I had to chuckle when the early morning Chiltern Line train driver announced “cabin crew doors to manual” as the 8am train pulled into London Marylebone on Tuesday morning: The sun was shining and I was brimming with optimism for a great day at LETTINGS LIVE 2011 held at the fabulous Lancaster London Hotel. I arrived and met up with Alex Sewell, who was chatting to the lovely “Moneypenny” rep and we were chuffed that they knew all about our re-brand from reading the ARLA Agreement Magazine feature back in January. Good start to the day!
It was great to have the chance to chat to some familiar faces on the trade stands, including our Rickmansworth neighbour Simon Duce from ARPM and the ever lovely John Boyle from Homelet.
At 9.30am promptly the seminar began to a packed room of around 400 delegates. First on stage was the engaging Peter Knight, delivering the results of the Property Academy’s recent survey of 1500 Landlords, carried out between 28/4/2011 and 31/5/2011. So the main conclusions to come out of the survey are:
- 2/3rds of Landlords are ‘reluctant’ landlords, meaning that they did not set out to have a rental portfolio or an investment property and just ended up as a Landlord due to market and/or personal factors.
- 2/3rds of Landlords have had their rental property or properties for 5 years or more.
- On average Landlords live 40 miles or more away from their rental property or properties.
- 99% of Landlords will use a Lettings Agent to find a tenant (good news).
- 25% of Landlords will use a Lettings Agent to manage their property once it is let (and considering the high proportion of Landlords living over 40 miles away from their rental property, I see this as a great opportunity!!).
- Landlords like to stick with the Lettings Agent they know AND the Tenant they know, in fact a rent increase of 20% would not tempt 12% of Landlords into changing tenants!
- 70% of Landlords like to visit the Letting Agent’s office prior to instructing so High Street location is paramount and 43% of Landlords will only have a rental valuation from ONE agent.
- Trust is an important issue and Lettings Fees are NOT. (Quick put the fees up….)
- 75% of Landlords think their Lettings Agent is GOOD ENOUGH TO RECOMMEND …. we know that 96% of our Landlords will happily recommend us, just take a look at our Testimonial Pages on www.sewellgardner.com.
We then moved onto Nick Leeming, who is the Commercial Director of Zoopla, the headline sponsor of Property Live and a man who closely resembles Prince Charles!!
Zoopla are now the no. 2 property portal in the UK with 27 million online property records and 4 million unique visitors each month. Super impressive and we actually had 18% of our internet enquiries from Zoopla during May 2011 so we are very grateful to this company. Nick had recently conducted a Tenant Insight Survey and was here to give us all the results of the data collected from 1000 online ‘potential’ tenants:
Of course it is important to know that we are in a GROWTH MARKET, with an increase from 2.5 million to 3.5 million people now in the Private Rental Sector with rental properties making up 15% of the UK housing stock. There is a reluctance for people to commit to buying nowadays and 38 is the average UK age of the first time buyer, significantly higher than 10 years ago! However, being in a growth market just means that more and more lettings agencies are springing up, so it is exceptionally important to know our tenants and our market and ensure that we are better than our competition at all times…. So let’s see what the Zoopla findings are and hopefully this data will assist us in our quest to be the best of the best:
- 72% of tenants are between 21 and 50 years of age
- 26% of tenants live with a partner but no children; 21% live alone; 17% live with a partner and children
- 22% are online a few times a day; 21% once a day and 50% a few times a week
- 42% rent because they cannot afford to buy and an additional 15% rent because they cannot afford to buy in the area they want to live in with 22% just not interested in buying for one reason or another!
- Most important factors are Price; Photos; Condition of Property – so it’s a real challenge when you have tenants in situ and they live like piggies, but don’t worry, we have a trained team of tidy-uppers to get the cracking picture even in a dire circumstances! Also quite interesting to note that the kitchen photo is the most viewed picture, ahead of the external shot, and then the garden (if applicable)!
- Customer service is paramount and 49% of tenants / applicants will expect a response time to any email enquiry within 24-48 hours and 37% will expect a response the same day. Of course, we strive to respond within 2 hours, and we have Facebook and Twitter to complement the usual phone and email. By the way 34% of applicants will expect a phone call and 34% will expect an email, so very even stevens..!
