Outsourcing is growing up. According to David Brierley, Managing Director of Evolve, it’s about ten years since estate agents began to outsource parts of their operations. It started slowly, but, he says, “It has gathered momentum now.”
Business is booming, but it’s not just an increase in the volume of outsourcing that he’s talking about. While agents began by outsourcing discrete and easily detachable parts of the operation, like floor plans and EPCs, they are now outsourcing more and more functions that were once thought to be inseparable from the business, from answering the telephone to sales progression once the property has been sold. At the same time, outsourcing companies have increased their remit, with many now offering a wide range of services as a one stop shop for agents.
Outsourcing was originally motivated by cost reduction, gained by the economies of scale that EPC and floor plan producers enjoyed, and that’s still a prime motive for many agents. But it can also
help deliver better quality. For instance, David Brierley explains, “We’re doing ten EPCs a day where the estate agent is doing one a day; that means we get more practice, so we’re more proficient, and the agent benefits.”
Evolve has added service to service so that now, Brierley says, “Pretty much anything an agent needs to sell or let out a property, we can supply.” The more services the agent uses, the cheaper it gets, since the callout cost is being spread over more services.
ETSOS is another company that’s developed a wide range of services for agents. It was originally a provider of searches, working mainly for the legal profession, but now it deals with estate agencies and now offers much more.
The introduction of HIPS gave ETSOS a boost, as it got involved in putting together searches, floorplans, and EPCs, and though HIPS didn’t stay, the service package did. Ben Robinson, Head of Agency, says, “We’re in touch with a property all the way from day one until it completes.” ETSOS can provide the EPCs, floor plans, compliance checks, searches, and conveyancing quotes. “It’s all done from the same screen,” he says, “and it provides an audit trail.”
The PMA just said, ‘you can’t lie’, the CPRs also penalise the omission of salient facts. ” Ben Robinson, ETSOS.
ETSOS’ latest product is “Compliance in a box”, developed alongside the NAEA to provide all the data required by the Consumer Protection Regulations and anti-money laundering rules. (Ben Robinson notes the change from the Property Misdescriptions Act, “which just said, effectively, that you couldn’t lie,” to the Consumer Protection regulations which also penalise the omission of salient facts.) The high cost to a business of non-compliance, and the onerous requirements, have made this a best seller.
Outsourcing is no longer just a cost cutter. It’s also a revenue opportunity. Agents can upsell – higher spec photographic work or floor plans can create significant added margins – and ETSOS’ Quotation and Referral System (QRS), which generates instant conveyancing quotes, can be used as a revenue generating tool for agents who collect a referral fee from solicitors. At the same time, QRS makes getting quotes and transferring the case across to the solicitor much easier, handling payments, and also ticks compliance boxes by giving a complete, time-stamped audit trail.
Evolve also sees some of its clients using outsourcing to win business, not just cut costs. David says some agents work Evolve’s services into their sales presentations; “they’re talking about quality, easier scheduling, better support. That can help seal the instruction – sometimes they phone us then and there to make an appointment. It’s something our clients can offer that the other guy can’t.”
Even so, estate agents will always pick up their phones themselves… Or will they? After all, it’s not always appropriate to pick up – the phone is usually contending with other work or with other phone calls. So do you drop the call, or divert it?
Moneypenny answers calls and supplies call data and activity patterns – very helpful! ” Samantha Jones, Moneypenny.
850 agents of all sizes are now using outsourcer Moneypenny to handle their calls. Samantha Jones, Commercial Manager Corporate and Property, says that Moneypenny works on an ‘overflow’ basis “to ensure they not only answer every call during opening hours, but over extended hours too.” Moneypenny also helps to provide “a consistently professional response to callers,” and the cost is based on call volume – no calls, no cost.
Moneypenny uses email, mobile, and an online portal to communicate with clients. As well as sending messages on, the portal includes call data and call activity patterns, which can form useful input for marketing activity – another instance where outsourcers can deliver more than the agent could probably do on their own. “Access to this information has been proven to be especially helpful for multiple office agents,” Samantha Jones says, “with directors using Moneypenny’s nightly and weekly reports to assist with organising staffing levels and holiday cover.”
