Thursday, 27 November 2008

Lettings – RIP residential sales

I am going to jump on the band wagon and declare lettings the darling of the industry.

It is of course common ground that lettings is currently the stronger market within the industry and the question I would like to ask is whether residential sales will ever recover?! Before I get an EAT forum bashing I am of course aware that sales will improve in time, but I am looking at the bigger, longer term picture. Is the country moving towards a more International lettings dominated culture?

Consider this: I am a 22 year old graduate (I wish) and although I don’t want to move out of home I want to find fame and fortune in the big city. Traditionally, I would probably have rented with some pals, had fun, met a girl, had less fun and then purchased a property. But why should/would I now? Property where I want to live is so hideously expensive that me and the girlfriend couldn’t afford it, the banks don’t want to lend and we can’t save 15% of the extortionate price in any event. Let’s face it, why would I plough this capital into a property even if I had it?

Indeed, we can find a nice place where we want to live which is affordable on our joint incomes. Yes I could buy in Timbuktu and commute, but again for what purpose? My property is not going to show a significant gain that will allow me to buy a big house in the countryside with no mortgage. In fact, I don’t want to be on the property ladder at all - that’s what my parents did and they are trying to sell their Bulgarian holiday home and remortgage the UK home! It is akin to staying in one job for life, times are changing and I don’t really see the need to ‘own’ a property. This sounds familiar, oh yes, I wrote a similar post about a year ago. Your customer is changing and Lettings will be the new sales.

Perhaps we have come full circle and after taking over the banks, the government will update the council house system and create a modern lettings model? Who knows, but I am off to start a letting agency in Iceland.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

20 marketing tips from Belvoir Lettings

Our friends from Belvoir Lettings have kindly privded us with 20 marketing tips to ensure your rental property stands out in a crwoded rental market.

Susie Geddes, office manager of Belvoir Corby explains that they try and create a virtual viewing, with lots of photographs, floor plans and walk-through movies to make each property stand out.

With reference to reaching your audience Craig Walker, proprietor of Belvoir Camberley says, “I would generally say that in this competitive market the best way to advertise a property is to be in as many places as possible, including all the portals. Also use many photos rather than just one - we use ten photos per property. A long descriptive write up of the property, rather than just a quick basic write up is also essential.

Be as detailed as you can about the property and focus on its unique selling points or those things that could make it stand out from other rental properties available. Neil Jones, proprietor of Belvoir Cambridge says, “most applicants ask about showers and broadband so, if the property has them, make sure you include that information in the description.”

As well as appealing to a wide audience, think about targeting specific areas of the community too. Ask yourself the question who’s temporarily living in the local area and why?

“Market the property to a specific target that is prevalent in the area,” continues Neil. “Military personnel, students and hospital staff often need short and long-term lets - use the biggest base, such as the employer, university or hospital as an easy access point.”

20 top tips for marketing your property (my additions in itallics)

1. Be seen in as many places as possible.

2. Use as many photographs as you can - not just one. (and make sure these are good quality photos)

3. Describe the property – don’t just list its features.

4. Think about your property’s unique selling points and communicate them effectively.

5. Floor plans and walk-through movies can make your property stand out from the rest.

6. Taking photos of the property when it’s empty will mean your current tenant’s furnishings and clutter won’t put off potential new tenants. (see point 2)

7. Incentivise your current tenant to find a new tenant for you. (I like this tip and is a great way of enaging both your old customer and the new customer, perhaps one can offer a discount if they are renting with you elsewhere or for students and the like there is a whole host of affordable incentives you can give away. Strike a deal with the local businesses for incentives)

8. Tell as many people as possible – word-of-mouth is a valuable marketing tool.

9. Newspapers often carry adverts for local properties to let – make sure yours is featured too. (as you know I am not a big fan of the print world and I would say if it isn’t free don’t bother)

10. If your property has broadband - or any other attractive features - do include them in the property write up.

11. Lead your advert with an attention-grabbing headline.

12. Location is important – let prospective tenants know about local amenities and try and ‘sell’ them a lifestyle.

13. If you have multiple properties, think about taking out an advert in a regional property rental magazine. (I will now contradict myself as I have heard these actually work, but I am still sceptical and would be reluctant to pay. I would prefer to invest any print media spend in PPC. Target an area for long tail keywords)

14. A ‘To Let’ board outside your property will let any passers-by know your property is available.

15. Target specific areas of the community, such as the military, students and hospital staff.

16. Place your property on property portals. (all of the free ones goes without saying)

17. Think about having an ‘open house’ viewings day. (excellent idea and one that is very popular in Australia)

18. Consider posting information on public bulletin boards, such as at the local supermarket and in the local newsagent.

19. Measure the success of your advertising/marketing strategy and make adjustments accordingly as the campaign progresses. (can’t stress the importance of this enough).

