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Get ready for the challenges ahead

"I am an eternal optimist like lots of agents, but I’ve started to witness a slowing in general sales activity over the past few weeks. New stock is hard to come by. Applicants registering and viewing numbers are down as are agreed sales. I recognise that we need to sharpen our approach – what areas should I concentrate on first?"

Julian O'Dell
JULIAN SAYS…

julian-the-dilemmaWithout doubt, 2014 has been a great year on sales for many agents, but there are no guarantees that 2015 will follow suit. In fact, there is increasing, almost daily evidence of a slowdown in activity and house prices reaching a glass ceiling.

staff-training-challenges-2015During recent discussions with my agency firm clients, there has seemed to be a sense of a general dampening down in the level of optimism as to what the New Year will bring.

The mixed media messages cause one of the most serious problems for estate agents – public confusion. When people are confused and unsure what to do, they typically do nothing. They wait to be ‘unconfused’.

Even for those seriously considering a move, the perfect conditions for inactivity are created. Vendors extract information from the media that supports a strong housing market and rising prices, but is contradicted by buyers picking out the evidence that reinforces their belief that prices are coming down. With these opposing views, sales are certain to be hard to come by if vendors stick to their guns and buyers are reticent about ‘overpaying.’

Challenges lie ahead, are your staff ready?

One thing that serves as a salutary reminder of the task facing sales agents is that historic levels of completions in England and Wales before the downturn of well in excess of one million per annum (and by definition over 90,000 a month on many occasions) contracted down to barely 0.6 million in 2010 according to Land Registry. Transaction totals have recovered to a degree, but they are not back to the ‘old days’, and issues of insuffcient house building, the impact of MMR and high prices mean the number of completions will not be as high as in past years.

POSITIVITY AND FOCUS

On the positive front, most agents I deal with do not need huge numbers of sales to survive. If there is one good thing to come out of the downturn, it is that many firms have been forced to get their costs under control and to manage their businesses more effectively.

This reduces pressure to a degree whereby total sales required to trade profitably are not too frightening a number. Many have simultaneously built or grown a robust lettings and property management business alongside the sales operation.

To achieve desired sales results is a simple case of focusing on the right quality purchasers and the right calibre vendors – these people fall into those key categories primarily through their motivation, in other words their reason for move and deadlines. I am still baffled that “What’s prompting you to consider moving?” and “By what date do you need to move?” are critical questions that agents frequently fail to ask their applicants and vendors. These questions do not always feature on the computer screen and therefore staff need to develop the habit without being prompted – many have not yet done so according to recent mystery shopper exercises and my own personal experiences as a potential buyer.

The answers to these two questions reveal very quickly what sort of prospect the agent is dealing with. If the applicant or vendor shows themselves to be a motivated prospect with a short-term timeframe, it is time to provide VIP treatment. Anyone who represents an opportunity for a sale should be handled with care and diligence.

Customers only ever fall into one of two categories – they make you money or they cost you money. By diligently analysing the motivation and ability of everyone you deal with, you will separate the former from the latter and allocate your time and energy accordingly.

By a daily focus on the priority people including morning meeting discussions, proactive approaches to find properties for unsuited buyers and ways to improve the saleability of the motivated clients’ properties, the sales necessary for survival and profi t can be achieved.

DON’T MISS OUT

When I last moved house, the agents that failed to identify my wife and I as sizzling hot prospects (sold to chain-free buyer, able to exchange quickly, mortgage lined up etc – what more did they want?) simply entered me onto a database along with everybody else. We only heard from one or two of the agents we contacted, the others didn’t seem bothered.

Diligent categorisation and prioritisation can be the difference between an average and an exceptional agent and has a direct bearing on the bottom line – leading to the potential end result of making profit rather than struggling to make ends meet.

Questioning, listening, analysing, presenting, closing and handling objections are key skills in more difficult conditions. This is a market that demands salespeople, not polite dispensers of information. You must coach and train your staff to ensure they are in the right group, ahead of the challenges that 2015 will bring.

Julian O’Dell is founder of TM Training & Development

January 26, 2015