Barton Wyatt has been using Moneypenny for some time. “Every call is important to us,” says James Wyatt; “while only a relatively small number go to Moneypenny, the value of just one could be enormous, considering our average sale price per property in and around Virginia Water stands at £2.6 million.” With high international sales, Barton Wyatt also needs coverage of different time zones; Moneypenny’s New Zealand based team cover this more cost-effectively than an in-house night shift could do.
Every call is important, only a few go to Moneypenny but the value of just one could be enormous, considering our average sale price.”
He points out that Moneypenny doesn’t treat all calls the same. “Our Moneypenny Receptionist Sian really understands our business – VIP or urgent calls are transferred directly to our mobiles,” he says, while other messages are emailed through.
Outsourcing your phone calls might seem radical, but it takes real guts to outsource sales progression. None the less, an increasing number of agents are doing so, says Debra Frampton, founder of
UK Sales Progressors, which pioneered the concept five years ago.
Debra says sales progression is often perceived by agents as interrupting their ‘real’ work of winning instructions and selling properties. On the other hand, “Sales progression is all our staff do, it’s not an interruption. Our people can digest information and communicate it on, they are trained in property law so they understand the issues; it’s a different mindset from selling. In fact, not one of our staff is an ex-estate agent.”
Debra is honest about cost cutting; “I can’t guarantee reduced turnaround times but we do identify areas that are going awry and put them back on track. What you’re saving is the cost of getting so bogged down in sales progression that you can’t concentrate on actual sales.” Up to a third of offers fall through before exchange. That’s a lot of lost commission – and wasted time and effort. At the same time, the personalised service offered by the firm gives vendors and applicants a sense that they are being looked after – the after sales service that some agents lack.
It’s not easy, though. Outsourcing demands a discipline from agents who work in a reactive way and now have to schedule their processes more proactively. “We have a process,” Frampton says, “so we have to manage the workflow. We have to train the client to give us the right information and tell their vendors what to expect.”
UK Sales Progressors spent a lot of time and effort developing its software. But agents just have to click on the link and look at it in the browser.”
WHAT ABOUT THE MONEY?
But what about finances? Many agents worry more about client accounting than anything else. Worry no more. The Letting Partnership offers client accounting and client money protection services, processing £60million of client money in the last 12 months.
MD Jenny Markham says, “We specialise in client money accounting and work exclusively with letting agents across the UK. The service helps letting agencies by cost effectively removing a time consuming but essential function of agency business.
“Concerns are sometimes raised by agents over relinquishing control of their client funds into the hands of a third party. These are eliminated as the work is carried out online and is always visible to them.”
Processing and reconciliation is all done on the agent’s own lettings accounting software by remote log in and no payments are made until they have been authorised.
“No accounting software, no problem, we have our own web based system for the agent to use.”
GROWTH FOR ALL
As always in outsourcing, you get what you pay for, or rather, you pay for what you get; UK Sales Progressors doesn’t get paid till the transaction completes. That’s going down well with agents; the company has 12 staff, but plans to double that over the next twelve months as it takes on new clients.
Outsourcing companies are upbeat on prospects for the future. Tough business conditions have made agents more receptive to the idea of outsourcing, as they look at their costs, while online agents’ business models rely on outsourcing, as David Brierley says, “Online agents can’t do without people like us. We’re their boots on the ground, so to speak.”
Outsourcing can promise cost reductions; it might deliver quality improvements; it can help deliver a better customer experience. But above all, the promise is one of freedom for the agent – an end to the days of trying to juggle too many different tasks, and a chance to concentrate on the key job of selling and letting properties. As Ben Robinson says, “Our system is designed to let you focus on what actually makes money.”
- ETSOS www.etsos.co.uk
- Evolve Partnership www.evolvepartnership.co.uk
- Moneypenny www.moneypenny.com
- The Letting Partnership www.thelettingpartnership.co.uk
- UK Sales Progressors www.uksalesprogressors.co.uk