Over the past few months I have been house hunting in Norwich and I have had some very surprising results, not many on the positive side sadly, but at least that means a need for great agency trainers, so good for my business at least!. I thought I would share my tales, as an example of how NOT TO BE a great estate agent!
This weekend I drove up from London to Norwich on Friday morning having booked half a dozen viewings for the afternoon. My first set of appointments was with a colleague of a lady who’d impressed me last time I was in town, so I was quite optimistic, even though a little sad that I was being passed onto someone else to show me around this time, without any explanation as to why.
1. LACK OF CONTINUITY – PASS THE CUSTOMER FROM PILLAR TO POST SO NOBODY GETS TO KNOW THEM
So I headed off to meet Jay at the first house, only to find that it did not meet 2 of the major criteria I had specified after narrowing things down from my previous visit. This particular property did not have an open plan kitchen /diner which is something I really want as an avid cook who likes to socialise with my guest whilst preparing food; it also had no allocated parking, a definite need and one which I had reiterated to the first lady I’d dealt with. In fact I had been very specific about my criteria and had put everything on an email list, even stating I would prefer 2 allocated spaces or 1 plus a garage. It transpired that nothing I had mentioned to the first lady I dealt with had been passed onto the new chap or written onto my notes.
2. NEVER LISTEN TO WHAT THE CUSTOMER WANTS AND VEER FROM IT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
The next property was equally as unsuitable, so I asked to see the property details of what else was on the agenda (as I had been waiting for the final list to be emailed to me, and it hadn’t materialised before I set off). Sorry, he hadn’t brought the details along, he might have a set in the car, so off he trotted to have a look. Yes he did have the details of the next place, a 2 bed apartment, no outside space, tiny kitchen but thankfully it did have an allocated parking space! I explained, again, this wasn’t going to be suitable, what else was there to see? Yes a final house in Costessey, about a 20 minute drive from our present location, I said I would put the postcode in the sat nav and meet him there as he had someone else waiting to see the ‘no longer required’ apartment on the way to meeting me at the house.
3. FORGET TO BRING A SET OF DETAILS FOR THE CUSTOMER
I drove over to the development where the next house viewing was situated and thought I would take a drive around to pass the half hour or so before I was due to meet Jay again. Whilst driving around I had a call, it was Jay, he was waiting at the apartment for me…’would I be long?’. Oh my goodness, not a great memory for one so young… No Jay I am not coming to see that apartment, you are meeting me at the house nearby when you are finished. ‘Oh yes, so I am, see you soon!’ Amazing.
4. IF YOUR MEMORY IS RUBBISH DON’T BOTHER TO WRITE THINGS DOWN
During my drive around the area I managed to book up another appointment for later that day, a new house just on the market, I actually spotted the board going up and hadn’t heard of these agents before as they don’t seem to advertise on Rightmove or Zoopla from where I have my new property alerts set up. I also booked 4 appointments for Saturday from mid-day, which would give me sufficient time to head back from my 11am viewing on the other side of the City.
5. DON’T ADVERTISE ON THE PORTALS & NEVER PUT A BOARD UP
Whilst driving around I also spotted a house I had been trying to book an appointment to view with a major corporate for 3 weeks. This had included phoning, leaving messages, requesting a call back on their own website and requesting a viewing on Rightmove. Nobody had called back so I assumed (wrongly) that it must have been sold and was just still showing on the websites. I knocked at the house but nobody except the dog acknowledged me, so I put a note through the door saying I had been trying to book a viewing and would be in the area for a few days if it was convenient to view. Let’s wait and see if I got a response….
6. DON’T BOTHER RESPONDING TO VIEWING REQUESTS OR RETURNING PHONE CALLS
Unfortunately the next viewing with Jay was also a no-go, I think I had realised it was going to be, after the disastrous previous viewings. Oh but he did have the house on directly next door to the first place we’d viewed earlier today, and he just realised that it did have an open plan kitchen / diner and also allocated parking! At this time of day probably half an hour back around the ring road through the school traffic…. why didn’t he think about this earlier? He even had the keys in his car, so if I wanted to squeeze it in before my next viewing (through a different agency and direct with the vendor) I would have to forego my planned late lunch and whizz around the property as quickly as possible. I did do this, I shared the viewing with someone else, which I didn’t mind (although the 2nd viewer thought I was the owner), AND the house was much, much more suitable than the one next door (and cheaper) but I think I had given up on the agent by then, and just wanted to move on to the next one.
