving our first sale (a plot of land) in the middle of the lockdown,” Alex tells me. “We strongly believe that the industry needs to change. Modern estate agency is less about pushy sales tactics and more about good-quality marketing and a customer-focused service.”
He went on: “Every house benefits from professional photography, virtual tours and floorplans and every sale is offered additional security in the form of reservation agreements. The industry fall through rate is approximately 33%. However, with the Reservation Agreements that we offer, this is at 8%. I truly believe that this is the future of house sales and that it is essential that we as an industry change the way house selling is done. A vast amount of business has come through word of mouth from recommendations and our boards that are going up in the local Maidstone area.”
With fall-throughs in mind, Alex was delighted to see the recent Trading Standards announcement that more material information will need to be included on all property listings by the end of next month, calling it ‘a brilliant starting point’ for the industry.
“Too much ambiguity has surrounded the loosely defined consumer protection regulations. Customers should have clear, upfront information packs, letting them know exactly what it is that the agency is offering,” he argues. “Although I haven’t seen part B and C yet, I really hope that combined they will require agents to offer comprehensive buyer information packs similar to the ones that we offer our customers via the Gazeal platform.”
And the new branch? “The new office is a former Pizza Hut and features over 30 metres of prime window space wrapping itself around the main entrance to The Mall in Maidstone (one of the busiest shopping destinations in the county – probably second only to Bluewater). The Grade II-listed building has just undergone an extensive renovation stripping it back to brickwork and starting again, removing many of the internal walls, creating a bright open space,” Alex says.
“The branch has been designed with the customer experience at its centre. Many find walking into estate agents intimidating; a feeling heightened by rows of desks all positioned facing the front door. This leaves the customer having to walk into a room with everyone staring at them sat behind desks.”
“We designed the front of the office to mimic a home. You walk in and, although desks are there, they are not the central feature. We positioned our kitchen in full view, with a large round table and breakfast bar for customers, as well as a sofa and armchair, to create three distinct areas for customers to sit away from desks. The idea is that people can find the environment both calming and relaxing.”
He said the upper area of the branch is a later addition to the building, and while complementing the lower area’s heritage, it is designed to feel a lot more modern.
“There is a further seating area giving an additional choice of areas to sit and a large desk bank where most of the business is generated.”
Given the agency’s focus on changing the industry for the better, what does he make of PropTech?
“I believe there is a big place for PropTech in our industry, but I feel too many view it as a way of replacing customer interactions. Automated viewing bookings and going online for this and that is not the way to offer a personal service,” he claims.
“PropTech should automate mundane, repetitive tasks, but should never replace human interaction. PropTech should also be seamlessly integrated. There should be no need for separate logins for every supplier or individual piece of PropTech. It should all work together behind the scenes with a single user interface. The industry is definitely moving in the right direction with this, especially with new offerings such as Reapit Foundations. More speed is needed, though, if the industry wants to keep up with other industries in this regard.”
Thanks for the great answers, Lisa and Alex. Definitely names to keep an eye out for.
Until next time...
*Nat Daniels is CEO of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.