It is January 3, 2013 and I am sitting looking at Julie Bulheller, my new business partner, in our shiny new office on Glumangate in the centre of Chesterfield. We have just left the independent estate agency we’d been with collectively for nearly 30 years, after they sold to a corporate business and wondering what the heck we’d done!
We were in the middle of of the worst property recession in my lifetime, we’d decided not to do lettings and concentrate on what we know, which was residential sales. Pretty much everyone we knew thought we were mad and would most likely fail. However, we had the blind belief that we could do better. We could challenge the existing style of estate agency and do it our way.
Fast forward five years. We are a full service agency (adding Lettings and New Homes), have five branches, we employ – directly or indirectly, more than 40 people and we are marking our fifth birthday by also celebrating a HUGE success.
Redbrik has been voted the 16th best estate agency in the UK by The Best Estate Agent Guide 2018. The awards, which are supported by Rightmove and the Property Academy, are aiming to become the ‘Michelin Guide’ for estate agents and represent a massive achievement for our growing business.
I suppose it is testament to our drive and determination to continually improve that after the initial euphoria we immediately wanted to understand how we could have done better and indeed how we can go on to be the number one in the UK.
Being the inaugural awards, we were not even sure how it had been judged and what we had done to impress. So upon learning that it is was a 50/50 combination of how we perform on the industry’s biggest and most important web portal, Rightmove and mystery shops, we were even more fascinated by the results. The areas they focused on were as follows:
How well properties are marketed on Rightmove and perform on Rightmove. [As measured by Rightmove]
Actual delivery of the sale or let. Time taken for the listing to go to SSTC and does it actually complete. [As measured by Rightmove]
How good is the customer experience on contacting the agent via email and telephone? [As measured by Property Academy mystery shops] This was done over a 12-month period that involved performance analysis of:
Over 25,000 branches
1 million properties listed at any point in time
3 million transactions
50 million leads
3 billion property views
30,000 mystery shops
As you can see it was a pretty rigorous process and one without a hiding place. The actual delivery of the sale or let is obviously the defining part of the process, but you can only get there if the marketing we have implemented works.
It is fantastic that our innovations and desire to be different has been recognised, but the most satisfying part of the survey is our ability to deliver a great customer experience. This has always been one of our defining principels and to say that even after five years we are still achieving on that core promise makes us very proud.
The whole process has given us great insight into our own performance and the ever changing expectations of our customers. What might have been great service five years ago is now a standard expectation by many! We are already implementing changes born out of the full review we took immediately after getting the results, to further enhance the delivery of our service.
Over the last five years we have entered and won various business awards locally, which has been great, but the idea of The Best Estate Agent Guide has really resonated with us. I think it is because we really want homeowners to research and look into the estate agent they are choosing to represent them and their home.
I have spoken before about the level of mis-information in our market place, but when he it comes to reviews and recommendations where do sellers and landlords go? Certainly good old fashioned word-of-mouth plays a part, as does the increasing influence of social media forums, but there is also a new resource, one that creates an interesting debate – the review site!
At Redbrik we have not joined (translation – paid for our business to be listed on) one of the ever growing number of estate agency review sites. Instead we have chosen to rely on the organic process of recommendations and the kind clients who have expressed their gratitude for our services on sites like Google and Facebook.
It is something we have looked at and always shied away from. Why? Because we feel that these are sites that are open for misuse and manipulation.
There are ongoing investigations into the validity of many of the reviews posted on some of the bigger forums by businesses, especially the online only varieties, where their online reputations are crucial.
The removal of significant numbers of 1* reviews and negative comments, while at the same time questionable 5* reviews are posted is concerning.
It is a scary thought that the story line of one of my favourite TV drama series, Homeland, could be a reality. On the show people are paid to write thousands of fake reviews to shape public opinion. On my Twitter feed I recently highlighted an article in propertyindustryeye.com , where they had spotted a ‘super-fan’ of online agents, who had posted three 5* reviews on Trustpilot of three different British estate agents this year.
Moving three times in a year is a feat in itself, but I mentioned the word British, as the article points out the reviewer lives in the USA!
So while we are not rushing to join the raft of online review websites, we do have big plans for the next five years. Plans that will no doubt evolve and be shaped by the market conditions, technology and our clients needs, but one thing is certain, we will make sure we keep striving to look after our customers and try to deliver the best experience possible.