Guest post: Your Key Move – A story of how a modern estate agency was built

13/08/2020

Introduction
 
Your Key Move was founded by Carlo and David because they both had experienced poor customer service from estate agents and thought they could do better.
 
They both realised that a large online estate agent is too impersonal and can never provide the local knowledge or customer service required. Equally a local agent can be very ineffective slow and has higher costs. 
 
So why not combine the benefits of the two? A local online estate agent with excellent customer service and all the cost-saving advantages of a bigger online agent passed onto the customer. 
 
Your Key Move was borne to provide the traditional customer service of a local agent combined with the excellent value of an online agent.

The Beginning
 
To get the best of both worlds for a customer we needed to offer excellent prices and service. Because we don’t have the overheads that traditional estate agent we can compete on price and because we have designed our business processes from the ground up we know we can be efficient and cost-effective.
 
What matters which is getting the customer’s property sold for the right price while delivering excellent value and service.

Customer Experience

Customers, value good service. This means offering a reliable, punctual, reactive, and consistent service. As people don’t move homes that often it may be difficult to compare and contrast the experiences they have had unless they are unusually good or bad.

Customers may not have experienced effective, friendly customer service until they have tried Your Key Move. 

Most customers are not driven by the price charged or the commission but will select their agent based on their track record and the ability to make their selling process low stress and hassle-free. Price is a secondary consideration that can be agreed upon.

Our main focus, therefore, was to build a robust customer service experience.

To achieve this, we had to look at our entire business process. From start to finish. From answering the phone to signing a contract we always ask ourselves: What could make this easier for our customers? Is there a better way?

Adopting this approach is important as we haven’t made any assumptions. We have just laid out business problems and come out with effective scalable solutions. As a consequence, we have evolved our existing business processes and then tailored systems around these to deliver our objectives of efficiency and clarity.

First Contact

Customers usually call or us, email us or contact us via Right Move. We must capture that information and respond to it in a timely fashion.  

Customers are usually interested in either getting their property listed getting a valuation or they want to view a property that they have seen online.

Customers are impatient and want to get an instant response where possible. This is paramount in securing new business. Would you list your house with an agent who took ages to get back to you? 

Our rapid communication model means that we can get back to them in a timely fashion with the relevant information. Different customers want to be communicated to differently, some customers prefer to be called some customers prefer to be emailed.

Marketing A Property

Showcasing a property, the right way is vital. Photographs can make or break a listing online. A lot of people searching for properties online may not know the local area, so the only connection the person will have with the property is the photos.

Very few people will walk the area or do deep research before they go and visit unless they’re traveling from a distance, so the presentation of the property is vital. 

Using professional cameras with proper wide-angle lenses makes a huge difference. As does taking multiple shots and editing them afterward. The property listing should capture the audience’s imagination. Just like a good synopsis for a book or a movie trailer it should draw the audience in.

What three key benefits does this property have? Or unique selling points. I.e. if this were a family home in a town. Near a good school, Large family home with scope for improvement and parking for 2 cars.

These may be obvious to the seller, but it is important to state them none the less.

You will be surprised by the number of estate agents that do not take the time to produce a good online listing following these basic rules. 

Some don’t use professional equipment to take photographs this has huge that cannot be understated and the property may not get viewings that it deserves and therefore it may not get the offer is that it deserves.

​Pricing Psychology

The second important thing is the price. The Psychology of price and price potential in any market is a powerful thing. Buyers can be instantly turned off or on by this one factor.

Pricing a property or asking the question what is my home worth? is a difficult question. A lot of people are emotionally attached to their property (family home, children, and memories).

A property sale is simply a financial transaction that is taking place between two people. price is very important and some people overvalue their property because of their emotional attachment or they feel it has a certain intrinsic value.

The property must be priced correctly in the market to achieve the best possible price.

Know Your Target Market

There are several ways to price a property and employ an effective strategy to go with. This all depends on the type of property being sold and therefore the typical person buying and their psychology.

For example, if we take a dilapidated property that needs a significant amount of work, we would be attracting a first-time buyer or a property developer or a landlord investor.

In this case, this type of property would benefit from almost an auction-style system where each person interested submit the highest bid and the situation and the seller can choose from that.

Conversely, if you have a family home that’s all up together and near a good school, the chances are there will be a family wanting to move into that property.

