The 5 Top challenges estate agents face – and our solutions blogpost for estate agents by Sam Ashdown

Is yours in this list?

Ask a business owner what’s holding them back from reaching their goals, and they’ll usually tell you one of three obstacles: time, money, energy.

These are three mountains we all have to climb, often daily, and we each have our own inner battles with them.

But this article isn’t about any of these three obstacles – it’s about the five very real challenges to success that many agency owners bring to us, every day.

They are:

1. In a highly competitive area – they just can’t break the hold the incumbent agents have.

2. Remote – their agency is based in an area remote from their target audience – so they are struggling to gain a reputation where they most want to gain listings.

3. A new agent – no idea how to start to build awareness, let alone how to get through the doors of the best homes in the area.

4. In a holiday area, with a high proportion of second homes. How do you even start with direct mail when the owners may not visit their home for months?

5. In an area with few homes on the market that fit their ‘ideal’ – they just don’t have enough quantity of quality homes to target.

Some of the independent agents who follow us have two or more of these challenges to deal with. Phil and I have certainly had to deal with at least three of these obstacles, in the three years we’ve been running our agency, AshdownJones. (In fact, I’d like to add one – living in an area – the Lake District – where there are mountains and lakes in your way, wherever you drive, meaning that a viewing can take 2 hours, and a valuation visit can last half the day!)

Ok, let’s take these challenges one at a time, and I’ll show you how we guide our clients in their quest to overcome them, and triumph!


Challenge 1 – you are in a highly competitive area

Your competitors are strong, sometimes aggressive, and they seem to get into – and list – all the best homes in your area. Don’t despair! You can beat them. If they’re a corporate, they can’t be nimble, and change direction easily, so you can take advantage of that weakness. If they focus on low fees, you need to do the opposite, and target those homeowners who want to pay more – and get more. Every competitor has a weakness – you just need to find theirs.

5 things you can do right now to overcome a highly competitive area:

1. Deal with your mindset – you may be thinking right now, “these guys are so good and so well known, I’m never going to be able to beat them.” Well, with that thought in your mind, you’re right. You HAVE to believe you can not only take them on, but WIN. Your victory – and the future success of your agency – depends on the mindset you have right now. Believe it first, and it will happen. 2 cartoon characters carrying a big rock that says "self-doubt"

2. Compete better on social  check out their social following to see where you can gain an edge over them. Perhaps they are strong on Facebook, but their Instagram presence is poor. If they’re posting loads of links, create great video content. If they’re using video, use live video. If they are talking about their agency in their videos, bring on local personalities and business owners, and interview them. Maybe their content is corporate and professional, but lacks a personality – by showing your face and being yourself, you’ll win the hearts and minds of your audience.

3. Compete with the best direct mail and sales letters – if your competitors are sending out leaflets by the thousand, or even better, they’re not using direct mail at all, you can stand out easily and quickly in your area. Direct mail is the number one reason we got to grow our agency and beat the competition as quickly as we did. (We became the number one agent for high value homes within our first 18 months.) Find out how you can acquire the very best sales letters in the UK today here.

4. Join a support network – there are loads of groups on Facebook for estate agents, full of advice and guidance, support and help. Our own, Firewave, is the only group dedicated purely to lead generation for independent estate agents. So if that’s the specific advice you need, (and if you have a tough competitor, you definitely do), join us here, for free.

5. Create content that your audience will love – content that’s specifically targeted at the homeowners you really want to attract will resonate so much more than the generic information that most agents use. If you want to attract high value homeowners, there’s little point in creating content for first-time buyers. So if you have a down-sizer demographic in mind, for example, create content specially for them. We have a lovely little ebook called ‘Confident Downsizing’, just for our older homeowners, ready to sell their larger-than-average homes. Because it’s laser-targeted, we get a great response from the clients we most want to appeal to.

3 AshdownJones ebooks

Want to know more about how we can help you with your content? Check here if your area is currently free, and we’ll be in touch straight away. 


