An estate agent friend of mine asked me the other day, “Sam, give me a better term for a grade II listed cottage than ‘Superb kerb appeal’, please?!” I offered a few adjectives, like ‘fairytale’, ‘captivating’ and ‘a slice of English history’, and he eventually settled on “Oozing charm and character”, which is pretty good I think.
His question does highlight an interesting challenge that he faces: estate agents are not marketers. Nor are they copywriters. Or photographers. Anything you know about marketing properties has been learned on the job, without training. You have simply picked it up as they have needed to.
Rewind to the pre-internet era of selling houses, and an estate agent’s job was rather different than it is today; of course they still had to write the property descriptions, but back then, it was perfectly acceptable to describe a living room as ’25’ x 13’, twin aspect, triple power points, double radiator.’ Now, that description would be met with derision. Once upon a time, one 3 inch square photo stuck onto the front of a type-written page would have been the norm for the property details; now a ‘brochure’ is expected, with at least eight full colour photographs, which brings me onto the next point: photography. These days, an agent is expected not only to have a substantial digital camera, at least £500 worth, but also to be able to use it like a professional.
What is an estate agent good at? Talking to people, understanding their problems and situations, and providing the best solutions for them. Helping them move on, in every way a person can move on, in fact. Most of you have chosen their profession because you actually want to help people. You enjoy and value being part of your community, and feel privileged to feel such an integral part of it. You are fascinated by human nature, by what makes people tick, and have an encyclopaedic knowledge of every property transaction in their area since the day you first started. Am I right?
So why do we now expect our agents to be able to market properties, with all that entails, without any training whatsoever? When was the last time you heard of an estate agent taking a copywriting course? Or becoming a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing? Some of the more enlightened agents do seek photography training, but there aren’t many photographers who are good enough or willing to deliver it. (Two I would highly recommend are Ross Phillips and John Durrant)
Once upon a time, before the internet was a glint in Miles Shipside’s eye, marketing a property, and of course your agency itself, meant an advert in the local paper each week, and a chat on the golf course. Life was simple back then. Now, marketing is social media, website conversion, email marketing, blogging: the list goes on. How are you supposed to know how to actually do this stuff??
Things aren’t ever going to go back to the way they were. Most agents I know barely use print advertising at all. Direct mail is still effective, but response rates haven’t been above 1% for some years now, making it expensive and time-consuming. On top of that, when you actually get the instruction, vendors won’t accept the same property details that just five years ago would have been considered the ‘bees knees’. They want glossy, multi-page, expensively designed ‘brochures’. They have all become marketing experts, it would seem. So what can we do?
We have to accept that estate agents are now marketers, with all that entails. This may very well mean you need to invest in training or outsourcing, and probably both. The days of writing ‘property descriptions’ in the literal sense of the words are now gone; vendors and buyers have high expectations of you, and you have to be able to deliver the goods. So, get some photography tuition, or hire a professional. Work out the best person in the office to do the copywriting, and get some copywriting training for them. They could then write the blog, tidy the website, and anything else that needs words choosing for it. In short: learn how to do the things you can’t, and outsource those you don’t want to do.
By taking a professional approach to this very current challenge, you will actually free up your time and energy to do the stuff that you really got into estate agency for: helping people move on. You deserve it, and so do they.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic – please, leave a comment, or if you’re shy, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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