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How to thrive in tougher market conditions

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Not that you’d get that impression from many leading estate agents – there’s no way this hardy group will let something as trivial as the market get in the way of growing their businesses.

I asked some of the most successful estate agents in the UK, Australia and New Zealand how they are managing the tougher market conditions. I think their replies can be applied to many other sectors, too.

“I love tough markets,” says John McGrath, founder of Australia’s top estate agency. “It allows the best businesses to shine while the rest batten down the hatches and delude themselves that things are too tough.

“I believe the market is firmly between your ears – if you have what it takes, the market always fluctuates between exceptional and better.”

It’s no wonder that John has built a multi-billion dollar business from scratch, but you’d expect this sort of attitude from all but rugby-playing Aussies, wouldn’t you?

However, look at what some of our finest have to say on the all-important aspect of business attitude:

“I’m actually pretty excited about the tougher market – I think good businesses will really shine and pick up market share,” says Peter Rollings, managing director of Marsh & Parsons. And this from Mike Bidwell, who heads up the 250 offices of Fine & Country: “This is probably blindingly obvious but it’s the power of PMA [Positive Mental Attitude].”

Jonathan Handford, managing director of Newmans, winners of The Estate Agency of the Year Awards, also reinforces this message: “We ban negativity in the office. If people continually talk about a tough, bad or down market, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, we talk about a different or changing market. There’s no such thing as a bad or good market; there is just a market”.

So, the right attitude is the first thing needed – next is focus. “Agents must be much more focused,” says Richard Palfreeman of Northfields. “Preparation is the key. Do we really know the motivation and needs of our customers? Does each office know who its top 20 buyers are? Are we creating a brilliant first impression? Are we asking the right questions?”

Of course, the key focus needs to be on ways of making more money. As Tony Lynch of Lynch & Company in Woking suggests, the emphasis must be on “getting more from less”. “Look for every opportunity to increase your revenue,” he says.

Michael Stoop, managing director of Xperience – the franchise network owned by Legal & General – also has some advice: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You must adapt very quickly and change your business model to maximise every income opportunity.”

It pays to look through your database as well, says Western Australia’s leading agent Milton Rendell. “Too many people ignore their current and past clients in the search for new ones, and yet many of your future deals are in your existing database.

“It takes a lot of time and effort to build new relationships, and your past clients are often becoming your competitors’ new ones because you’ve forgotten them.”

The third factor is what I call “back to basics”. McGrath suggests there are two key factors that need to be addressed: pricing and marketing. “If you price them right and have access to the right buyers, the job is all but done,” he says.

This straightforward advice is echoed by Handford: “All offers should be put forward in person rather than over the telephone. Eyeballing the client makes it much more difficult for them to say no.”

In a nutshell, what’s needed to thrive in a changing market is a positive attitude, a focus on what makes money and a back-to-basics approach that concentrates on selling to existing customers – all makes sense to me.

To read more columns by Peter Knight, click here.

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