Challenge 2 – the area you want to target is not where your office is based

Some agents – for example, franchisees – have launched their agency in an area that isn’t their own. Others have their home base or office on the edge of their area, for example, in a city centre, or on the coast. Although it’s definitely more difficult to create and sustain a relationship in an area you don’t live in, it’s certainly not impossible. We know many agents who have done just that. It just takes a little more effort, and some strategic marketing, for you to become the go-to agent in the area you really want to dominate. Your name needs to be synonymous with your area, and that means building a personal brand. Our friend Christopher Watkin calls this being the ‘mayor’.  Do your research and connect with the influencers, personalities and key business owners in your area. Treat them as VIPs – interview them – preferably live, on Facebook. Let them tell their stories, and share their expertise. Review restaurants, bars and coffee shops. Do a feature on unusual businesses, and spotlight those people who are going the extra mile for their community.
AshdownJones lockdownlesson videos

The people who are rewarded with attention and recognition will become your biggest ambassadors, and you’ll soon build up a super-strong referral network in your new area, leaving your competitors wondering what happened.

5 things you can do right now to create and develop a reputation and strong referral network in an area remote from your base:

1. Connect with influencers and arrange to interview them. If you do the interviews live on Facebook, you’ll get maximum reach. Some agents are getting thousands, or even tens of thousands of views – all organic, none paid – on their video interviews.

2. Spend time in the local cafes, bars and restaurants. Check in on Facebook with a photo of your food and leave a positive review. I’ve even taken a selfie with the chef and it was shared loads!

3. Look for a ‘passion project’ – a visible, popular community project you can get behind, by either paying for it, or donating time and rallying volunteers. Playgrounds, community centres and local junior sports teams would all welcome help with fund-raising and awareness, so be their benefactor, and document the journey on social.

4. Join all the clubs you can – BNI, 4N and Athena are all great networking organisations that operate nationally, so check if there’s one near you. The local networking groups in particular are always looking for new members, so join up and support them in any way you can do.

5. Start a club in the area you want to target – it doesn’t really matter what kind of club you choose, so long as it’s nothing to do with property. Running clubs, walking clubs, ‘knit and natter’ clubs, even book clubs – these are all ways you can become a trusted and valued member of your community. I started a marketing club three years ago, and it now has over 350 members; it’s become a very valuable referral network for us.


Challenge 3 – you’re a brand-new agent, with zero presence and reputation.

When we started AshdownJones in 2017, no one knew who we were. We had no presence, no properties – we didn’t even have any friends in our new area. We created a plan designed to create maximum awareness, in the shortest time, with minimum financial investment. We called this plan the “4 Profit PillarsTM”.  This is a plan we now teach our clients, so they can enjoy the same successes we have. The 4 Profit PillarsTM are:

           PILLAR 1 – DIRECT MAIL
           PILLAR 3 – CONTENT
           PILLAR 4 – SOCIAL MEDIA
the 4 profit pillars

Based on these 4 Profit PillarsTM , here are 5 actions you can take right now to launch your agency with a bang, get yourself known for the right reasons, and attract those homes you most want to list:

1. Get started with Direct Mail – check out Phil’s explainer video inside our free Firewave group for everything you need to know to launch your business profitably with direct mail.

2. Focus on Community Building – get into your community, join groups, create groups, be the go-to person for your community in every way you can do. Competitions have been hugely successful for us, so partner with the most prominent independent businesses in your area and create a competition people will rush to enter.

3. Create Content your audience will love to read – in our Firewave group, we talk about content A LOT. It’s vital to create a visual presence that will get you noticed by your audience for the right reasons. What will your audience see when they come to your website, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social accounts? Is your content all about you, or about your readers? Find out what your readers are Googling by spending time entering your own Google searches to see what popular searches you can write about. Then create stylish graphics to complement your written content and motivate the click.

AshdownJones tips

This is exactly what we at Firewave do for our clients – about how you can have a wealth of written and visual content delivered to you every single month.

