How to stay open & independent

How many of you use one of the following in your marketing: family-run, independently owned, small and friendly or boutique? Whether you’re a two-brand agency, carrying on where your grandfather and father left off or you’re proud not to be a slave to shareholders, take a bow.

But you’d be forgiven for feeling a bit wobbly, especially if you’re a lettings business or rely heavily on property management for income. Sweeping industry reforms and a flat lining property market mean it’s getting tight, and the big boys are ready to pick off weak, struggling agents.

Belvoir has already identified 10,000 potential acquisition targets – small agents ‘wanting a way out of the sector because of increased regulation’. Hunters is telling independents they can save money on portals fees if they join its fold. Elsewhere, there are bold claims from The Property Franchise Group, who are quoted as saying ‘our strategy is to acquire as many businesses as possible’, while Lomond Capital and LSL are publically on the acquisition trail.

Is estate agency going the same way as the proposed Asda / Sainsbury’s merger? Big and corporate, however, is not always synonymous with customer care and ethics. In fact, one in three 18-24 year olds actively choose independents over chains, according to research by Leadership Factor, and MediaCom found almost half of 2,000 consumers polled had abandoned brands due to poor corporate behavior.

There is value in being a caring – not corporate – independent agent and it is possible to resist temptation to sell out. It will, however, involve some streamlining to improve efficiencies. Working from the top down is a good idea and be ready to embrace fresh ideas.

Your branch premise is a good place to start. If it’s too big for your needs, look for something smaller or consider sub letting some of your space. Company cars should also be examined – can you swap to something cheaper or scrap them altogether? Another expense worth visiting is printing – how much can be saved by swapping to digital collateral?

Now on to staffing – the most sensitive of subjects. The best workforce is one that flexes in line with demand rather than a full time employee who is underutilized. Outsourcing goes hand-in-hand with cost effectiveness as you can swap a fixed wage bill for a ‘pay as you go’ service.

Naturally, you’ll want to keep negotiators and managers on the payroll but everything else can be outsourced to keep operations trim. Pre-tenancy administration, rent collection and full property maintenance can be managed off site. The set up at ARPM is particularly beneficial for agents looking to cut overheads. You simply pay for what you need, when you need it.

Our service can be white labeled to provide seamless lettings assistance, and can be scaled up or down as your levels of custom fluctuates.

And when streamlining to save money, don’t ignore the small things. Stationary bills. Mobile tariffs and utility suppliers should all be evaluated and swapped if there are cheaper deals to be had. Every little helps, as the saying goes.

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