Monday, 24 November 2008

Estate Agent's Annus Horribilis

"1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an Annus Horribilis."

The above is of course the quote from the Queen's speech of 24 November 1992 (chapter and verse see )

I thought it fitting to publish on the anniversary and ask whether this was the estate agent’s Annus Horribilis? No great fire at Windsor, but many have lost jobs, practices have closed, houses haven’t been selling, banks are not lending and let’s face it, the industry has changed forever.

I have spoken of revolution many times before and if you consider for a moment what emerged from the ashes of Windsor, one will always see that from carnage springs hope, new thought, new directions. All sound familiar? 1992 wasn’t exactly the best of times for agents either and some will recall that it was the beginning of the end of at least two years of tough times.

The question is whether now is the beginning of the end or whether it is simply just 'the beginning'.

Your loyal servant.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Google launches SearchWiki

Wow, look how well our SEO has improved.

Unfortunately, the above is just us playing with the latest tool from Google, SearchWiki.

The official google blog states that SearchWiki is a way for you to customize search by re-ranking, deleting, adding, and commenting on search results. With just a single click you can move the results you like to the top or add a new site. You can also write notes attached to a particular site and remove results that you don't feel belong. These modifications will be shown to you every time you do the same search in the future.

These changes are stored in your google account and if you are signed in it is effective. No doubt allowing further targeted ads.

The video shows a more constructive use than our schoolboy antics above.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Nestoria on the Daily Telegraph

Congratulations to Nestoria who have secured another deal with an online broad sheet, the Telegraph. The Rat and Mouse put me on to this and I think we will see more and more of these relationships being formed. Indeed, I am seeing it develop in other industries as companies seek to extend their reach.

Perhaps we will approach the Sunday Sport and suggest a property page. Believe or not they actually have a find a lawyer affiliate feed!

Friday, 14 November 2008

Rightmove in takeover talks?

The EAT comments on rumours of a bid for Rightmove.

A quick look at the share movements indicates significant share movement with someone buying up shares in Rightmove. There was certainly a lot of activity yesterday with the share price going down to a low level whereupon someone made their move. Tremblant Partners LP appear to have increased their position recently and may have further increased this yesterday and I think these are the Americans to whom the EAT refer?

Not really my field of expertise and I know I have some analysts on board so a comment or two from them would be extremely helpful. This is a five day graph for Rightmove shares in any event.

The real question for this blog however is what will they do if they do move on Rightmove? Rightmove is crying out for a change of financial model and if they did change the subscription based model it would have a dramatic effect on the entire marketplace.

Much has been said about Rightmove and they will continue to generate column inches. As a business, it needs to respond to its market and such a response can only be, in my humble opinion, a radical change in its financial model and one that favours the agent. A half hearted response will only bandage the problem, not fix it.

My note to potential new owners is very simply, change the financial model, fast track to web 2.0, embrace innovation and overnight there would be a seismic shift in the landscape.

So I guess the question is, if new owners are lining up, have they got the balls?

PS. The Blog is still for sale at £5 million and yes I would take the CEO position if offered.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Globrix crowned Estate Agency Service Firm of the Year

Congratulations to Globrix for winning the Negotiator Estate agency service firm of the year 2008.

Congratulations to all the other winners and it is nice to see an innovation category. The winner was the Smart System by Gillot Imaging, which is ..... well, I am not sure to tell you the truth. It was hard enough finding their site and there is no smart system on the site? Can anyone shed any light on this?

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Ubiquity from Mozilla labs

Mozilla labs has just launched Ubiquity which sets out to connect the Web with language in an attempt to find new user interfaces that could make it possible for everyone to do common Web tasks more quickly and easily.

By way of example, they suggest that if you are writing an email to invite a friend to meet at a local restaurant that neither of you has been to, you would normally include a map. Currently, this involves the disjointed tasks of message composition on a web-mail service, mapping the address on a map site, searching for reviews on the restaurant on a search engine, and finally copying all links into the message being composed. This familiar sequence is an awful lot of clicking, typing, searching, copying, and pasting in order to do a very simple task. And you haven’t even really sent a map or useful reviews—only links to them.

This kind of clunky, time-consuming interaction is common on the Web. Mashups help in some cases but they are static, require Web development skills, and are largely site-centric rather than user-centric.

So Ubiquity claims to make this easier and having installed onto my firefox it certainly looks good. It is still a little American and has a few problems with UK information at the moment, but it is early days. Sadly, I can’t take an image of it in action as it disappears from my screen as soon as I pull up my image grabber.

Anyway, we have already put it to use within property by highlighting a list of properties that do not have map links and then plotting on a map, instantly. Basically, you launch ubiquity with the simple command of option+spacebar (on a mac,another simple command for pcs) highlight the text and type into the box that has appeared on your screen ‘map these’ - and it does. Bloody marvellous. You can then type in the same box ‘send email to john’ - and it does with the map and property details.

