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Handling fee enquiries

"In 2013, stock is the key to success. Rightmove figures showed a 22 per cent year-on-year increase on stock coming to the market in January but we didn’t see that! We miss opportunities and fail to convert some enquiries into market appraisals. I’d like to give my staff some pointers on this. Can you help?"

Julian O'Dell

JULIAN SAYS…

cartoon-man-dark-glasses-hat-paper-bagsjulian-the-dilemmaYour dilemma really struck a chord; recently I was in an agent’s office when a customer walked in. “How much are your fees for selling?” she asked. The young negotiator looked up and replied “1.5 per cent plus vat.” The customer said, “Thank you,” and walked out. A priceless missed opportunity.

My latest round of Mystery Shopper centered on testing agents’ skill at handling fee enquiries from vendors and landlords. One of them was the worst call I have ever heard.

Mystery Shopper, “I have a house to sell in X Road, and wondered what your fees are.” Agent, “At the moment our books are full, we are not taking on any extra properties…”

Hard to believe? We have recorded proof!

Whether an agent majors on sales or lettings, or offers both, there is no doubt that success hinges on stock acquisition. Every agent should be aware that handling fee enquiries needs to be to a better standard than ever before, outshining the competition.

A fee enquiry is often the first step to securing an instruction, it’s the start of the client’s decision making process.

These calls kick off with my simple enquiry, “How much do you charge?” Ten recent Mystery Shopper calls failed to incorporate key ‘best practice’ principles. All agents quoted a fee without needing to. One said that whatever I was quoted elsewhere would be beaten by her agency, betraying a desperation which didn’t inspire confidence. Four quoted their standard fee and then reduced it in the next breath without the original fee being challenged. Another quoted immediately the rather bizarre fee structure of “1.5 per cent if we sell at the asking price, 1.25 per cent for selling at less than that”. Presumably all his clients try to secure an offer of a pound less than the asking price as this is massively financially advantageous while costing the agent a significant chunk in commission.

One agent said she’d beat any other agent on fees. Desperate?”

SO WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?

The first point to consider is what the agent’s objective is when taking a fee enquiry. Clearly it should be to secure a market appraisal and there are key points to factor into the call to ensure the objective is achieved.

These include a positive start to the conversation to assure the caller that they are right to consider you. Thank the caller, state your name and that you will be able to help, ask their name and check it for accuracy and use it but, most importantly, deflect them from the issue of fees.

Answer the customer’s question with a question of your own – “Where is the property?” as this ticks a number of useful boxes. It establishes whether it is an area that you cover and/or have healthy demand in. In some cases it may be covered by one of your other offices.

You can then discuss your recent successes in that area and current demand. This reinforces the fact that you are the correct agent to call. Ask, “Have you been recommended to us?” or the even more confident, “I assume you have been recommended to us?”

These initial approaches kick off a conversation which steers away from the subject of fees. It surprises some agents that this is easier than they imagined it might be but the whole premise is that although the fee question is asked as the customer’s first question, it is by far from the most important issue in their mind, it is simply a suitable start to the dialogue.

As the vast majority of vendors and landlords think that all agents are the same, it is essential that fees are discussed after differentiation and rapport have been established; ideally later rather than sooner. By effective deflection and engagement in conversation about the property and its merits leading onto the valuation and potential timescales, an appointment can be booked with the client without discussing fees. These are best left until the point by which the client has bought into your company and the valuer, likely to be towards the end of the marketing appraisal appointment.

Fee enquiries are not easy situations to handle if staff are not trained in how to do so, but they remain an absolutely critical part of the job. The higher the standard of fee enquiry handling, the higher the number of appraisals and ultimately the higher the number of subsequent sales and lets.

Julian O’Dell is founder of TM Training & Development

April 13, 2013