6 tips for expanding your agency's activities nationally [+ podcast]
If you're looking to expand your agency's activities nationally - without necessarily building your office presence - Darren Owen, Infinite Property, shares some top tips to help you get started.
At Infinite Property, we started like most traditional high street agents, working in our local market. Our landlords lived locally and bought locally. Then, the demand shifted. The year 2005 marked a real shift for people in the Southeast to start buying in the Northwest because the yields and price points were better. More people from outside the local area decided to start buying in Warrington.
This then transitioned further. Those landlords, once they got to know us, started to ask us to help them locate properties outside our local area. We then had a decision to make - should we push a bit further afield, or should we stay local?
Landlords are hard to find so it was a fairly easy decision to make. We decided to manage properties for our landlords a bit further afield. Our expansion was therefore really driven by our customers initially - and it grew from there.
Once we took the plunge and started to help our landlords expand beyond our local limits, we had to make some decisions on how we'd run our business and that managed stock in the most effective way. Here are 6 things I learned in the process.
1. Managing diaries effectively
Anyone who goes out and deals with viewings, inspections, check ins, or inventories generally works from home and comes into the office one or two days a week - but all of us are based in the Northwest.
We used to spend a lot of time doing individual viewings at properties and never managed our diaries properly. Then we started to ask ourselves some important questions.
How could those out on viewings use their time more efficiently? Was there anything else they could do on the way or inspections they could do on a property while they were there?
Working out the best way to fill your team's day is key to running an effective business while expanding your presence. We're a lot more structured now in how we work, helping us keep up with landlord demand in an efficient way.
2. Using the right solutions to help you work smarter
You need to carefully decide which digital solutions can help support your expansion process as well. For example, we don't necessarily do our inspections in person. We tend to do every other one in person and, unless there's an issue with the property and it needs a face-to-face appointment, we try to use technology as much as possible.
Solutions like Goodlord are perfect. I can be on a train coming back from London, fill out an application, and be done in two hours. You've got to embrace technology. You can't avoid it if you're going to be doing lettings at a distance. The world has changed - people have got out of the habit of going to face-to-face meetings.
If someone wants to meet, a quick WhatsApp video can be done at any time of day. Although it seems like it's less of a personal service, you can sometimes give people a better service by being smarter with your time.
3. Understanding what your customers are looking for
We appoint a property manager per property, and they will generally do their own research on that property and the local area - where the local supermarkets are, the points of interest that might help with tenants that are doing viewings. Most tenants don't tend to move that far, so they know the area they're moving to.
Landlords are different. They want to know that you're somebody who understands property and what tenants are looking for. They want to know how you are going to manage their property.
What's going to happen with inspections? Do you have contractors in the area? How easily can you react to something that goes wrong - and exactly how feasible is it for you to manage it from a hundred miles away?
We've got landlords that own properties in six or seven different locations. If they were using seven different agents, they wouldn't be getting the best service because they get information from different places.
With us, they can have one point of contact. If they've got questions on different properties, they can get answers from one person.
4. Building out your network
You'll only be able to set your landlords' minds at ease once you can demonstrate your capacity to react to any issues at a distance - and, for that, you need the right network in place to support your property management process.
The more properties you've got in a new area, the easier it is to find contractors and to build better relationships with people.
It's always hard to break into a new area, yet contractors are easier to find now we've established our presence. They know that we can give them so much work, and that we pay them on time.
5. Deciding if a physical or virtual branch is necessary
More physical branches had crossed our mind - but then the credit crunch hit. That put it on hold because the property market reduced massively. It was the initial plan to have lots of satellite offices dotted around in locations where we have properties.
Now, we've realised that actually you don't need that. We can run everything from one central location.
That's not to say that we might take on property managers based a bit further afield in the future. Currently, we only recruit people that can be in Warrington within an hour, because we like them to come into the office one or two days a week.
As our portfolio grows in London, for example, we can justify recruiting somebody who lives in London and deals solely with the London portfolio. As we grow, we may therefore revisit the idea of a satellite presence. But, right now, it's not the right time.
6. Recognising your route to continual growth and the investment required
We've done very well to get our business to where we have organically, without going down the acquisition route. We would prefer to continue that way.
However, as we grow our activities in different areas, I think there comes a point where we can look at acquiring an agency, to gain an existing staff that knows that location and knows the properties.
Acquisition is a potential route to go down, but it is a bit of a double edged sword and comes with lots of problems to consider, as well as benefits.
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