4. Adopt a Social Media strategy that will attract the clients you really want. Do NOT post property photos and links – these are adverts and no social platform will give your posts the reach you need, unless you pay for that reach. Instead, try ‘behind the scenes’ posts, showing your audience what it is you actually do every day – on a photoshoot, conducting a viewing, or just grabbing a coffee in a café. Anything that shows the real ‘you’ will endear you to your readers, and encourage likes and engagement, far more than property adverts will ever do.

5. Create a plan to implement the 4 Profit PillarsTM and stick to it religiously. Spend time every day on the plan. Don’t slip – simply trust the process and be patient. There’s a tipping point, and you’ll suddenly start seeing huge progress. Being persistent and consistent will get you to that point, so don’t give up before you reach it.

Challenge 4 – you are operating in a holiday area, with lots of homes.

This is a challenge Phil and I have to meet and overcome in our area, the beautiful Lake District. We have a population here of 41,600 which is only around 18,000 properties. Half of these are second homes. This means that when we send a letter to one of these, there’s a high chance no one will pick it up off the doormat for weeks, or even months. And when they do, our letter will need to compete with a stack of other letters, all claiming their attention.

Having a high proportion of second homes in our area also means that Facebook Ads are pretty much useless. How would we target homeowners from all corners of the country?

There are several things we do to strategically place ourselves on the radar of these second homeowners, that you can emulate if you face the same challenge in your area.

5 things you can do right now if the homes you most covet are owned by second homeowners:

1. Get your brand positioning exactly right – our agency is synonymous with unique high-value homes. This reputation has been earned the hard way – by being selective in our listings. We refuse listings that are not unique, and specifically target those homes that are extra-special. Once you have your boards outside the best homes in your area, homeowners naturally come to you to sell their high-value homes. Which brings me onto…

2. Make sure your for-sale boards stand out for the right reasons – it’s not enough to simply have a logo board when you’re trying to attract homeowners out of area. When they visit their second homes, all the sale boards will just be a sea of sameness. They don’t have the insight about individual brands, so your sale boards need to work harder than they do for a local, who is more aware of your brand. We use bespoke boards – these are unique for every home we list. We often showcase a view, or a twilight image on our boards, and they are remarked upon often, because they are completely different to those of our competitors. Your board is a great opportunity to create a brand presence that second homeowners will notice, so make sure yours create the right impression.

an AshdownJones bespoke board

3. Send sales letters that inform – someone picking up your letter from their doormat, with their impending weekend or holiday on their mind, is already distracted by all the things they need to do. It would be great if you knew they were going to sit down and read your letter properly over a cup of coffee, but in reality, that probably won’t happen. Have the question, “What’s in it for them?” on your mind as you write the letter. There needs to be an obvious information gap that catches their attention in the headline, and promises to fill by the end of the letter. If your letter doesn’t feel like information they really need to know, they won’t read it, and your letter will end up with all the other ‘junk’ in the recycling. If you don’t know how to write an information-first letter, watch Phil’s video tutorial here (you’ll need to be logged into Facebook first). Or if you’d like us to provide you with an expertly-written letter every single month you can use to target these very special (and highly saleable) homes, make an enquiry here to check if your area is currently available.

4. Build a referral network of local suppliers – when owning a second home several hours’ drive from your house, you need a small army of people to look after it for you. Cleaners, gardeners, electricians, handymen, plumbers, carpet cleaners – you’ll probably need them all, at some point during your ownership. Do the best of these suppliers in your area know you by name? Do you work hard to refer them whenever you can? These tradespeople are incredibly valuable to you – or could be. They already have a trusted relationship with a homeowner you covet as a client. Look after the suppliers to these people, and you’ll get those valuable referrals in return.