7. DON’T TAKE KEYS FOR OTHER POTENTIAL PROPERTIES BECAUSE YOU’LL FORGET TO SHOW THEM ANYWAY
So at last, a viewing with the owner. Funny how as an estate agent I always talked about the benefits of accompanied viewings and clients being able to give more honest feedback to the agent, than they would direct to the owner. However, this only works if the agent knows the property and takes the time to really understand and listen to what you like or don’t like, being able to overcome objections and produce accurate facts about the property, the area and the local amenities. Clearly the agent I had been with all morning did not have a clue or care about the properties he was showing me, or what I really wanted in my house purchase. It was, therefore, really refreshing to meet with a vendor, to hear all about his history at the property, and to have great insight into why he loved living there, what the neighbours were like and why he was moving on etc. Of course, the vendor is trying to sell his/her home to the viewer, but I think in most cases, vendors are nervous about conducting the viewing and what you are likely to think of their place that they are just keen to be helpful rather than concocting a bunch of lies to make the viewer want it. I won’t even mention consumer protection regulations at this point, I cannot imagine any of the agents I dealt with would have known or cared to ensure I was told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about any of the places I viewed.
8. DON’T BOTHER TO LEARN ABOUT THE PLACE BEFORE THE VIEWING, JUST LET THE VENDOR SHOW THE PROPERTY
So then I had to head back across town to my final booked appointment, but on the way I received a call from the owner of the house I had put the note through the door of and he was happy to show me around at 7pm that evening, result! I was really excited about this final place, it looked perfect on the agent’s website, yes, it was at the top of my budget but it did have a lovely big kitchen/diner and a garage and parking space.
I have to say that it did not disappoint, and the owner had presented it immaculately for me to view, I was very impressed. However, during our discussion towards the end of the viewing he mentioned that the price was different to that which was listed online. When I looked again, it was listed as a ‘guide price’, although in the small print it had £20k more mentioned. The agent had marked it down at the lower end of the ‘guide price’ so it showed in searches up to that amount, but the vendor actually wanted at least £10k more, and was hoping for £20k more! How does that work? So now we are at least £10k apart and I was not really hoping to pay the full price, as it still needed some improvements to bring it up to my ideal house. I am still in negotiations direct with the owner on this, so watch this space!
9. DON’T LIST THE PRICE CORRECTLY SO YOU WASTE EVERYONE’S TIME WHEN THEY CANNOT AFFORD THE PROPERTY
The following day I set off for my 11am viewing, after I had to cancel my breakfast order when it transpired the kitchen was ‘too busy’ and consequently there was a 40 minute delay on the eggs! (So not just estate agents with terrible customer service today. I made the journey across town to my appointment dead on time, drove up to the house and saw there were lights on, but no car outside. I parked up and knocked on the door but no response; had a look through the window and the place looked promising as if it was all staged ready for the viewing, I was optimistic to say the least. A car pulled up next to mine but when the chap wound down the window he asked if I was the estate agent… well yes but no, not on this occasion. So we both sat in our cars and waited around 5 mins, then I called the agent and was told ‘she’s inside’. I got out of the car and knocked again, louder this time, but still no response. Phoned the agent again, he asked if I was sure she wasn’t in there? Yes I was sure, so he offered to give her a call and find out where she was for me (why, thank you, how kind). I didn’t get a call back and continued to wait outside, now another 2 sets of viewers have also turned up so there’s 4 of us now; we waited another 15-20 mins, then I called again. ‘Oh yes, she’s 5 minutes away, she tried to cut across from Costessey (where we had also come from) but there is a lot of traffic (wasn’t bad for us….)’. I had to call my agent for the next set of 4 back-to-back appointments and explain I was running late, they understood and said they would push back everything by 30 minutes for me.