This property deserves a completely different type of strategy, in this case, you may put a guide price on and see what type of buyers are offering and what their positions they are in. 

It is highly likely those buying this will be selling an existing property. The devil is in the detail of the chain that lies beneath that sale. Also, how attractive is their property and can they afford to sell for a reasonable price?

A final example would be a property that is suitable for retired people a bungalow that has been recently refurbished. In this case, there may be a lot of straight cash purchases or one sale with a low or no mortgage.

Perhaps for people who are downsizing again, a different strategy may be employed to see who can offer on this property a lot of the people offering won’t have any mortgage or maybe buy in cash.

The price you put a property on is affected by the psychology of the buyer and the type of price i.e. a guide price offers over auction style) in all ways and strategies of achieving the best sale price for the seller is very important to consider before you price the property and she just has to ask the question who is buying this property? who is the target market? This is vital.

Overpriced 

If a property is grossly overpriced from its market value let’s take an example of a four-bedroom house in an area where the average price is 350,000 and someone wants to market the property at 450,000 because it has a nice bathroom and kitchen most owners will be put off by this price comparison. The chances are they will look at the cheaper properties this property will get very few viewings.

The property may then suffer from very low offers putting on it against the price having a more realistic price for this property.

A better pricing strategy would be to put offers over 380,000 because as an added value is a much smarter strategy this will encourage more people to view the property see its benefits and features and then be able to make an appropriate offer based on what they have seen. 

It is very difficult to convey a property’s presence or value through an advert, in short, it’s important to get as many people through the door to put down sensible offers so that you can pick and choose.

State the Obvious 

Some buyers may not come from the local area and they may be moving down.
From Capital to Coast is one we see quite often. Therefore, it is very important to sell the benefits of the local area. 

Is there a good school nearby? How is it rated? What transport facilities and amenities are nearby? These are all driving factors that justify the sale price of a house that may be obvious to local buyers but not to people from outside. These considerations will also determine whether they come to view the property or shortlist it. Assumptions are dangerous. So, spell out the obvious! 

when it comes to selling your property and marketing your property don’t seem that the buyer has local knowledge.

Qualify Your Purchaser and Their Offer

Getting the property under the offer is just the first step. A lot of things can change in the time between a sale being agreed upon and completion. Never assume the sincerity of the buyer or that they are honest. 

Have they provided proof of that mortgage agreed in principle? Did they show the cash for that purchase? Have they viewed other properties but didn’t get them?

All these details must be woven and delicately balanced to protect the genuine buyer but to have a healthy suspicion for all offers. We see all the time people that say they have a mortgage agreed in principle or their house is sold only to find this isn’t the case. In the meantime, driving off other genuine buyers. 

Can we demonstrate that they have currently marketed or have an offer on their property which is for sale? This is where a genuine cash buyer with no chain had a great advantage in the market because they can complete the chain quite easily. Often, they will be able to bid at a lower price and this may be reflected throughout the chain.

it is important to balance the sale price with the ease of sale this then puts the vendor is in a strong position for their purchase.

The Dark Art of Sales Progression

Sales progression is a dark art and involves the estate agent moving between various solicitors and trying to get an accurate and up-to-date picture of what has happened and how close the property is to exchanging and completing. 

We have found that we are building up a chain and a regular flow of business with an estate agent that we can then rely on the same person dealing with that convincing and communicating correctly between the estate agent and the vendor.

Communication is paramount as miscommunication down the chain can lead to people pulling out finding out the property and breaking the chain that is in place it is therefore imperative that every week the chain is progressed information is passed correctly and more importantly both lenders and solicitors are chased if they are not or have outstanding tasks that are causing the chain to not complete.

Furthermore, if there are changes in the chain, in other words, someone’s mortgage has changed or property has fallen through this must be also communicated as this can be repaired all the circumstances can change i.e. someone sale falls through but then they find another buyer who is actually in a stronger position.

This is why sales progression is almost half the battle of getting a property sold and completed and thus the estate agent getting the completion commission.

Okay so when our exchange and completion date will the battle is not over yet now we have to make sure again we have clear communication and that the transaction goes through smoothly what time will the completion take place are we using standard times where are the keys he’s going to get the keys what about removals well if people agree to vacate the property were there any special things that were supposed to be left have been agreed on the T2 forms these are all questions that need to be asked and answered before the completion date.

