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It pays to be well-connected

Utility suppliers have become very interested in estate and letting agencies as a route to market, and for the agent, that can mean a new revenue stream and less moving hassle. Lisa Isaacs reports.

Lisa Isaacs

Connecting estate agents with utilities image

The days of grappling with gas suppliers, chasing landlords for £2.56 electricity bills and trying to understand baffling energy tariffs are over. The Big Six and leading tariff comparison sites, innovative energy and communication companies, these providers are falling over themselves to partner with agents. The sell is simple – promote their services to home movers and your agency will be rewarded with commission when someone signs up or switches to their recommended product.

It’s not as calculating as it sounds. Utility partnerships save agents hours in admin and save home movers hundreds of pounds in bills too – with moving the perfect time to evaluate tariffs and bundles.

Here’s how you can boost income and reduce administration and make your homemovers richer in the process.

TAP INTO APP ADVANTAGES

Marco Ferrara - Tili - image

We hear you. You know all about ‘proptech’ but don’t become immune to innovation or you’ll miss something that may save you time and money and give you a competitive edge. Focusing on making life easier for homemovers should be on your agenda – after all, property is a service industry. The launch of Tili, therefore, is perfectly timed. This digital platform from Spark makes notifying utilities, finding the best energy tariffs and securing favourable broadband/ TV deals a cinch. Movers simply join the Tili platform and in 10 taps they will have set up essential utilities. “The property industry has to up its game in terms of customer experience – we need to make things quicker, easier, and simpler for our clients,” says Marco Ferrara (left), Director at Tili.

Tili commissioned YouGov to conduct research that showed 30 per cent of movers found it was taking up to five hours to set up their essential utilities, with some saying it took more than 20. Introducing movers to Tili is a no brainer – who wouldn’t want to cut that time down to three minutes?

Tili has created a marketing package for agents to use – in electronic and paper formats – and recently trained 1,500 partner agents through a series of WebEx presentations. As well as making utilities simpler for movers, Tili exposes agents to new income streams. “Agents earn money when movers take up one of the services offered by Tili,” adds Marco. “It’s totally free for agents and customers, and the income earned can offset the impact of industry changes like the tenant fee ban.”

All these companies offer agents, landlords and tenants service with a new twist. One Utility Bill, for example, says that along with taking all the hassle and administration away, they also guarantee prices at the initial setup for the agents whole portfolio of properties. Chris Dawson, CEO, says “In doing this, agents and landlords know what their revenue will be each month. Tenant deposits can also be quickly released as there is no final bill to settle.” That’s a very good USP when taking on a new landlord! Tenants are happy too, with bills that are split equally to avoid arguments and knowing that their costs will be the same every month.

MIND THE GAP: UTILITIES AND VOIDS

Energy is still used during void periods and after noticing the number of negligible gas and electricity bills sent out, suppliers have stepped in. SSE is one of the Big Six energy suppliers who have a void management solution, saving hours of administration – especially when agents may be issuing paperwork concerning a bill of just £4.

“Our proposition is to streamline the void period, eliminating the hassle of managing utilities during the tenant transition,” says Danny Wyrwoll, the Strategic Development Manager at SSE’s Housing Partnerships. “When agents choose SSE as a utility partner, they only have to contact us once to get the ball rolling. All we need is the address meter readings and the tenant’s move out date – we’ll take care of the rest.” The SSE service automatically transfers the property to the company’s standard variable tariff and when a new tenant moves in, they’ll have SSE supplied electricity and gas, plus a letter detailing the tariffs available. “We understand one of an agent’s biggest gripes when dealing with utilities is calling suppliers – being passed from department to department, relaying the same details over and over. Multiply that by 100 properties – the time wasted is astronomical. If we’re asking agents to call, we want contact to be quick and direct. Therefore our void management solution comes with a dedicated Key Account Manager as a single point-of-contact.”

SERVICE WITH BENEFITS

SSE has also twigged that the tenant fee ban will squeeze an agent’s income, so its void management service comes with financial benefits as well as time saving ones. “Agents can earn on every supply transferred to SSE during the void and we can often mitigate any small bills that may have accrued during the void period,” adds Danny.

