Taking it Personally
At any one time across the UK one million homes are being marketed for sale or for rent. That’s about 4% of the country’s property stock seeking a new occupant each month.
Those tasked with facilitating such transactions are one of the oldest professions in the land – estate agents. (Not quite the oldest profession, that’s something else entirely).
On average, according to Zoopla, it takes a UK home seller 50 days to find a buyer for their home. And then there’s the legal process known as ‘conveyancing’ and this takes, together with mortgage arrangements and so on, several weeks. In all, the home moving process could take between 3 and 6 months.
When we consider the time that it takes to move home, shouldn’t we also consider this in the context of how important it is to choose your estate agent carefully? I mean, you are deciding upon a relationship that will last for perhaps six months and may involve daily interaction. It takes celebrities longer than that to get married and divorced sometimes!
And, what about the 9 to 5? By that I mean, do you think you’ll need to interact with an agent outside of your own working hours? Evenings, weekends, perhaps an early morning query here and there? If so, bear in mind that the vast majority of estate agents are very, very traditional in their opening hours and will mostly only talk to you when, ironically, you’re busy during the day.
The property industry in the United States does ‘service’ really well. They approach customer relationships with enthusiasm and encourage 24/7 contact and, frankly, they’re really nice about how they deal with people. They respect and appreciate their customers properly as, after all, they are paying them good money and no more so that when it comes to estate agency fees and which in the US are as high as 6%. In the UK, selling fees are amongst the lowest in the world – but does that mean that we should expect to compromise on how well we are looked after? No, exactly.
But there’s a problem here. In our country the property industry is dominated by branch offices and there are about 20,000 estate agency offices dotted across the British Isles. This sounds fine until you realise that many agency companies have hundreds of branches all under different brands and it’s confusing in that you might not like, say Spicer McColl very much but did not realise that they are the same business as Haart, Darlows and Felicity J Lord. Or that whilst you want to avoid Bairstow Eves, they are one and the same as Abbotts, Mann and Co, John D Wood, Taylors and Green & Co all part of the loss-making Countrywide PLC group.
I mention loss-making because it’s important in the context of this subject, that of being looked after properly by your estate agent. Not only are many of the big names like Foxtons and Countrywide losing money right now, they are slashing costs accordingly and this may affect you if they skimp on staff and administration efficiency or, importantly, marketing investment. But above all, it means that their staff may be squeezed. Lower salaries, less commission and the result? A much less motivated workforce. If an army marches on its stomach, you don’t want your agent to be ‘hangry’ whilst dealing with you and your prospective buyers.
Plus, typically in our country, individual agents earn just 5% to 10% of the fee that you pay. After tax this isn’t a lot of money in most cases – especially for six months’ work and so no wonder the UK property industry has a pretty poor reputation for customer service.
The US model is now here in the UK. Keller Williams is a business that has expanded across the States with over 150,000 agents there and, intriguingly, 10,000 of them are millionaires. They earn big money. In fact, each agent earns the bulk of the selling commission that the client pays. What difference does this make? It makes for happy, motivated and enthusiastic agents that are enthusiastic about you and your property because they have a lot riding on the success of a sale. They don’t resent dealing with you out of hours and responding to a WhatsApp message on a Sunday afternoon or at nine at night. The service they deliver is better and you, the customer, get a better service and a better result – rather than your fee being channelled to multiple office rents, business rates and senior management BMWs.
So when choosing an agent to look after you and your sale, do you choose a motivated agent that will be there throughout? Or an under-paid corporate type that is rather less enthusiastic?