Winning instructions – it’s not just all about the fee

One of my favourite estate agency quotes has always been “If you have the best stock of well priced properties, the buyers will find you”, and it certainly stands the test of time.

Stock remains king in our industry and there are plenty of agents who still fail to maximise every listing opportunity.

The subject matter that my existing and new client firms are requesting us to cover on our forthcoming training sessions serves as a clear barometer as to the typical challenges that the market is throwing their way, and whilst there has been a noticeable upturn in enquiries about selling skills training, there remains a high demand for courses aimed at increasing the quality and quantity of instructions, in both the sales and lettings sector.

Already in 2017, we have booked time to work with a large number of agents on this crucial element of their businesses, reviewing and perfecting the key stages of their “instruction operation” or “listing process”. How to win the business by being seen as different from the competition is one of the most significant areas to be given attention.

Many firms are already good at what they do. However, my constant mantra with these companies is that “good is no longer good enough”.

Pretty much all agents who come through challenging market conditions must be “good” to have done so, therefore all agents in business right now who conduct business to a “good” standard will almost certainly be perceived as the same as everyone else.

In turn, if landlords and vendors perceive potential selling/letting agents as similar in standard and approach, those clients tend to base their judgement on which agent to instruct upon the most basic differentiator – the fee.

This is a disaster for most agents, assuming you are not one of those who is looking to rely on getting instructions by being the cheapest. Indeed, with transaction numbers predicted by many experts to be less than the already lowish levels of 2016 and before, charging cheap fees may well represent a slow painful death.

The best practice principles in securing quality instructions against high price/low fee competitors are too numerous to list here; however, a few essentials should be borne in mind.

One exercise we have conducted on recent training courses has been to issue a questionnaire to all the attendees that asks about the detail of their company’s services as well as those of the main competitors.

Questions include ones about opening hours, number of property portals used, years of trading, number of completed sales in the catchment area over the previous 12 months, amount of combined staff industry experience, membership of trade bodies/affinity groups and lots more.

It has been fascinating to see what a struggle it is for a large proportion of valuers to answer the questions accurately with confidence – even the ones relating to their own proposition, let alone that of their rivals! One company’s valuers, when asked how many associated branches their firm had, gave a range of answers from 200 to 1,500!

The old adage that “People buy differences” in selling is as relevant now as it has ever been. It is hard to see how a valuer can sell the “differences” of their service offering against a competitor when he/she has not grasped the detail of either.

This is an example of a lack of knowledge which makes a valuer vulnerable to a superior clued-up rival. Plugging this knowledge gap is relatively easy with a well-structured training session (and perhaps a mystery shopper call or two to local agents). Once full knowledge is in place, it becomes clear which elements are your strengths versus the weaknesses of the other agents.

This in turn ensures that the competent valuer can highlight those important differences between his/her services and the competition’s.

Crucially, the valuer has to be seen as the most capable and confident individual so as to effect a relationship of trust and a clear impression of differentiation. The result of that approach is that the potential client perceives clear, tangible differences between the valuer’s capabilities and the service offerings leading to them weighing up whose services will secure the best result in terms of price, speed and quality of buyer.

The ultimate upshot of that deliberation is that the fee becomes of secondary importance in the decision making process.

There are many other behavioural improvements that we have instilled in valuers which contribute to success – suffice to say that they are all geared to ensuring the individual stands out from the crowd.

Trying out the above principles within the training environment provides valuers with an opportunity in a no-risk situation to become comfortable with those techniques before putting them into action in the real world.

This is another key part on the road to success, not always built in to an estate agency’s culture. Whilst this “role play” element of their development initially worries some valuers, the fact remains that “The more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle”.

Julian O’Dell

TM training & development


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  1. Trevor Mealham

    Not a bad article.

    Get the structure right and agents can win more listings by offering better, typically at 25% to 100% higher than local agents average fees.

    Even an average agent can do much better when their setup is geared to be a more attractive offering to potential motivated sellers.

    1. PeeBee

      “Not a bad article.”


      Mr O’Dell is I would suggest THE foremost Industry Trainer.  His many clients up and down the UK rave about his services.  I had the pleasure of sitting in on one of his courses a decade or so ago – and watching the copper currency units dropping in the room was literally like Pennies from Heaven.

      I very much doubt that Mr O’Dell’s delegates need to sub or whatever to justify their own worth in the market.

      Please – try to convince me or any other reader that you’re commentating from a position of similar or superior accomplishment.

  2. Paulholden59037

    After attending a recent training session hosted by Julian discussing the above topic I would recommend to anyone to get in contact with him and his team and discuss getting booked onto one of his training sessions its a real eye opener and  everything thats discussed is practical not theory.

  3. AgentV

    As the main valuer I have always tried to do as many viewings as possible so that I know what local buyers are viewing (of your opposition’s properties) and what they are saying and thinking. This helps me with ’emotional engagement’ with potential vendors as you can relay concise information that they identify with…..building trust. The greatest reward is when the sentences you start are finished by your vendor, because you are also in tune with what they are thinking and feeling.

  4. annie135

    I heard a great comment yesterday, if other agents reduce their fees without negotiation, how well are they going to negotiate with the sale of your house!

    1. PeeBee

      Hi annie135

      I posted pretty much that here on eye last week.  It’s not a new concept to me either – the first fourteen years of my working life in the industry wasn’t as an Estate Agent but in ‘New Homes’ world, and I was in a position of recommending, hiring and firing Estate Agents on behalf of our buyers.  I reckon I was using similar words back in the late 70’s – and probably at least once a week ever since!

      Here’s a cut’n’paste from one of my posts in response to an article thread about an Agent’s touting letter offering cheap fees published here on EYE back in 2015:

      Worst offender (well… JOINT worst, at least…) in my patch is an OTM Gold Member whose most recent touting spree offers a 25% ‘discount’ to “Dear Homeowner” on their CURRENT Agent’s fee – never mind their own! Now call me a dinosaur also – but if an Agent can’t even negotiate a decent fee for themselves, what chance has the poor vendor of getting best price when same incompetent ‘salesperson’ is negotiating with a buyer who wants to pay bottom dollar? Similar case last week (this time a non-AM Member) – pretty young thing sitting in front of my soon-to-then-be vendor started HER ‘negotiations’ with a figure plucked out of thin air that is var-nigh twice that of the average ‘fixed’ fee in town – and when owner snorted her disbelief, PYT’s response was “Well – you have to start somewhere – how’s about (almost 25% discount)?” Owner’s response – I can get it cheaper. Over to PYT – “Well I CAN match any other fee… but it costs us money.”

      Result – WE got the job… and at MY fee, of course!

      ANYONE can list for peanuts. I’m proud NOT to be ‘anyone’.

      Of course, SOME vendors are taken in by it – doesn’t matter what you do.  My advice is to stick to your guns regardless – walk away from the instruction.

      It’s a slippery pole once you grasp it…

      1. AgentV

        How about;

        ‘Well if you would like a lower fee I can always reduce my level of service to that of normal agency…including getting you a normal sale value rather than the best sale value’

        1. Peter

          The one that gets to me is when someone says “I really would like to use you if you can match the agents’ fee”.

          1. Ben the Badger

            The next line from the agent should be: “You get what you pay for.”  Pause.  If the owner still hesitates start to pack your brief case and get up to go.  You must mean and go.  I found the majority say:  “No don’t go.”

            Then do not discuss fees again – you’re hired at your rates.


            1. PeeBee

              Once actually had a chap chase me down his garden path asking me to come back and talk to him…


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