We will be playing with this and seeing what else we can achieve.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Raffle my house - property lottery or property competition?

I am thinking of going into the house raffle/lottery/competition business. Why? Because people appear to be making cash from such activities.

As another property hits the pages of the press for being offered as a prize in a lottery (sorry competition), I decided to delve a little deeper and actually read the terms and conditions of this Cheltenham property raffle. What amazed me the most was a clause that allows the owners/promoters to charge 35% for admin.

This is great for the promoters when one takes into account that the vast majority of these raffles/lotteries don't ever appear to meet the minimum amount of tickets needed to be sold. For example, take the Cheltenham house. Currently, 9200 odd tickets have been sold at £25 a pop = £230,000. Given the competition has been running since September and with a minimum 40,000 odd tickets needing to be sold it doesn't look likely they will reach this threshold (especially as they have had TV coverage to boot). Depending on the volume of tickets sold the pot of loot can then be offered as a prize draw so £230,000 x 35% is a cool £80,500 (at current numbers) in admin. Not bad for a few months online marketing.

Surely a win, win for the owner. In the extreme event they sell all the tickets, they sell the house at the probably over valued rate and if they don't sell all the tickets they make a tidy sum in admin charges. On balance, the punter has the raw end of the deal as a £25 stake at 9,000 to one for £150,000 isn't great odds.

Issues are still being mooted as to whether these events constitute an illegal lottery and I have read of one woman being arrested. That said, the main thrust of the argument revolves around the level of skill required to answer the question so it wouldn't be too difficult to make the question a little harder and fall within the guidelines.

So why not build a property competition portal and take a modest % for admin.

Roll up, roll up!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Urban Spaces - youtube marketing

I saw this from Urban Spaces on Zoomf and immediately posted it on Juicy Red Apple and here. Why? Because we should all be looking at ways to reach out to our customers past, present and future and because at last someone is having a go and because it is a bit of fun!

As a marketing exercise, the clip is now on at least three industry blogs, one community site and youtube!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Zoomf is sold

The Negotiator has just broken the news that Trinity Mirror group have purchased Zoomf.

No news on price or what they intend to do with it, but there is a hint that they 'intend to extend the portal's services over the coming months'.

How young people will interact with digital resources in five to ten years.

I have recently been looking at user behaviour for online purchasing and I came across the following report, which was commissioned by the British Library in January 2008.

It set out to investigate how the 'google generation', specifically specialist researchers of the future, currently in their school or pre-school years, are
likely to access and interact with digital resources in five to ten years’ time
Whilst focusing on library use and research, it does have some interesting findings/comments worthy of consideration for the visionaries out there.

Here are some points to take away from the report. (my comments in italics)

Internet research shows that the speed of young people’s web searching means that little time is spent in evaluating information, either for relevance, accuracy or authority.

For libraries and research this is of course hugely relevant, but for providing non research information it smacks of 'keep it simple', don't over complicate instructions, speak plain English (or whatever language is appropriate) and make it easy.

Young people have a poor understanding of their information needs and thus find it difficult to develop effective search strategies.

Again, why make it hard for the poor things, life is laid out on a plate for them and so should the site they are in. They will expect to find a house instantaneously without any real research of thought process. Big buttons and child like features will not insult them.

As a result, they exhibit a strong preference for expressing themselves in natural language rather than analysing which key words might be more effective.

As with all content writing. Just say it as it is.

Faced with a long list of search hits, young people find it difficult to assess the relevance of the materials presented and often print off pages with no more than a perfunctory glance at what the Internet is, often failing to appreciate that
it is a collection of networked resources from different providers. As a result, the search engine, be that Yahoo or Google, becomes the primary brand that they associate with the Internet.

This is really rather alarming and means that somehow one needs to get one's simplistic brand before an audience who has little appreciation of why/how you are there in the first place and perhaps has no brand loyality other than to Google. The bottom line is you just need to be there and present a simple solution.

What do I take from this and how do I see the future? I think the report concludes with what I have always said, keep it simple, period!

Monday, 3 November 2008

New Poll - Should Portals List Private Sellers

It is an old debate that is once again in the spotlight with some of the lettings portals allowing private sellers and some of the newer portals permitting such listings as well.

We thought we should ask the question, should portals list private sellers, yes or no, as simple as that!

Thanks for voting.

Top Ten UK Industry Blogs - Poll Results

By one vote, blog, winging it, comes out as the most popular blog in our recent poll. Closely followed by Brightsale and then this blog.

In hindsight, we should have allowed people to vote for more than one as we all like more than one and we certainly couldn't pick a single one, but once started, the poll cannot be changed.

Full results are below and thanks for voting. We had a total of 72 votes. I believe I read that to be taken seriously as a poll one needs at least 100 votes, or was it a 1000? Anyway, 72 is fine by us and our next poll will appear shortly.