And to finish off the first session, we listened to a team of inspiring experts debate the findings of the 2 surveys and give us a little bit of an insight into their own business practices: Lucy Morton, W A Ellis (Knightsbridge); Tim Hyatt, Knight Frank (London & The Home Counties); Andrew Greenwood, ScottFraser (Oxford) & Glyn Trott, Pinnacle Lettings (Wales).
Then it was time for “coffee” or roughly translated, champagne, wine, hors d’hoeuvres (loved the avodaco cups and the samosas – although I did have to chase the waitor around a few obstacles to get hold of him!!).
After coffee we were entertained by Rachel Clacher from a company called “Moneypenny”, who are, essentially, a telephone answering company becoming utilised more and more by the estate agency industry. Moneypenny provide reception services with the ethos “one person you know and trust to answer calls as if they are based in your office”. Of course, in this world of ‘internet leads’ and many of those coming outside of office hours, the race to be first in line means it is becoming more and more necessary to have calls answered and dealt with in the evenings or weekends.
Moneypenny’s head office is based in Wrexham Wales and they answer over 3 million calls a year across the UK on behalf of over 20,000 customers!
Rachel was incredibly inspiring because she set up her company ‘on a whim’ in 2000 with her brother Ed, and Moneypenny has gone from a small to a large company within 11 years and yet, it still retains a fantastic ‘family business’ feel with a huge emphasis on team spirit and employee satisfaction. This gained Moneypenny the kudos of being in the top 11 Sunday Times “Best Companies to Work For in the UK”. It is a difficult enough task to build a company and grow successfully in this financial climate, but to keep your staff happy enough to vote for you as a fabulous employer is something I truly strive for and I can only say “well done” and a pat on the back to Rachel & Ed.
Of course, the highlight of the day for me was the afternoon session “TOP 20 IDEAS” to improve your business presented by Ben Harris. Whilst I really would love to share these fabulous ideas with you, I am going to keep them all to myself and I will only say that last year, at the 2010 Lettings Live show, I can pinpoint the moment I decided to re-brand my company, set up my new website, start to Facebook and Tweet for the business and write a Lettings blog… and one man is responsible for that… so THANK YOU BEN!
The final speaker of the day was the tiny lady with the dazzling smile, the huge biceps and the legs able to beat everyone in the room and most people in the world back in 2004 when Dame Kelly Holmes won double Olympic Gold at the Atlanta Olympic 800m & 1500m track events. Kelly came across as ‘just herself’, a normal lady with a big dream and a huge amount of determination. She gave a bubbly talk, she was a tad nervous and giggly, but that just endeared her to the room more than ever and when it was time to watch the VT of her 2 wins, I genuinely don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.
So the morning session was over, time for lunch and then onto the Sunday Times Lettings Awards 2011. This has got to be the most prestigious award to win and also one of the hardest. Applications had been submitted back in Spring and companies had been mystery shopped and telephone interviewed, passionately discussed by the judging panel during various sessions and winners chosen.
Sewell & Gardner entered the competition this year, although I genuinely believed a little pre-emptive as our re-brand is still in it’s infancy and our website is still under some construction, although the bare bones are in place. I know that this award looks at every aspect of the business, customer service, finance, social media, internet,the brand, the offices, the people, the marketing ideas and place in the community. Although I was exceptionally confident in our place in the town and the market, I wasn’t sure we would have had long enough as Sewell & Gardner to make our mark and be recognised as a force to be reckoned with. Some of the biggest and best names in the industry win these awards and I strive to be one of them, so it was an almighty shock and a huge honour to be awarded “BEST SINGLE OFFICE IN THE SOUTH EAST” and to walk away with the GOLD award.
I haven’t stopped smiling since and I can promise you that the ideas will keep coming, the customer service will improve hour by hour and that more of these awards will adorn my office wall over the coming years.
This is what the judges said about Sewell & Gardner:
“Sewell & Gardner is a pro-active and enthusiastic agency. As an independent and family run business, it radiates team work and it is clear that the staff are a close knit bunch; this in turn filters through to the clients and there is a strong sense of loyalty between the team itself and tenants and landlords. There is a keen emphasis on CSR and accordingly, a high level of involvement in local causes. The marketing is extremely professional and effectively communicates the brand to clients, particularly demonstrated by the website which is informative and slick whilst retaining the personal touch and a sense of fun. This outward thinking attitude is reinforced by rigorous systems and processes and a comprehensive compliance policy.”