Humberts looks to grow its franchise network into double figures

Humberts is hoping to grow its franchise network this year after appointing a head of franchising to lead the charge.

Nick Evans, formerly head of residential sales across the agency brand, will take on the newly created position from his local branch in Sherborne, Dorset.

Humberts, which first announced a franchise strategy in 2016, said eight branches are currently franchises.

Evans told EYE: “Historically our franchises have occurred organically, typically through personal contacts and associations.

“We are now looking to actively promote the opportunities that exist, in areas where we have no direct aspirations to open corporately.

“We are looking for franchise partners who share our own culture and aspirations, and those that will readily see the strength in either opening up fresh territory with the support and brand that we can offer, as well as existing businesses which may want to adopt a national brand and avail themselves of all the scale benefits that can accrue as part of a larger network.

“We think that this is especially attractive to existing businesses in an industry that is undergoing considerable change and at a time when margins are under pressure.”

Meanwhile, Tim Simmons, who has been with Humberts for almost two decades and currently manages the Yeovil branch, has been named as head of residential sales.

He said: “We expect 2018 to be a similar year to 2017, with little growth in property values.

“A ‘back to basics’ approach of service standards and attention to detail will be instrumental to the success of the business.”

Exodus from EweMove revealed after franchisees ‘feel sold down the river’

An exodus of franchisees from EweMove has been revealed.

Ian Wilson, CEO of the Property Franchise Group which acquired the business last year, told EYE that around 20 have either left the network or are in the process of leaving.

He said: “When we bought the business, they felt they had been sold down the river.

“They believed EweMove stood for everything that was not corporate, and they did not like it that the founders should have sold out to a plc, while pocketing millions.”

EweMove, bought for £9m last September, lost £300,000 on revenues of just £900,000 in the first half of this year, while the two founders left in June.

It is now forecast by broker James Fletcher at Cenkos that the loss will be cut to £100,000 on revenues of £1.8m in the second half of this year.

Is this in line with Wilson’s own expectations when he bought EweMove? “We had expected it to grow faster, and the churn has certainly been more than we expected.”

He said that because of the disillusionment, it had been important to try and recruit a new managing director ‘from the flock’.

Wilson said that Nick Neill, the York franchisee, had been the best performing ‘shepherd’. He had also stood up to exacting selection procedures at a time when Wilson was also recruiting managing directors for Martin & Co and Xperience.

Wilson said: “We had 120 candidates for the three roles, and I did 26 back-to-back interviews over four days.

“The applicants included four ex-directors of Countrywide, and others so high profile that they said they could not be seen coming into the London hotel where I did most of the interviews because they did not want to be recognised.”

An immediate goal is to reverse the exodus from EweMove – which Wilson said had had the benefit of leaving the best-performing franchisees.

Wilson said: “One of the glaring problems has been a total lack of support for new franchisees. That is totally unacceptable. We are implementing programmes of training, which will include going back to existing sheep and doing refresher training.”

He said that previous owners David Laycock and Glenn Ackroyd had burned through £200,000 in about four months on a recruitment drive – but this had not yielded results. Wilson said he felt this was because the pair had not really wanted to depart from their original vision of recruiting people from a non-agency background.

Traditionally, Wilson said, the mix of franchisees has been 95:5 in favour of people with no agency experience. He wants to get this to 50:50 as soon as possible, and eventually to 25:75.

There will, be says, be a major recruitment campaign “which will fish where the agents are”.

He added: “We are also aware of a churn of Local Property Experts from Purplebricks. We are specifically targeting them, using social media with messages such as ‘We’re sorry it didn’t work out’, and asking them to consider us.”

Wilson said: “It has become very difficult to sell a high street franchise, and easier to sell an online or hybrid.

“However, one of the problems in today’s market is the length of time it takes to sell houses, which means that for a new franchisee, it is likely to be six months before they start generating revenue.

“We are therefore paying new EweMove franchisees on listings, at £250 each.”

Wilson believes that in terms of listings, the online/hybrid sector has 7% market share: “It is less clear when it comes to sales because of lack of data, but we think it is about 6-7%.”

He believes the future landscape will pan out to two big players, plus a main ‘challenger’ and then a tail.

He also believes the big two could be Purplebricks and EweMove, but adds: “The real disruptor will be the online agent that offers a refund if they don’t sell your house.

“That will be the game changer.

“EweMove of course don’t need to do it, because it operates on a no sale, no fee basis.”

Does he regret buying EweMove? No.

Will he change its name? No.

Was his due diligence at fault? “No. We were aware of problems.

“For example, Glenn and David dealt with under-performance by cutting the amount of money that the franchisee had to pay.

“We deal with under-performance by turning it around into performance.”

Winkworth employee wins employment tribunal on age discrimination grounds

A woman who was told she might be “better suited to a traditional estate agency” was discriminated against because of her age, a tribunal has ruled.

Carolina Gomes worked as branch administrator for a Winkworth franchise.

She claimed constructive dismissal against Henworth, trading as Winkworth, and director Graham Gold.

The discrimination allegations were denied in evidence given by Gold, human resources adviser Fiona Mendel and lettings director Sean Doherty, where the focus was on Gomes’s work performance.

Gomes, born in 1956, had earlier worked for Bron and Morley, an estate agent trading as Winkworth in Hendon, north London, before transferring to Henworth, where she worked in its Hendon branch.

In February 2016, Doherty met with Gomes and told her she needed to take more care with her paperwork. Notes were taken of the meeting by Gold but not shown to Gomes.

This was following by another meeting, this time between Gomes and Gold the following month.

Saying “This marriage isn’t working”, Gold produced a letter typed to a solicitor, containing errors. He said a note would be placed on her performance record.

He added that she would be “better suited to a traditional estate agency”. Gomes took this to mean that he considered her too old to work at a modern Winkworth office and asked him what he meant.

He replied saying: “Sleep on it and decide what you want to do.”

A grievance procedure followed but Gomes resigned. A brief appeal meeting was held by telephone conference, with the appeal dismissed.

The tribunal described the appeal meeting as “perfunctory”.

It concluded that the comment “better suited to a traditional estate agency” would not have been made to a younger person, and therefore that the claimant had been discriminated because of age.

The case was decided in June, at Watford, and published on August 31. The results of a settlement hearing are unknown.

It has now featured in the HR magazine People Management, which quotes Laurie Anstis, senior associate solicitor at Boyes Turner: “This is a reminder to employers of the risks of using words that could be taken to be a reference to someone’s age.

“An age discrimination [claim] can be brought where the comments allude to an employee’s age, even if they do not directly refer to it.”

A spokesperson at head office told EYE that each Winkworth office is individually owned, operating its own HR and staff appraisal processes.