The last thing you want to do is let your customer down at the last minute and ruin good customer service and leave a bad lasting impression so you must make sure that you make contact with the vendor is on the day of completion and everything has taken place smoothly if it’s not going according to plan again make sure communication is flowing between the buyer and seller and the solicitors so that everyone is kept up-to-date this should reduce the stress of the completion day and keep everybody happy.

At Your Key Move, we do a lot of sales progression behind-the-scenes to make sure that everything is running smoothly, and that the information has been communicated to the correct parties.

Giving the bulk of the fees to a solicitor on completion is often the best way forward as there is a direct incentive to getting the property exchanged and completed. Sales channels for an Estate Agent are paramount.

Visibility Is Key

Recent customers may recommend us to their friends or family based on their experience this is really important word-of-mouth can have a big impact on our reputation and therefore our long term success.

Visibility is also vital. From for sale or sold boards these can be seen on main roads their design and appeal are important.

Search Engine Optimisation and online presence are vital so that new customers can discover your services and excellent reputation through keywords. Finally using social media to promote new property listings or providing useful tips gains you a local, collective audience. This all helps towards brand awareness from potential customers.

Review Your Self and Build Trust
 
Online reviews are an important tool to gain the trust of new customers and to demonstrate your experience.  
 
We focus on Google reviews and Trust Pilot, and these are both important for recording customer service experience. People may consider the rating important as part of the decision-making of which estate agent they should go with.
 
First Impressions Count. So true in our industry. The first golden “five minutes” with a customer can have a lasting impact.
 
They will make their decisions based on the type of experience are having from the offset. It is therefore imperative that we pick up the phone promptly and answer it in a timely fashion and a professional manner.
 
Some customers will list their property because they are in “established in the area.” They assume they can’t go far wrong with that agent and all of their customers are satisfied.
 
However, logically they don’t consider the track record of the agent and how effective they are at selling properties. Do they underprice or overprice them? What type of service could they expect? How rigid are they on their fees? What is the average time to offer? 
 
These are all important questions that simply don’t get asked most of the time. Again some people are emotionally driven and don’t consider the facts when comparing and contrasting agents.
 
In theory, the customer should choose all of the above when deciding which agent to use however people are logical, they don’t always decide on the best.
 
Coming back full circle. Re-enforcing our 5-star rating and excellent reviews on trust pilot does help cement some of these ideas into a prospective customer. Would you eat in a restaurant that had terrible reviews? 
 
We have found for customers that have looked this has a big impact on who they choose to list the property with.
 
Sometimes it’s best to Walk Away
 
Some customers have had the property on and off the market dozens of times and I’m very indecisive about whether they want to sell the price which they prepared to sell. These vendors are generally best avoided. They consume a lot of time and resources and often don’t yield good results. Time is a precious resource. 
 
As an estate agent, it is important to be firm and fair with your customers and that you stick to your guns and your structure there is no real purpose in overpricing property opening a property on the people don’t want to sell this will just waste everyone’s time and causes a lot of confusion and frustration.
 
Be transparent with your customers. Do not try to inflate their or their properties’ ego. Always aim to under-promise and over-deliver. Set realistic expectations on price and deliver effective marketing. The sale will follow.
 
It is better to refuse to list a property at an unrealistic price than market it at all. Make sure you re-enforce that marketing the property a high price, won’t generate any interest.
 
As an agent, we can see how many people have viewed a particular property online. How many clicks throughs did it get and more importantly, how many viewings has it had?
 
Properties that are correctly priced and are correctly marketed will sell usually within 2 to 3 weeks in a buoyant market. If the property is bespoke or the market is slow it may take longer.
 
Most properties that are on the market for over 12 weeks are either poorly priced or poorly marketed or both. This will just lead to more problems for that property in the future.
 
Target Market
 
Again this comes back to what I was referring to earlier, who is the target audience who will be buying this house? what features are they looking for? If you’ve got retired people they may want to live in a quiet cul-de-sac it may be worth reinforcing level walking towards shops if you have a family who has children you would want to reinforce the good schooling in that area and other facilities that may be of use to that family. Always sell and re-enforce the key benefits to that target market.
 
