How one agency turned efficiencies into landlord instructions
The pandemic was a chance for Wilkinson Estates to look at how to improve efficiencies in all areas, to be able to spend more time on ensuring the best service for its customers - and earn more instructions.
"Fifteen years ago, we were 25% managed, 75% let only. Now, now we're 80% managed and 20% lets, so it's completely flipped around," says Matthew Wilkinson, Partner at the maidenhead-based property management and lettings agency, Wilkinson Estates.
With the managed client base now stronger than let only, this means that the agency is always looking for ways to improve efficiencies, to spend more time looking after its landlords' accounts and ensuring it can bring extra value to its customers. The pandemic offered an opportunity to assess where these changes could be made.
Remote working allowed the agency to work in a more efficient way, continuing to communicate internally using Microsoft Teams, but avoiding the distractions that an office environment can sometimes raise. "In some ways, we're doing things better than what we would have done in the office. If you are having to progress a deal or deal with a property management issue, there are fewer distractions with the office phone ringing all the time," says Matthew. "I think our productivity in some ways has actually gone up."
The agency also found that conversion rates increased with virtual viewings, even if they're followed up by an in-person viewing. "We've been very vigilant about reducing the number of viewings of properties," says Matthew. "We've done video viewings for the last three or four years anyway, full walkthroughs of most of our properties with a commentary in a five-minute video that's free for our clients. When lockdown occurred, they've been invaluable because people can see the property through the video and pretty much make a decision whether they want it or not before going, so our rate of deals to viewings has increased."
Of course, some of the efficiencies are direct cost efficiencies. For example, the agency reduced use of the franking machine, and its office bills dropped. It was also able to look through its suppliers and decide which were helping it to continue this efficiency. "The move to remote working forced us to analyse where our money was actually going, what suppliers were bringing the most value," says Matthew.
Efficiency into landlord value
All of these time and cost efficiencies translate into good value for your landlords, which can help with winning new instructions - as long as landlords understand the value that they are receiving.
"There are agents scrabbling around for the few instructions and then trying to make up the low fees by adding costs on to other elements of their service, which landlords just don't get," says Matthew. "They just see the headline commission rates."
The perceived value of the agent shouldn't simply be reflected in the flat commission rate, as the cost savings and efficiencies a good agency can pass to its landlord can outweigh the initial fee. "You could be losing 2% a week for every week the property isn't let. With our videos and photography and all the extras, we aim to reduce void time. And then, everything we do for a landlord, all the contractors we pay, is at cost - full stop."
"I would hope that landlord's - not just current landlords but friends and colleagues of current landlords - will hear about how we handle the business and, those landlords, having been through Covid, will be more interested in other aspects and not just the commission rates in 2021," says Matthew. "What we can do for them, how we can do it for them. The trust that they can have in us."
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