What we have here is a clear case of communication breakdown. Estate agents really need to keep their vendors and purchasers informed of everything they do for them. It's simple to remedy the problem, but very few of our high-street agents seem willing, or indeed able, to grasp the nettle and dramatically improve their communication with their clients or customers.
The developers of the country's 150,000 new homes demand, and should receive, the highest standard of service from their selling agent. But little has changed in the way that the business relationship between housebuilder and agent works. Most housebuilders have their own in-house sales departments, but many choose also to use the services of a selling agent – very often a specialist operation dedicated to the sale and marketing of new homes.
Getting the basics right is fundamental to running any sales operation. Marketing, planning and budgeting are standard tools that are used in this market. Communication is king – daily telephone contact and regular sales meetings to analyse and review performance are imperative. Sales targets have to be met: this is business, and solutions rather than excuses are what the client is looking for.
The days when an estate agency could simply put an ad in the paper and nail its salesboard to the wall of the front garden are surely numbered. Buyers are demanding easier, more convenient and less stressful ways of selecting homes than spending their Sundays trekking their family from building site to building site to tour every new home on the market in their area.
The internet should only be the start of the estate agency service; it can’t be a substitute
Recent research shows that more than 65% of new home purchasers use the web and 80% of these commence their search for property using search engines. Our own website offers an important shop window for sellers of new homes, but equally it provides buyers with an interesting and highly efficient way in which to embark on their property hunt.
Initially, the number of people using the internet as a home-finding route was small and the buyer base was limited, with overseas investors and migrators most commonly adopting technology to help them buy long-distance. Now, the internet is becoming an accepted shopping route for everything from books and supermarket groceries to holiday flights. As a result the number of people logging on to estate agency sites is growing. Our website received nearly 300,000 hits in September. Most estate agents use the internet nowadays as an extra "shop window", but much of the interaction generated from this is impersonal. Our site does not try to list every single new home; the emphasis is on providing a wide selection in an interesting format. If a purchaser registers with us and we do not have their ideal property, then we will talk to them and try to help them find it. The internet should only be the start of the estate agency service; it can't be a substitute.
Market research is another area in which estate agents should be showing greater expertise. We have recently had a stand at the 50+ Lifestyle Show held in Eastbourne. It is not the kind of place where you would usually expect to find estate agents taking exhibition space but the show attracted more than 4000 visitors in just two days – all of them potential homebuyers, of course.
We were there to promote our website, but we also used the opportunity to find out a lot more about 50+ buyers. We learned that more than 70% are looking for a home priced at less than £200,000, and that only 6% have a budget of more than £300,000. We learned that 34% had bought a brand new home before, and that 22% had bought brand new abroad. And although most don't move far from their existing home, well over 20% of the over 50s we surveyed expected their next home to be 20 or more miles away from their current home.
Heather Hilder is director of Brand New Homes UK, which is based in West Sussex and offers sales agency and web listings for south England.