This is all an important part of marketing and selling the property to owners there is no point just listing the property with a price without describing the benefits of the area.
 
Remember it is very hard for non-local customers to appreciate a property with an excellent location without actually visiting it. 
 
Yes, there are things like Google Maps or 3-D walks that you can do but it’s very difficult to appreciate the actual situation of property without knowing the local area and have been there. Therefore we must get lots of people through the door this means the property should always be attractively priced whether that she’s in the guide price or referring to the lower end of the price this will encourage more people to visit the property and therefore should generate more offers this then allows the seller to choose from those offers.
 
And the offer isn’t just the amount that someone is offering it they’re buying position do they have anything to sell so they have a mortgage agreed in principle these are all important factors that will feature for the person selling what is the person selling doing are they moving or are they just selling an investment property again these are all important factors that will determine which buyer they choose to go with. 
 
Offering a higher price and the property will get the attention of the person selling it and they may well choose you however if you are in a long complicated chain and the sale could take the time or may fall through they may well choose a lower offer from a buyer who is in a stronger position, in other words, they don’t have anything to sell or have cash and or have a mortgage agreed in principle.
 
Reinforcing the Chain
 
It’s critical that we check the information has been given to us by those buyers it will be very easy for someone to say I have a mortgage agreed in principle I have someone who is already lined up to buy my property these would make that buyer more attractive and allow them to offer a lower price however all of these facts have got to be qualified.
 
 A good estate agent and a good solicitor will check these facts and make sure that they are correct as they affect the state of the purchase there is no point taking the property off the market only to find the person buying it has a long chain hasn’t sold their property these facts need to be established quickly so the property can be taken off the market and the necessary process put in place also the second point is that you must never discount those that didn’t offer enough came second or third one bidding for a property because circumstances can change very quickly.
 
People can change their minds finances can change facts can change therefore it’s important that those people that bit lower amounts or had slightly more complicated chain are invited back and not kept up-to-date as they may want to still buy that property.
 
Our Neck of The Woods
 
Folkestone, Hythe, and the surrounding areas are a lovely place to live, there is a lot of history and you are close to the sea. Property prices are still sensible, despite having risen sharply and some areas still offer great value for money in comparison with London. 
 
We are now dealing with a lot of people are moving down from London who can take advantage of the high-speed train link and are now able to work from home.
 
Folkestone is a great family place it has good schools nice beaches and good surrounding areas for activities for families therefore it’s not surprising that we find a lot of younger families are moving down to the area to take advantage of the green space and beaches.
 
All this demand has caused property prices to rise very significantly, especially larger properties on premium roads that are near to the sea or the station. 
 
I would imagine that in about 10 years’ time Folkestone, Sandgate highs those surrounding areas will move towards the type of prices that you could see in pool or Bournemouth in Dorset and particular special areas may even move towards sandbank type prices.
 
There is still a great opportunity to buy properties at a good value in the right areas of Folkestone and there are certainly opportunities to buy larger properties and improve them towards the coast as there is a high population of elderly people there is also a lot of opportunity for probate sales where properties could be improved and result for profit.
 
There is a great demand for flats and bungalows for retired people who want to move down and downsize. People from the capital now want to have clean simple living by the sea.
 
As the medium price of property increases in the area so does the potential profit margin as the fees the estate agent charge is between say half a percent and 1.5% depending on the type of property the value they will make will increase as the prices increase.
 
Easily outstrip inflation what this means is the expectations of those customers will also rise when dealing with a property at £1 million-plus the expectations of those customers have a far higher than the property marketed at say 500,000.

The Devil is in the detail
 
The larger higher-end estate agents which are online won’t benefit from the local knowledge and equally local agents that charge higher fees may deter those people from selling their property this is where a local online agent with local knowledge has a massive benefit.
 
This brings me onto business processes and e-commerce it is vital that this agent has an effective online website and also effective business processes to deal with all the aspects of buying and selling a property.
 
For example, anti-money laundering checks which are a requirement by law can all be done digitally and easily through third-party website customers details can be securely stored and checked and the customers can be verified before the properties go to market.
 
Added Value
 
There was also a great opportunity for ancillary revenue when selling property things like EPC is energy performance certificates can be booked online again using a third-party. 
 
Extra value things like 3-D floorplans or premium listings or featured properties can also be sold along with things like viewing packs. 
 
