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Estate Agents

Vendors can create video tours for agents to market – here’s how…

Vendors can create video tours for agents to market - here’s how…

A video has been launched this morning explaining how agents can get their sellers and landlords to use iPhones to make videos appropriate for marketing.

The ‘How To Do It’ video is 12 minutes long and produced by industry consultant Chris Watkin, and it’s shared below with Estate Agent Today readers.

Chris says: “Have a look at the video and then send it to all your landlords and vendors. Make yourself look pro-active as an agent.

“Please tag every agent you know to ensure they can help their clients too. This isn’t the time for rivalry with competitors – let’s help each other.”

Later this week Chris will be revealing a video series for agents to learn how to edit videos like a pro using inexpensive software and a small amount of hardware.

This may be exactly what the industry needs for the next few months.

Government tells agents to shut offices immediately

Government tells agents to shut offices immediately

Propertymark has been told the agents should shut their offices immediately – they are not “essential businesses” under the new Coronavirus safety guidance.

A statement from Propertymark issued this afternoon says:

“Propertymark has spoken to a senior civil servant at Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Goverment (MHCLG) this morning. 

“The civil servant stated that agents are not ‘essential businesses’ under the new rules and therefore their view is that agents should close their offices immediately.

“Furthermore, they stated that there should not be any in-person viewings, routine inspections or house moves.

“MHCLG is still looking into property maintenance tasks such as gas safety checks and hopes to issue guidance on these points as soon as possible.

 “In a further development, British Association of Removers (BAR) has issued communications this morning instructing members that moves should only be completed if they are already underway, any move that has not yet started, should not go ahead. 

“Propertymark will keep members up to date later today and as any further information becomes available.”

Over 600 agents Say No To Rightmove – but will they stick by it?

Over 600 agents Say No To Rightmove - but will they stick by it?

Over 600 agents have now signed up to the Say No To Rightmove campaign including some of the biggest names on the High Street.

Fine & Country, Hunters, Northwood and Belvoir are amongst the company names cited on the Say No To Rightmove website as being signatories: however, the website makes clear these were opposed to the deferred payment plan initially put forward by the portal.

On Friday that plan was pulled and instead a much more appealing 75 per cent reduction was announced for the near future – bringing some support for the measure from critics of Rightmove.

The question for the number one portal is whether critics will continue with their threat of de-listing from Rightmove, seeing the current Coronavirus crisis as an opportunity for the wider industry to reset its marketing priorities.

Meanwhile Zoopla’s more complicated ‘two options’ offer to agents has drawn criticism because of what some see as its opportunistic nature.

The portal is to be free of charge for agents with fewer than 30 branches, which it says comprises 80 per cent of its client base.

This free period will be nine months if an agent leaves Rightmove, and up to five months for free if the agent does not. Both options then require agents to sign to an 18-month contract with Zoopla after the free listing ends, and the portal’s normal fees resume.

On Property Industry Eye one critic wrote of the Zoopla offer: “Is this really the time to use the virus for your own benefit? For me, the Zoopla offer is tasteless – why can’t they just make it free or reduced with no caveats? Maybe they are RM in disguise”.

On Twitter the digital consultancy Propportunities tweeted: “Zoopla’s supporting Zoopla! Is their response to crisis just a misleading opportunistic offer to prise agents off RM and on to long-term contracts?”

And property commentator, agent and PR company chief Russell Quirk tweeted: “Crass from Zoopla. PR rule number one – don’t try to capitalise on a crisis, at least not publicly.”

Industry analyst Anthony Codling summed up the situation by saying on social media: “You couldn’t make this up – Zoopla now offering agents nine months free if they leave Rightmove – as if times weren’t interesting enough. Who will be the first portal to pay estate agents to list?”

It doesn’t have to be like Spicerhaart – another agent’s approach…

It doesn’t have to be like Spicerhaart - another agent’s approach…

While controversy swirls around the approach and motives of the sackings and branch closures at Spicerhaart, other agents are showing how they can pull teams together at difficult moments like these.

Estate Agent Today has seen a message to the staff of Choices Estate Agents from its chairman, Simon Shinerock, revealing an open communications approach and an unusual way of sharing the pain of reduced income, if that happens, during the crisis months.

He says an event such as Coronavirus leads to companies showing their true colours, and that his letter – which we reproduce below, in full – has been met with universal support from his team.

 

 

 

Dear All 

I am writing to you so you can understand my thinking at this difficult and unprecedented time because it falls to me to make crucial decisions over the coming days that will affect the long term survival of the business and everyone who works in it. 

Before I go on I want you to know that compared to our competitors we are a relatively financially strong company, which means that if we are careful we stand a much better chance than most of getting through this crisis and out the other side. 

However, we don’t have unlimited resources and based on what I am now seeing we might not be able to sail through without some drastic temporary measures being put in place. I would also like to say that during the crisis I will not personally be taking anything out of the business and will if necessary make a substantial sum available from my savings in order to get us through.

That said, like any business or family we need to make ends meet and if our income is going to drop substantially over several months we have to plan to reduce our expenses accordingly. 

At the moment we don’t know for sure how badly we will be affected but it’s now obvious new business will be harder and we will take a hit if a significant number of tenants don’t pay their rent. 

Our biggest expense by far is our wages bill, it constitutes over 50% of all our expenses and it is the one over which we have the greatest control. 

In stark terms I have a choice, I can try and get through this by making a lot of people redundant, something I really don’t want to do, or, I can try and keep as many if not all of you employed by asking you to be prepared to potentially make a personal sacrifice during this difficult time.

Normally we expect to make a profit every month, our rental income means we can predict and forecast how we are doing quite accurately and we have been making great progress this year so far. 

I’m happier with my senior management team than at any other time and I can see the quality of all our staff improving all the time. I’m also more confident than I’ve ever been that we as a company are offering a market leading proposition which has become the envy of our competitors. 

So, under normal circumstances I would expect this to be a record year for us. However I can now see that it is most likely that over the coming weeks and months our income is likely to decline and put us in an unsustainable loss making situation unless we put a contingency plan in place now

Obviously the best outcome is that we continue to do new business and take advantage of the many opportunities that will arise as landlords and sellers find it harder to get a result from their agent either because of lack of proactivity, or because some agents will throw in the towel, something we are already beginning to see. 

There will also be a lot of private landlords in distress who may want our help and we should be on the lookout for them. I can still foresee an optimistic outcome where we get through this in profit, now that would be an achievement and it’s something we must aim for and do everything we can to achieve. However, we also need a plan for what we do if we don’t make a profit and can’t sustain our current cost base. 

I want you to know we are exploring all avenues, negotiating discounts and payment holidays with suppliers, looking at government loans and assistance, getting rid of unnecessary expenditure, everything we can to get us through this. 

On the last point please try to help by keeping non essential expenses down to a minimum, every little helps. If after looking at all these options we still can’t cover our costs I am proposing that we apply a fair income reduction formula to everyone in the company.

What I mean is that whatever the percentage shortfall is in a month we apply that percentage to everyone’s pay which would be reduced accordingly. So, as an example, if our normal wages bill is £200,000 and we had a shortfall of £10,000 it would mean everyone would be paid 5% less than normal. 

If we put in this backstop now we may never need it, I hope we don’t but it will mean I can make firm plans for the future, retain as many of our people as possible, focus on the business and come out of this as strong and fit as possible. 

Because of the extraordinary nature of this situation I will be available to any member of staff who wants to speak to me personally to ask questions or tell me about their concerns. All I ask is you speak to your manager first and if you still feel you want to talk to me I’m available. 

I’m delighted to say that since writing this message, during today most of you have been told about its contents and that as a company everyone has received it positively. 

You will be getting an email on Monday from HR confirming the change will be in place, the earliest it can affect your pay is April. I really believe that by pulling together we can come through this intact, stronger and wiser.

Finally, this is new ground for everyone and I don’t claim to have all the answers, I may well make some mistakes and errors of judgement along the way but I promise you this. 

I will do everything in my power to steer us through this crisis and out the other side and I will fully recognise everyone who gives the company and me personally their support and trust along the way

Agencies set to benefit from massive emergency business schemes

Agencies set to benefit from massive emergency business schemes

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced a sweeping range of financial measures to try to minimise the impact of Coronavirus on the economy.

Estate agencies of all sizes are expected to be able to benefit from at least some of the measures announced this evening.

The chief measures are:

Government grants will cover 80 per cent of the salary of retained workers, up to a total of £2,500 a month – that’s above UK median earnings level. The scheme, open to any employer in the country, will cover the cost of wages backdated to March 1 and will be open before the end of April for at least three months. There’s no limit on the funding available for the scheme, and the government says it will pay to support as many jobs as needed;

– The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme will not be interest-free, as previously planned, for six months – it will be for 12 months. Those loans will now be available on Monday. british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/co…

– To help businesses keep people in work, the next quarter of VAT payments will be deferred. No business will pay VAT from now to mid June and will have until the end of the financial year to repay those bills. That’s over £30 billion injected into businesses;

– The government is increasing the Universal Credit standard allowance, for the next 12 months, by £1,000 a year; the Working Tax Credit basic element by the same amount. These measures will benefit just over four million households;

– Taken together, this all adds up to over £6 billion of extra support through the welfare system;

– The next self-assessment payments for the self-employed will be deferred until Jan 2021;

And Chancellor Rishi Sunak completed his announcement by saying: “For renters, I’m announcing today nearly £1 billion of support by increasing the generosity of housing benefit and Universal Credit, so that the Local Housing Allowance will cover at least 30 per cent of market rents in your area.”

In addition, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that all pubs, clubs, restaurants, cafes, cinemas, theatres, entertainment centres, gyms and leisure centres will close from this evening for an indefinite period – the UK will be in lockdown.

Top agency rocked by large number of senior figures quitting

Top agency rocked by large number of senior figures quitting

Estate Agent Today understands that the Knight Frank agency has been hit by a large number of branch office heads quitting in a short period.

Over the past six months it’s understood the office heads of the Kensington, Richmond, Victoria, Clapham, Islington, South Kensington, Battersea and Wimbledon branches have departed. All have pedigrees on the sales side of the industry.

The company has denied a suggestion that the departures included senior women.

One source has told EAT that the exodus was down to what they called “the Foxtonisation” of Knight Frank in recent times, suggesting that both its structure and culture had changed markedly.

Earlier this month EAT revealed three senior figures had quit the agency’s Kensington office in what a source called “unhappy circumstances” – one of the departures had worked in the industry for 35 years. Earlier this year Knight Frank lost high profile central London agent Daniel Daggers – known in the industry as Mr Super Prime – who had been the subject of media speculation with regard to his social media posts.

In response to the large number of senior departures in London in recent months, Estate Agent Today has been told by Tim Hyatt, Knight Frank’s head of London: It is unfortunate that we have seen a selection of individual departures from our London business, however, they were by mutual consent. We understand that people’s circumstances can change and, if that is the case, they absolutely go with our blessing.

“In addition, bar one, all of these positions were replaced internally, despite strong interest from external candidates, showing our dedication to nurturing and retaining the best people and career development.

“As you saw from our announcement last week, we remain incredibly positive about our fantastic London business. 

“Our best in class team has had a strong start to the year, responding well and capitalising on the positive market sentiment post-election. 

“As one example, James Pace, Proprietary Partner and Head of the Chelsea office, will move to lead the Kensington sales team. James has been in the Knight Frank Partnership since 2006 and opened the Chelsea office in 2007, building a highly successful team and an unrivalled track record in the Chelsea and wider prime central London market.

“Supporting James, William Allen also joins the Kensington sales team as partner following 10 years at Strutt & Parker in their prime sales team, specialising in the Kensington and Holland Park markets. In Chelsea, Charles Olver has been promoted to Department Head for sales, taking over from James Pace. Charles has been with the firm for over ten years, based in the Knightsbridge office where he has been a Prime Central London negotiator.”

Countrywide share price dives over 50% after takeover collapse

Countrywide share price dives over 50% after takeover collapse

Countrywide’s share price has dived over 50 per cent during the course of the day, following news of LSL pulling out of takeover talks.

The share price dropped by around a third within minutes of the LSL move; during the morning it worsened further and by lunchtime it was down over 51 per cent at 84.10p.

Almost all property sector share prices have dropped significantly today, as a result of another day of Coronavirus panic on stock markets, but those falls have been far less than that of Countrywide.

After LSL pulled the plug on a possible takeover, Countrywide issued a statement saying: “As announced by Countrywide on the 11th March, the Company has been seeing the benefits from its ‘Back to basics’ turnaround plan, with continuing operations having returned to growth in profitability. The board of Countrywide remains confident in the strength of the underlying business as an independent company.”

And it added: “The company has seen a positive mood swing in public sentiment through the early part of 2020 which we have seen reflected in a strong start in agreed sales which are ahead of the board’s expectations through February 2020. Whilst we have seen some softening in recent days as a result of Covid-19, it is too early to assess that impact.”

The company is to issue its 2019 full year figures by the end of this month.

Portals Say No! They reject agents’ plea for virus payment holiday

Portals Say No! They reject agents' plea for virus payment holiday

The three leading portals have rejected an appeal to give the industry a payment holiday to help firms through the Coronavirus crisis.

Estate Agent Today was approached yesterday morning by three independent agents exasperated about the prospect of sharply reduced revenue as a result of Coronavirus, which may well stretch over several months.

Ami Dixon, chief executive of online agency iMoveHome, contacted EAT on behalf of her firm and the High Street agency James Du Pavey – based in Nantwich and Eccleshall – and the Staffordshire High Street agency Dourish and Day.

Dixon told EAT: “As agents, we have had the most incredibly difficult 18 months, if we have survived Brexit, we are now to cope with Coronavirus. The market is suffering again and lenders are clamming up.

“The portals, being agents’ largest company bill, have done nothing to help agents keep going. Surely now is the time. Mortgage lenders are offering three months payment holiday to anyone affected, interest rates dropped, the government are taking the damage to our economy seriously but the portals again offer nothing. 

“Isn’t it time the portals offered agents some ease and recognise they need to help too!

“If they do not react the only survivors will be the corporates – independents may not make it through another tough year of turmoil. James and Steve both run seriously good, award winning independent high street agencies, I am an online as you know – we are all going to suffer as the market spirals into decline.”

Yesterday morning EAT asked all three portals if they would consider a payment holiday, and we passed Ami’s note to them to show the strength of feeling.

However, the request for help has been been dismissed out of hand.

Rightmove told us last evening: “We’re working with industry experts to run webinars over the next couple of weeks with practical advice to help support agents. We’ll be announcing details of these webinars on the Rightmove hub. The first one is live at 3pm on Monday March 16 with Peter Knight on how to prepare for and make the most of working from home. We’re also sending information to agents to help them prepare if they do need to run their business from home for a temporary period of time.

“We’ll be closely monitoring the situation in the coming weeks and will add more relevant topics to help agents. We’re closely following government guidance at Rightmove and we have plans in place for all employees to work from home if necessary which have been tested to ensure they’re fit for purpose.”

Andy Marshall, chief commercial officer for Zoopla, told us: “Naturally we are mindful of the impact of Coronavirus on our agent partners. We welcome moves made by the government to help the industry, which include a business rates holiday and promises to refund sick pay costs for employees off work due to the illness. While it is too early to say for certain, we hope that the steps taken by the government, combined with the strong start the market has enjoyed this year and the recent reduction in the Base Rate, making borrowing cheaper, will mean the Coronavirus only has a short-term impact on the housing market.”

A spokesperson for OnTheMarket told us: “The situation regarding the COVID-19 virus is clearly evolving rapidly and we are monitoring developments accordingly. OnTheMarket recognised last year the challenging market conditions which agents were facing and decided the right thing to do was to support our agent base with our 2020 Pricing Pledge. This determined not to increase listing fees in 2020 for any agents on full standard tariff contracts who signed five-year agreements at IPO, rather than being charged an increase of up to five per cent as allowed for within the agreement.

“Following the election in December and at the beginning of this year, the UK housing market saw a marked increase in transactions and a ‘bounce’ in sentiment. While it is too early to tell the wider impacts of the COVID-19 virus on the housing market, we will naturally continue to monitor the situation very closely. In the current environment, and as the agent-backed portal, OnTheMarket is as committed as ever to delivering high volumes of quality leads and a first-class support service at a sustainably fair price.”

Just this week OnTheMarket – in the same announcement as it revealed chief executive Ian Springett had been sacked – boasted that its revenues for the year to the end of January were above the £18m figure it had previously suggested: it declined to comment on any pay-off being made to Springett.

Zoopla is not listed on the London Stock Exchange but its owner – Silver Lake Partners, a US private equity firm specialising in technology investments – bought the ZPG company for £2.2 billion in 2018, and has since then invested heavily in its agency services.

Investors in Purplebricks and Countrywide take fright over virus

Investors in Purplebricks and Countrywide take fright over virus

Almost all quoted agencies and portals have suffered as a result of stock market investors being spooked by Coronavirus, with some of the more controversial players – especially Countrywide and Purplebricks – leading the falls.

At close of business yesterday late afternoon, this was the picture:

Countrywide, 175.0p, down 24.05%

Purplebricks, 53.5p, down 15.08%

Savills, 882.0p, down 11.67%

OnTheMarket, 61.03p, down 10.91%

Rightmove, 515.8p, down 7.83%

LSL Property Services, 265.0p, down 7.67%

Foxtons, 59.5p, down 5.71%

The Property Franchise Group, 188.0p, down 3.09%

Winkworth, 135.55p, den 1.42%

Hunters, 55.0p, up 0.92%

Savills the latest agency to warn of Coronavirus threat to transactions

Savills the latest agency to warn of Coronavirus threat to transactions

Savills is the latest agency to warn about the possible threat of Coronavirus to its business activities and success this year.

In its preliminary final results for 2019, issued this morning – and showing a strong performance for the international property group – the company says: “It is difficult accurately to predict the full impact of this issue on our business for 2020 as a whole. However, given the nature of the real estate market, we would anticipate that any near term slowdown caused by sentiment and specific measures taken to combat COVID-19 would generally result in a temporary delay in activity rather than an absolute loss of business.”

It continues: “In Asia, particularly China, it is clear that COVID-19 is having a significant impact on transactional activity and may have a similar effect elsewhere, depending to an extent on the length and severity of each outbreak. Our focus is on the welfare of our staff and clients and we have instituted protective measures in locations potentially affected by this virus.”

The trading figures for the company – which has a vast commercial and international infrastructure as well as its UK resi sales and consultancy activities – show a successful 2019.

Today’s statement says: “Our UK residential business continued to perform well in challenging conditions for much of the year which saw the UK market volume of transactions with values greater than £1m declining by two per cent year-on-year. “Against this backdrop and buoyed by the clear General Election result in December, Savills UK Residential business performed well, growing revenue by six per cent year-on-year.”

The company also says it successfully acquired and integrated London agency Currells.