The decision by Haart to both set up a remote-working ‘partnership network’ of estate agents but also close 24 branches has been hailed as a ‘good move’ by one recently-departed senior employee.
Wishing to remain anonymous, the former branch manager has told The Negotiator that, although they challenged some of Haart CEO Paul Smith’s ‘crazier business decisions’ when employed there, they say the plan to reduce costs but increase coverage makes sense in the current business climate.
And Andrew Stanton, a former Countrywide agent turned proptech consultant, says the industry’s lurch into a more tech-enabled world during the pandemic is now forcing many agents including Haart to look at how they operate.
“Many know I have been an ardent critic of Purplebricks in some ways I still am, but it is what has come out of the Michael and Kenny Bruce experiment that will be seen as an enduring legacy, agency is not rooted in an office in the high street, and it took a terrible pandemic to prove this.
“Great agents, enabled by great proptech, with excellent branding will be the future; think Neil Urch House-Fox or Rollo Miles Agent & Homes. Yes, agency is all about people.”
But it is Haart’s handling of the company’s business restructure during the crisis which has come under scrutiny, rather than its overall plan.
Its most widely-publicised gaffe came on Friday March 21st March when it sacked all its probationary and some other staff via video link at 5.45pm.
It has also caused annoyance among some suppliers, who were asked to re-submit lowered invoices in return for payment for work completed before the pandemic.
“Branch closures are nothing to shy away from these days as long as companies are honest about it,” says PR guru Russell Quirk.
“A grown-up business approach would have been to approach such a thing strategically, some time back.
“But this week’s reluctant admission by Haart that they’re not reopening a sizeable chunk of their estate has instead got an air of Paul Smith having caught out somewhat.
“And it simply didn’t have to be that way and that’s a shame for his company’s ongoing reputation”.
The Negotiator has spoken to two other recently-departed Haart estate agents over the weekend.
Both, who wish to remain anonymous, said they were shocked by the ruthless way some colleagues were let go via video link, and that the agency’s problems started in December last year when its long-standing MD Russell Jervis left the company leaving, in their opinion, several ‘inexperienced’ divisional MDs in charge.