Property sales may be booming, but the biggest problem facing agents at the moment is the lack of new instructions. Without those instructions – down by 10 per cent on 2019 – sales will dwindle, buyers and sellers will fall away, and the market will slump. But there is a proven solution at hand; gold just waiting to be mined – data.
Data will help you find potential vendors who may only be thinking about selling – and help you show them that you are the experts in the field, the firm you can trust with the biggest transaction of their lives. According to Stuart Ducker, strategic solutions director at data experts TwentyCi, most traditional agents win 78 per cent of their new instructions from off market owners – and two-thirds of those instructions come from properties that have not been on the market in the past 10 years. For hybrid agents that figure rises to 95 per cent.
It’s crucial that you as an estate agent, as a negotiator, address off-market targeting in some way, shape or form. The future is about people who are off market. Stuart Ducker, Strategic Solutions Director, TwentyCi.
“There are lots of proptech companies out there offering on-market targeting, but crucially the future is about people who are off market, because that’s the only place you are going to get new instructions from,” he says. “It’s crucial that you as an estate agent, as a negotiator, address off-market targeting in some way, shape or form.”
TwentyCi’s data scientists have built a likely-to-instruct model using artificial intelligence and over the course of the past 12 months it has correctly identified roughly 80 per cent of new instructions. It can identify key factors such as a likelihood to move because of an owner’s life stage or income profile – it can even gauge whether someone is likely to downsize because they are financially stressed.
TwentyCi also offers a ‘lead machine’, identifying people who are potentially in market – maybe because they have had a baby recently or are downsizing because they are retiring, or the children have left the nest. It will then refine that to suit the agent’s market profile – for instance Foxtons will want different leads to YourMove.
‘Every home is on the market’
Over at Homesearch, Chief Operating Officer Sam Hunter highlights the scale of the problem facing agents at the moment. “Out of the 708,000 properties that we are tracking on agents’ website, two-thirds are under offer and one third, less than 250,000, are actually still available to buy – less than one per cent of the entire property stock,” he says.
An agent using Homesearch would put your requirements into our data and it would spit out the 90 or 100 properties that fit your needs and your budget. Sam Hunter, Chief Operating Officer, Homesearch.
“We take the view that, as one of our guys put it, every home is on the market – it’s just the motivated people that have the sign out the front.” Homesearch allows agents to identify and target specific properties that are in demand in their area long before owners are actively thinking of putting them on the market.
“What our technology allows an agent to do is say to a client, ‘What do you want to buy?’,” explains Hunter. “An agent using Homesearch would put your requirements into our data and it would spit out the 90 or 100 properties that fit your needs and your budget, and it would filter them by the ones most likely to sell next.
Data will help you find potential vendors who may only be thinking about selling – and help you show them that you are the experts in the field.
“We train our clients so that when they walk into a valuation they say ‘We’ll talk about your house at the moment, where do you want to live?’. And they bring up Homesearch and put their requirements in to the system and it brings up hundreds of properties where they thought there were four or five, and they are blown away, and the agent wins that instruction.”
Hunter adds: “Everyone is frustrated that there is a perception that there is nothing to buy which makes them think they can’t move. We’re trying to solve that problem by saying to agents, show them everything. If they think there’s one and you can show them 90, that will increase their motivation and it will also facilitate somebody else’s move, and it cascades into a virtuous cycle.”
Data ‘gold dust’
Richard Combellack, Chief Commercial Officer at BriefYourMarket, says there is there is “gold dust” in the firm’s archive database. “We find it through referrals and through web tracking, which can follow the behaviour of any individual on your website,” he explains. “We are integrated with every single CRM out there, we take in all contact data and property data on our feeds.
Pre-pandemic, agents were waiting for customers to walk in the door; we are now in a digital age and you have to have seven-year customer journeys. Richard Combellack CCO, BriefYourMarket.
“For example, we can see that Mr Jones has shown up at a London office looking to buy a property but his correspondence address is Nottingham, so his information will be sent to the office in Nottingham.
“So if we take Mr Jones, and he bought a house off you five years ago, and he now starts interacting with more expensive properties on your website, we can track that, realise Mr Jones is potentially looking to sell again, and start speaking to him.”
Combellack says when Covid struck and agents had to shut their doors, it made them suddenly realise that the only way to stay in touch with their customers was to develop a digital marketing strategy.
“Pre-pandemic, agents were sitting and waiting for customers to walk in the door and actually we are now in a digital age, you have to have seven-year customer journeys, you have to have digital marketing to ensure you are generating the leads you need to generate, and more and more people are beginning to realise that now.”
He stresses the need for agents to look professional if they are to thrive in a fiercely competitive market – and the key role that data has to play.