Void periods can create administrative tasks for agents and not being diligent can create more paperwork and break the law, as Heidi Shackell, the CEO at The Lettings Hub, points out: “It is a legal requirement to notify water companies and local councils when a tenancy ends. The notification process can be time-consuming and tedious, taking up valuable hours that negotiators could be spending doing what they do best; selling and letting properties.”

The Lettings Hub is one of a number of companies offering a comprehensive utility management service that includes notifying water suppliers and councils. “Keeping a clear audit trail keeps things compliant: it’s an important part of our full service, so the agent can prove steps were taken to notify the change in occupier,” adds Heidi.

We pay a referral fee to agents if a tenant sets up their broadband through our service and when they switch to our preferred supplier during voids. PJ Darling, Ittria.

PJ Darling imageMeanwhile, like SSE, Ittria offers an automated void management product and utility switching service but it also strays into the minefield that is communication. “We give tenants advice when it comes to choosing a broadband and phone provider, giving them the option to sign up to bespoke deals that we’ve secured or to any provider in the market,” says Ittria’s Director, PJ Darling (right).

Commission is attached to Ittria’s communications and fuel services, “We pay a referral fee to agents if a tenant chooses to set-up their broadband through our service, in addition to when they switch to our preferred supplier during voids. The commission is paid monthly in arrears, and the rate is dependent upon the size of the agent’s portfolio of properties and the products they choose. Agents can mitigate lost tenant fees by combining revenue generated from our utilities and broadband deal with our rent guarantee insurance and tenant referencing commission. An agent with 500 properties will make £10,000 in commission per annum and save around £6,000 in referencing costs. A calculator on Ittria’s website for agents shows the commission they could earn.”

OWNER-OCCUPIERS BENEFIT TOO

Ed Gain - MoveIt - imageMoving home is a good time to appraise energy bills and owner-occupiers should be encouraged to compare tariffs as soon as they move into a new property. Ed Gain (left), Product Director at MoveIt – a ZPG tool that has already delivered over £1 million in referral fees to agents – says owneroccupiers shouldn’t put comparing energy suppliers to the bottom of their ‘to do’ list: “Our customers can enjoy savings of up to £482 off their annual energy bill, so it’s worth encouraging all movers to compare as soon as they move in.”

Our customers can enjoy savings of up to £482 off their annual energy bill, so it’s worth encouraging all movers to compare as soon as they move in. Ed Gain, MoveIt.

The MoveIt tool is an energy switching service using uSwitch, with an automated email generated and sent to new homeowners when they complete (the service also works for lettings ). Referral fees are paid every time a mover switches to a recommended product and agents can boost their revenue by adding in commission-paying conveyancing and financial services too. “Estate agents that use MoveIt for energy switching comparisons earn £16 per dual-fuel switch or £8 per single fuel switch. We have multiple estate agency branches using MoveIt, with some agencies earning over £1,000 per branch per month, which easily covers both their ZPG software and portal costs,” concludes Ed.

FULL SUPPORT FOR AGENTS

If the thought of promoting additional services to home movers puts you off, don’t panic. Almost every supplier has developed training and support packages for a stressfree adoption. For example, the crux of the Virgin Home Connect programme is that it gets both tenants and owner-occupiers connected as close to their move in date as possible. If the mere thought of not having Netflix on arrival isn’t enough to get people to sign up, Virgin provides agents with a full suite of marketing collateral, including posters, flyers and branded giveaways. “We also give agents full training via a personalised online referral portal, plus there’s a dedicated field team who provide ongoing support and training so agents have everything they need to be successful,” says Henry Gregory, Virgin Media Home Connect’s Marketing Manager. “And for every successful referral that leads to a customer install, we pay commission to the partner and we reward the employee who submits the lead too.”

WILL YOU SWITCH?

Whether your could use extra income to plug the gap left by tenant fees or you’d like to cover portal costs, partnering with utility companies is a good way to boost bottom line figures. What’s more, you’ll be offering movers a truly beneficial free service, which shouldn’t be such a hard sell.

November 30, 2018

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