5. Showcase the second homes you sell with bespoke property marketing – even if your direct mail letters are brilliant, and your boards are outside the best homes, your property marketing is where the rubber meets the road. You have to offer an experience to owners of high-value second homes, because when you own a holiday home that’s four times the price of most people’s main home, you’re used to a certain level of marketing. Think of the other items they own – watches, cars, sporting equipment – these were all probably expensive, and marketed to them in a very sophisticated way. You need to emulate that level of marketing if you’re going to attract the same clients as say, Brietling or Tesla do. Home styling, lifestyle photography and bespoke brochures are all essential. Getting them right takes skill, time and a considerable investment. You might find this article useful to get started, and we also discuss bespoke property marketing in our free Facebook group here.


Challenge 5 – you have a quantity issue – there are just not enough of the homes you really want to list in the area you cover.

We speak to independent agents every day who have this challenge, but it’s one we can usually help them to overcome. Unless you are based in a very urban area, it’s likely that you do actually have enough homes to make your agency a profitable one. Listed here are 5 things you can check today to see how viable your area is, and whether you can make your agency a success:

1. Know your numbers first, check your population. or are the best places to do this. Make a note of the number. Then go to Rightmove and put in the same area as a search criteria. How many homes are on the market as a percentage of the population? If I do this for the Lake District, the are we operate in, I see that our population is 41,600 and there are currently 1,5461 homes on the market – a proportion of 3.5%. That’s pretty high – skewed by the second home owners, who are not part of the populus. If I look at Wilmslow in Cheshire, for example, it has a population of 25,000, and there are currently 302 properties on the market. That’s 1.2% – which is probably closer to the national average. What’s yours?

2. Check your Rightmove pages – (If you don’t use Rightmove, find the equivalent information in Zoopla or OntheMarket.) At 25 properties per page, our search results go over 42 pages. If we were looking at the top 30% of the market, the easiest way to identify these properties would be to look at the first 13 pages, which takes us to £385,000. That’s about right for us, as properties at this price tend to be unique. That gives us 325 properties in our target area, including our own.
Check your Rightmove results – where would the top 30% place you, and how many properties would that give you to target?

3. Review your area – if you don’t have enough properties of the type you want to target in your area, you need to either reduce your minimum price, or widen your geographic area, or both.

4. Look for the pockets of gold – are there some pockets in your wider area where beautiful homes live? The easiest way to check this – and the most visual – is to click on the Rightmove map on the right-hand side of your search results. Start with a minimum property value of £1 million, and work down through the price bandings until you can see the clusters start to appear.

Rightmove map of the Lake District

5. Don’t be afraid to target the very top of the market – if there’s a property for sale in your area with a price tag you’ve never before marketed at, it’s easy to ignore it, fearful of what they’ll think if you write to them. But if you don’t change what you’re doing, nothing in your agency will change. If you would secretly love the chance to market a really beautiful home at a premium price, go for it! Don’t be afraid. The worst that could happen is that you’ll waste a stamp. The best? You get to show what you can do with one of the best homes in your area, and build the reputation you’ve dreamed of.

The five challenges listed above are all very real, but you can overcome them with some strategic thinking and dynamic action. I know this because we’ve faced and overcome each one of these challenges ourselves, and helped hundreds of our clients done the same.  It just takes clarity of thought and a bold, decisive plan of action.


What to do next


We have a range of coaching programmes, where you can get one-to-one advice, support and mentorship. If you’re looking to launch, or to grow in those important early years, click here. If you’re an established agency and you’d like a solid growth and exit plan, click here. Our programmes aren’t cheap – (why would you want a cheap mentor?) but they are an investment designed to be profitable for you, as fast as possible.

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Want to know if we can help you by supplying premium, beautiful content and images? Find out if your area is free here. If it isn’t, we can waitlist you in case your area becomes available.

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If you’ve ever struggled to write a direct mail piece, or sales letter, we understand. It’s hard!! That’s why for some agents, it’s more efficient and effective option to use ours.  We only work with one agent in each postcode district. To check if we already supply one of your competitors, pop in your details here. 

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Not sure what you need or want? Call us for a chat: 015394 40892 or drop us an email at – we love to hear from independent agents with a challenge!
Sam, Phil, James and Tilly

From all of us at Firewave – Sam, Phil, James and Tilly


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