“If I am communicating with you and telling you about house prices in your area, what’s happening in your postcode around house prices – ‘Here are the houses that are on the market, here are the ones that are selling,’ – it doesn’t matter who you bought your house with and whether he was a nice guy. Are you going to go back to them or are you going to the one who looks really informed and looks really intelligent about the marketplace? You are probably going to go to the one who is a little more informed.”
Propensity to move
It’s a similar story at Prospr, which offers market intelligence down to postcode level, with tailored reports to help agents give vendors a convincing reason to sign up with them, rather than the competition.
“If a customer goes on the agent’s website [for a valuation] we don’t just give them a number and say what the price would be, we give them a partial report so they are actually getting something meaningful,” says founder director Chris May.
The report includes all the latest properties sold nearby, those that are currently on the market, and data on the figures for the last 10 years. The agent can then print out a full report on the property – schools, parks, broadband speeds etc.
If a customer goes on the agent’s website we don’t just say what the price would be, we give them a partial report so they are actually getting something meaningful. Chris May, Founder Director, Prospr.
“When they go around and see the seller they come across as market experts because they have this big report on the area and every bit of information they could possibly need to demonstrate to that vendor that they are market experts,” adds May.
When they win the instruction agents can also add a buyer’s report to the listing, including information such as nearby planning permissions and flood risk assessments, which would normally only be discovered during the conveyancing process.
Prospr will also soon be adding propensity to move data to the bank of information available. “They can look at every single property that is likely to come on the market or switch agents – this one’s had a price reduction, that one’s been on the market for three months – then they can literally push a couple of buttons and send out a branded postcard or letter to those house-hunters,” he explains.
“It’s great for brand awareness, as well. Rather than just getting someone to maildrop a whole area you are specifically targeting them, which makes it even more compelling.”
Stand out from the crowd
A similar approach is employed by Dataloft, which also aims to help agents stand out from the crowd by looking more informed and professional.
“What Dataloft does is tell a story of what’s going on in the market. We look at the market in general and create a story with our infographics that helps nurture not only their database but also prospective clients,” says Sales Director Carly Holt.
“It might be that someone is looking to sell their property in six months’ or 12 months’ time. Dataloft helps the agent win those instructions because it makes them look like the most experienced professional in the town. They’ve got the facts and the data about what’s going on in the marketplace.
We look at the market in general and create a story with our infographics that helps nurture not only their database but also prospective clients. Carly Holt, Sales Director, Dataloft.
Dataloft Inform, the firm’s online subscription tool, offers housing market intelligence based on an agent’s chosen postcodes. It provides market reports, interactive charges and transaction maps to allow negotiators to demonstrate their in-depth knowledge of the market. “We have demographic data, schools in the area, new homes in the area, is it made up of couples, single people, what people do for work, how they get to work and so on,” explains Holt.
Meanwhile Dataloft Rental Market Analytics looks at the lettings side of the market and claims to be the UK’s largest and most comprehensive single source of achieved rents. It includes more than five million references, with around 30,000 new tenancies and 50,000 new tenants added each month.
Where Dataloft differs is that it offers a broad market view, rather than targeting prospective vendors. “A lot of firms offer property-specific information, which is great, whereas we are looking at nurturing that ongoing relationship and making the agents look like the experts in the town, which helps with ongoing valuations,” adds Holt.
Zoopla also take a broad-brush approach to market data with the same view of equipping agents with the information they need to stay informed and look professional. “With a 25 per cent fall in the volume of homes for sale in the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2020, we know winning instructions is more important than ever for agents,” says Sales Director Nikki Cole.
“Our House Price Index is a bespoke report for agents that provides a detailed monthly analysis of the UK property market covering all the major cities as well as insights on house-price growth in their local area. We also provide information on broader trends like the ‘search for space’ to help agents win those vital instructions.”
Improvements to our website had a real impact and homehunters are now 37% more likely to contact an estate agent as a result of a search on our new results page. Nikki Cole, Sales Director, Zoopla.
Zoopla is also working to bring more passive homeowners into the market, with the portal’s My Home experience providing insight to homeowners to guide them on the right time to sell, in turn providing more opportunities for agents to win instructions.
“Recent improvements to our website had a real impact and home-hunters are now 37 per cent more likely to contact an estate agent as a result of a search on our new results page, while the likelihood of users sending a lead from the listing detail page has increased by 22 per cent,” adds Cole.
“We also offer a best in class property valuation report to all agents, which not only provides valuation data, but also local market insights around metrics like time to sell.”
The digital age has arrived in agency with a bang. The property boom may have provided a respite to those firms still doing things the old-fashioned way, but with instructions falling they risk failure if they don’t play catch up.
Perhaps Stuart Ducker at TwentyCi should have the last word. “I’m biased but data is everything – I can’t put it any other way,” he says. “It is so vital, it’s unbelievable. You look anywhere in the world today across what affects your daily life, whether it’s Spotify or Amazon, they are using data and data science techniques to make sure they attract the right customers and deliver what those customers really want. Estate agency is no different.”