After another 2 phone calls and 45 minutes sitting outside a very nice looking house, I had to leave for my next viewings, all of the other sets of viewers had also parted bar one ‘it’s all yours’ I said as I drove past. His response ‘I am trying to sell my place through these idiots and I’m dis-instructing them, they are useless, I’m leaving behind you’. That poor vendor, I bet they were given some made-up feedback as to why nobody offered on the house, I reckon they would have sold it if the agent had shown up. At the time I am writing this blog, they still haven’t called to apologise or explain, I even tweeted my disappointment and they haven’t followed-up on that either!
10. DON’T SHOW UP FOR THE VIEWING OR BOTHER TO CONTACT THE APPLICANT
So at the moment, I am still looking to buy a house in Norwich, I am talking to the vendor of the house which is a little outside of my budget, I am not sure either of us will come to a happy compromise, but I do know he needs to change agents – sadly I have no idea who to recommend him to use as, so far, I have been less than impressed with all of them. I seem to have to do all of the chasing, thank goodness for the portals who keep me posted of new instructions and price reductions every day and then I just have to find a way to get the agent to respond and book me an appointment, then turn up for it!
I have a feeling that Norwich agents aren’t alone in being bad, so many of these negotiators I have dealt with have been new to the business, totally unqualified, untrained in any aspects of agency work or weekend staff just hired to answer the phones. Most do not have a clue about the properties I am viewing, the area, or the local amenities or even where the property is located or how to get there. I would also stress that not one agent has asked me to confirm my finances or prove that I can afford the places I am viewing, and, in many cases, even ask me how I intend to fund such a big purchase. I could, after all, just be wasting their time as much as they have wasted mine so far.
So for simplicity, I have listed 10 Top Tips, but from the other perspective now:
HOW TO BE A GREAT ESTATE AGENT….
1. Learn about your applicant, keep in touch, talk to them, get their feedback and keep notes so that IF you can’t always be there to speak to them or conduct the viewings, your colleagues know as much as you have learnt about them.
2. Listen to what the customer wants, on each point ask if that is an absolute priority or if there is any movement on their criteria. Keep in touch, things do change but don’t keep mailing out or calling about totally unsuitable places and never take them to view something they will hate or they might just hate you back!
3. Take a nice set of details with a floorplan and photos, people might be viewing lots of places and want to review them afterwards
4. Do what you say you are going to do, keep notes, make reminders, show the applicant that you ARE bothered about them
5. Applicants view from all different places; online, newspaper, driving around and looking for ‘For Sale’ boards… Utilise all marketing methods and ask the customer where they saw the property so that you can feed this back to whomever is in charge of your marketing spend. Most software systems will have somewhere to record the applicant source but don’t just assume, ask the question ‘where have you seen this property advertised’ and list all the places they have seen it.
7. Take keys for other places, as you conduct each viewing you get a better idea of what your applicant likes and dislikes, you might just find that something that hadn’t initially been chosen starts to fit the bill. If you take the keys for somewhere not on the initial list, don’t forget to keep the property in your mind and suggest it, if it seems appropriate.
8. Accompany the viewing but make sure you’ve seen it, you know all about it or can easily find out. Why not take the vendor’s contact number with you so that you can give them a call while you are at the property. Remember to ask lots of questions of the vendor when you are booking the viewing ‘what do they like best about the house’, ‘what’s great about the neighbourhood’ and, of course, ‘is there anything that might put a viewer off, as I need to share all information BY LAW and so do you Mr Vendor’.
9. Understand that online portals work on a search criteria based on price From £… To £… so don’t list a property for a price less than the vendor will accept, and don’t send details out to people in the assumption that the vendor will reduce the price, or just to get appointments booked. Don’t waste everyone’s time because when finances cannot be agreed upon because of misleading information it is unlikely to do you any favours at all. I would also stress, you do need to be sure that your viewer can afford the property, don’t just take their word for it as this will just upset or annoy your vendor in the long run.
10. Show up, be early, stage the house and greet the viewer with a smile, a set of details, a compass (so you can tell which way the garden faces), details of the parking, the nearby amenities, what the neighbours are like, as much knowledge as possible.
GOOD LUCK AGENTS – IF YOU NEED SOME TRAINING GIVE ME A CALL: