Thursday 29 September 2016

The right moves: An easy fix can retain clients

Paul McNeive

Published 19/05/2016 | 02:30

Advice: invest in maintaining regular contact with your enquirers. Photo: PA
Advice: invest in maintaining regular contact with your enquirers. Photo: PA

Enquiries for properties, from purchasers, tenants and investors, are the lifeblood of estate agency. Vendors and landlords are paying you for your advice and to handle their transaction, but your "enquiry list" is probably your most valuable asset. However enquiries need to be handled carefully or you will miss out on deals and risk damaging your brand.

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The perceived value of "enquiries" changes according to the strength of the market. In a strong market agents will have more enquiries than they need and most effort is focused on winning vendors instructions. In a recession, demand is weak, there are lots of properties available and the key to doing deals is aligning with the best enquirers in the market. But, today's enquirer is tomorrow's vendor and I recommend paying full attention to your enquiry list, in all markets.

Readers of this column will recall my ultimately successful quest to buy an investment property. This saw me contacting perhaps ten agents, either about a specific property, or to register my requirements. I only ever heard again from three of those firms, all of whom called or e-mailed with another property they were handling which might suit me. In my mind, this automatically puts those three firms way ahead of their competitors. The impression one gets is that they have a better organised enquiry system and they are prepared to work through that list to generate more interest. And that automatically puts them on my short list for when I'm selling.

In reality the lack of interest in my enquiry from most agents is down to pressure of work and having plenty of my type of enquiry. However many enquirers will form the view that those agents can't be doing very well, as they don't seem to be getting any properties for sale, or worse still, that there is a preferred list of enquirers who are being offered opportunities to the exclusion of others. That's probably not true, but it's not an unreasonable perception to form if you're never offered anything.

With most firms struggling for manpower, maintaining the enquiry list is one of those tasks that gets left behind. Your enquiry list then becomes clogged up with out of date data, which slows everything down. Firms sometimes use the quieter summer months to have a graduate or student on work experience ring through the enquiry list, but this can be counter productive, unless that person has a basic knowledge of properties available on your books.

I think there is a real opportunity for agents to shine by making contacting enquirers part of a monthly routine. Not only will you be maximising interest in properties you are selling, but you will be promoting your brand very strongly. A phone call is always best, but an e-mail will suffice, every now and then.

Another phenomenon you will discover by keeping in touch with enquirers is how often their requirements change over time. So you're not only developing relationships but you avoid having an enquiry list full of redundant information and missing deals.

For example, it's surprising how often it happens that you contact someone who registered a requirement for 300 sq metres of office space, to lease in Dublin 2 or 4, only to discover that they bought 400 sq metres in Dublin 1. Or an investor looking for an office property for €1m, buys a retail property for €1.5m.

Which brings me to a weakness in many of the computerised enquiry systems: Computer programmers are genetically compelled to over-complicate every process, so many systems have far too many "boxes" within which each enquiry has to be defined. For example, does the enquirer want to rent or buy? Locations are defined by postcodes or catch-all definitions like "Naas Road area" or "suburban office park." What floor do they want in an office building?

Our negotiator enthusiastically defines the enquiry into lots of fields, which in theory correspond with properties being listed under the same criteria, thus producing a list of enquiries that match properties. But enquirers requirements change all the time and a rigid system will see you miss deals. A smart agent with a property for sale and a good tenant enquiry, will find an investor to put in the middle and earn an extra fee, and your computer system will never see that deal.

My advice is to invest in maintaining regular contact with your enquirers. You'll sell properties faster and you'll develop new clients.

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