Fight back or perish

Imagine that you owned a Michelin-starred restaurant that served delicious food at £100 per head.  How would you react if a new McDonald’s restaurant opened right opposite you?  Would you start serving burgers and chips at £2.99 per portion or would you work still harder to serve even more delicious food at a premium price?

Estate agents are facing the same dilemma in their fight against the online agents.  And I am appalled by the paucity of their response.  One after another, agents who have spent their whole lives explaining how explaining a service will achieve a better price are now falling over themselves to win a race to the bottom where all attempts to offer superior service are being sacrificed in an attempt to reduce the headline fee.  If I owned an online estate agency business, I would be rubbing my hands in glee at this foolishness.

The clue as to how to respond to the threat posed by the online agents is in their own advertising.  The universal message is “We paid all this extra commission and got nothing extra in return”.  If you think that this is true, then you should shut your agency down tomorrow and do something else for a living.  If it is not true, then you need to fight back.  This does not mean bitching and moaning and feeling sorry for yourself.  This means preparing a convincing sales proposition to justify why customers will be better off by paying a higher fee for your service and backing this up with cold hard facts.

You might start by compiling a list of your ten best unique selling points and practising how you will work these in to your sales presentation and explain to potential clients how a bigger, more experienced team or an onsite sales progresser will help them to achieve a better price for their property in a shorter time.

Then you need to work on the proof.  Compile a list of all the properties that you have sold in the last year that had previously been on the market with an online agent.  Pull off the full details of each property, then pull off a Rightmove history showing how 17 The Drive had been on the market at a price of £350,000 with XYZ Agents Ltd for six months.  Then show your dated instruction letter.  Then show a print-off from your software system to show that you sent 47 sets of details, followed all of them up with a phone call and produced 12 viewings.  Then show a copy of your (redacted) sales memorandum to prove that you obtained a full asking price offer of £350,000 within 14 days of instruction.  Then show the Land Registry record of the £350,000 sale price.  Then show a letter from the delighted vendor saying that he wished that he had come to you in the first place.  Then wave the evidence of the 14 other properties that you sold last year after they had been unsuccessfully marketed by your online competitor.

Next, collect some testimonials from happy clients who have sold through you after paying an online agent and getting nothing in return.  Show their photographs as well as their written testimonials.  For maximum impact, make a two minute video of them telling their story.  You can film this on your phone, if necessary, and its impact can be huge.

Next, collect every article you can find on the internet about the dangers of using an online agent and how full service agents will usually achieve a better price.  Look abroad for more articles.  There are many online on American websites.

Finally, try to collect documentary evidence of properties that have been undersold by online agents.  If you have sold four identical 3-bedroom semis in the same road for £340,000-£350,000, the online sale at £320,000 will look very suspicious.

This is not a time for subtlety.  You need to really ram your message home.  And to have maximum impact, you must have visual evidence to prove every single claim that you make.  It will take you a few hours to put this together and supply the necessary evidence.  However, you will recoup the value of this time a hundred times over.

Once you have researched written evidence for your selling presentation, you will need to adapt it for use in your marketing campaigns.  There is no point having a fantastic presentation if the potential client does not call you out to make it.  Be very careful not to make libellous or unsupported statements, but testimonials, quotations on your leaflets, case histories in the newspapers and testimonial videos on your website can all play a very important role in increasing the number of valuations that you are asked to attend.

You may think that some of these suggestions are aggressive or distasteful but there really is no alternative.  You will never be a better online agent than the companies who are already market leaders and you can never beat them on price as they have far deeper pockets than you.  What you can and must do is to fight back by disproving their central claim that all that commission gives the customer nothing in return.

Adam Walker is a management consultant, business sales agent and trainer who has worked in the property sector for more than twenty-five years.

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