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How to survive in today’s low-instruction market

"With a decreasing number of instructions coming onto the market, we are finding it harder than ever to maintain and increase stock numbers. Frankly, we are battling with too many agents (especially if the ‘DIY’ or ‘call centre’ agents are included), Any thoughts welcome."

Julian O'Dell

Julian O'Dell imageJULIAN SAYS: The simple equation of dividing the total number of sales completions by the number of estate agency businesses makes grim reading compared to the same calculation ten years ago. Add the downward spiral of fee levels and the story worsens. The best agents face that challenge head on and are equipped to defeat it. Part of their strategy is to have a watertight knowledge of their competitors and all that they do.

The Art of War imageSun Tzu in The Art of War proclaimed, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

So how can you apply this ‘know your enemy’ mantra? It would be easy if your service was unique, without competitors, but how do you win when there are more (and new kinds) of competition?


All agents have to attract the attention of new clients with so many other practitioners. Having a clear perception of how your competitors go about their business and why their clients employ them is at the heart of a successful battle in steering prospective clients away from them and to you instead.

List your competitors and assess how they compare to you. Create a simple matrix in which you and your competitors rank in order of performance against key business criteria such as market share, sales performance, reviews, marketing techniques, team size and experience and so forth. This will give you an accurate view of where your company sits in the marketplace “pecking order”.

The best starting point is to avoid arrogance and self-importance and take the view, harsh as it sounds, that your potential clients perceive that you are, nothing particularly special or different. From that position, you are better positioned to understand the need for (and have the appetite for) creating uniqueness.

Once your relative competitive position is clear, your business can strategically decide whom to keep an eye on and perhaps from which ones you can learn.


Your website is the gateway to your business that many new clients go through. Look at it from their viewpoint as someone who is looking to sell or let their property. Now look at your competitors’ websites from the same perspective. Which is the best? You have 10 seconds to capture a reader’s attention via your website – if they don’t see what they are looking for immediately, they move on. If a potential vendor or landlord visits your site, how “wowed” are they by your business? How easily can they answer their unspoken question “Why should I instruct this agent?” Be objective and honest. Make a note of competitor website elements that you could incorporate or improve upon.

Have your rivals got genuine unique selling points within their proposition? Could those USPs be the deciding factor in the battle? If they are, you must nullify those by offering similar elements and then try to offer service factors that are truly unique and better, that will help the client achieve a better price, a faster transaction, enjoy a stress-free experience or all of those three key goals.


It unnerves me that a significant number of agents do not know what their competition actually offers. They are quick to criticise and badmouth the services of the new breed of ‘call centre’ type agents without drilling down into the detail of what they do and don’t offer, or even their charging models.

Mystery shop your competition. Pick up the phone and pretend to be a potential vendor or landlord – grill them on what they do. It could be the best time you spend in improving your business.

Monitoring your competitors’ social networking will show you the ways in which they interact with customers and how they use these platforms to market themselves. If your estate agency doesn’t have an effective online social networking approach and profile, it is time to rectify that.

One of the factors that separates exceptional agents from the rest is how skilled they are at attracting customers away from their competitors to their own. This includes the key aforementioned ‘know your enemy’ lessons as well as training all customer-facing staff in spotting and converting those opportunities. There is often an alarming skill gap that needs addressing within agency teams. Mind that gap and address it.

Simultaneously you should maintain sound relationships with your existing customers, giving them no reason to ditch you for a competitor. Regular client communication to check how well your customers feel will help maintain trust and also assist you in learning lessons about where to improve.

Consultants often recommend carrying out a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), however that might just as well stand for Stupid Waste Of Time unless you truly ‘know your enemy’.

October 1, 2017