We Brits often look cynically at the way USA estate agents work. American Realtors go to great lengths to deliver extraordinary customer service, yet some of the initiatives employed might be regarded by some as cheesy or outdated. I wanted to investigate whether the latest techniques and concepts used by agents across the pond might be usefully employed in the UK – the National Association of Realtors annual conference was the place to find out.
NAR, the largest estate agency trade show in the world, is inevitably focused on the US market. Nevertheless I spotted a handful of progressive British agents there. Interestingly these tend to be agents who are successful here, in part due to their open-minded approach to embracing ideas they see working overseas (eg Newmans, Sarah Mains, Robinson Jackson, Martyn Gerrard and suppliers such as Reapit) and they continually research new approaches to differentiate themselves.
The four-day event, in a 1.1m sqft venue with 400 exhibitors, attracts 20,000 delegates attending seminars presented by over 200 speakers, including astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly and former US President Bill Clinton.
There is clearly an appetite for personal development and the best attended seminars were those by high profile trainers such as Ed Hatch, David Knox and Bruce Gardner. I was expecting new trainers to come through the ranks with new ideas and techniques. It appears not and I was surprised to discover that various aspects of the use of technology in agency are left to the providers of such technology rather than holistic agency trainers.
I asked Ed Hatch about the challenges and opportunities for agents. He said that too many agents rely too heavily on technology instead of relationships. Other speakers, such as Sara Critchfield, founder of Upworthy (one of the world’s fastest-growing social media sites) take a contemporary view and suggests that whilst technology and social media should actively support the development of relationships, social media should be used with extreme care, good planning and always with attention-grabbing content. In this age of “likeability” thousands of agents are alienating their sphere of influence by thoughtlessly dumping irrelevant content (like homes for sale) on Twitter and wasting opportunities to prompt virality with useful local information. Sara suggests Clickability+Shareability+Distribution=Virality. In estate agency this usually means ensuring that you are seen to be a generous ambassador for your area and thoroughly involved and informed about local issues.
Sara suggested that Twitter and Facebook should not be seen as frontrunners in your marketing toolbox, but as drivers of web traffic, it’s critical to ensure that engaging and ever-changing content, images of people and events as well as personal video should also feature strongly on an agent’s website if SEO is to be maximised.
Economist Pamela Ermen of Real Estate Guidance Inc further developed the local ambassador theme suggesting that agents should be able to predict housing trends by keeping informed about local employment trends (she suggests setting up Google alerts for local employers and using the information to demonstrate authority on instructions). Pamela highlighted the opportunity to predict and demonstrate market expertise by recognising monthly movement in “absorption ratios”. This is the proportion of sales arranged in relation to stock –anything over than 50 per cent is a sellers’ market, below 50 per cent is a buyers’ market.
At the expo, personal promotion featured highly, with agents’ photos on everything from business cards to pens, for sale boards, calendars and chopping boards (yuk!) There were loads of “closing (completion) gifts” on display including boxed sets of agency-branded knives and full home maintenance services, the latter being a great way of retaining client loyalty and prompting remarkability.
Around 60 per cent of the exhibitors were technology-focused and included businesses supplying cloud-based CRM services, highly creative direct mail digital print services (such as an app that allows you to take a picture on your smartphone and instantly convert is to a postcard delivered within 48 hours) as well as a number of suppliers of MLS services that are not (yet) wholly relevant to the UK. There was also exceptional support from lenders such as Wells Fargo, with lollipops to iPads to cars being given away. In essence it would seem that British agents are technologically advanced, but US agents win hands down on relationships!
See video interviews, some amusingly cynical, with presenters, agents and exhibitors at NAR at http://agentvox.co.uk/PROPERTYdrum