Solicitors referrals also a great way of generating ancillary revenue and also add the benefits of having solicitors that you know and trust dealing with the purchase and sale respectively.
 
A Customers Journey
 
Let me talk you through a customer’s journey and the key steps of selling their property number one customer will contact us by the website or phone call and they would want to book a valuation. 
 
Number to the agent will make contact with the customer and arrange an appropriate time to visit them at the property during this visit they will appraise the property and give the owner an idea of the valuation and also highlight the key benefits our business can bring into selling their property.
 
It’s very important the agent emphasises our track record of customer service and demonstrates our philosophy when dealing with them. We can get the property sold for a reasonable price and still deliver great service.
 
You would think the commission price would be paramount in closing lease deals it really isn’t yes the customer wants to get reasonable value but more importantly they want to trust the person involved in being able to sell the house effectively with the minimal hassle that’s the key part gaining the customers’ trust without gaining the customers trust you will never be able to list and sell the property.
 
Therefore, don’t slate the competition or say how poor other people are. We simply focus on how good we are what we provide and we let ourselves shine amongst the competition other agents that resort to these types of tactics often look desperate and very poor themselves.
 
The customer has to sign a contract we digitally produce these contracts using third-party software. This lays out the terms and conditions and it also saves time and money because its digital. Once signed, the property can be listed what’s important here is to choose the right weather conditions sunlight I’m on portly use excellent photographic equipment.
 
You would be surprised the number of listings that I see on Rightmove that have been taken using poor photographic equipment with the wrong type of lens, for example, someone has used a smartphone to take photographs of the property this is a very unprofessional and poor practice we use proper photographic equipment with the correct type of wide-angle lens to do the property justice and to make sure prospective customers can get a feel for the place without having visitors.
 
Having a decent floor plan for the property is essential as is having an accurate description which highlights the key benefits of the property and encourages someone to want to view them, therefore, writing this description is imperative.
 
We believe the customer is always right and that’s why the customer is always the person to authorise the advert we should have a draft preview of the advert and make sure they are happy with the contents before it goes live, after all, it’s their property and we want to make sure they are comfortable with how it’s been marketed and sold.
 
Once the property is live, we will relay any interest for viewings to that customer and arrange for viewings to take place. 
 
Once the viewings have taken place, we make sure both positive and negative feedback is given back to the customer so they are aware of what people think of the property and to help guide realistic price expectations. 
 
We try to interact with our customers every week and provide an interactive marketing report to say how many people have looked at the property online and what interest it’s getting.
 
All of this information feeds back into a loop to see if the property should be marketed differently. Should the price be adjusted? Could anything be changed to attract more people? 
 
The Price Is Right
 
I think the property should be priced correctly from day one I think adjusting the price afterward can have an adverse effect. 
 
It is more effective to use a lower-end guide price, to begin with that certainly would be my preference for marketing or selling any property that I own.
 
When a property has its price changed frequently and has relisted on multiple agents it smells of desperation and sends out confusing messages. This intern will encourage people to put in low offers and they won’t take the sellers seriously.
 
 even if a property has had very little interest if you can make the buyer feel they are lucky to be viewing the property and it has had a lot of interest and sensibly priced this will help achieve sensible offers for the property.
 
Conversely, a property that has been grossly overpriced i.e. sold for offers of 500,000 when it’s only worth 400,000 not only will the property not get much interest but those viewing it will probably actually end up offering even lower amounts and when you show that type of discrepancy in the price it makes the buyer wonder why the property has been priced so poorly in the first place.
 
In this case, it will be much more sense sensible for the buyer to put the property on a Guide price of two 425,000 this will encourage people with a budget of 400,000 to look at the property and maybe those with a higher budget also to look at the property and make offers.
 
Conclusion
 
Hopefully, this article is giving you some insight into the type of things that we need to do in running an estate agent on a day-to-day basis and the type of philosophies that must be employed to ensure you have great customer service.
 
Also, you can see the work that goes into the listing, marketing, selling, and completing on a property. 
 
To build a successful estate agent, you need to gain a customer’s trust. Make sure your business is both efficient and friendly. Deliver the service and grow your reputation.

Written By David Sander 
 
CFO and co owner of Your Key Move Folkestone estate agents

www.yourkeymove.co.uk

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