Looking back 25 years
How did agents manage back in the day?
Bonett’s passed its 25th anniversary this week, which started us thinking about what the estate agents’ business was like when we opened up at 89 St Georges Road in 1990.
Agency starts and ends with staff so that has not changed. But the type of staff certainly has. Back then, every office would have a boss if small, or a manager plus a secretary/administrator; then from one to two or three negotiators working on personal commission. Now it is often ‘pool’ commission to stop in-fighting.
The first job of the day was and still is, to check the answering machine for messages. Then, unlike now, clients and customers did not have mobiles of course and could not make personal calls during the day. So, when they arrived home, they would call us up; hence estate agents still at their desks until 6.30 or 7.00 pm. Of course, we did not have PCs or laptops either, so we wrote everything down. When you first spoke to a buyer, you would note their details on a card and keep it in a box on your desk. You may even have a ‘hot box’, where you would keep your ‘hot’ buyers: cash buyers; those with nothing to sell; first time buyers with mortgages approved in principle...Buyers would sometimes fabricate their quality to get into a hot box!
With selling, we would go to a property, meet the owner as now; but taking the property particulars was done with a long tape measure and long-hand notes. If it was a five to six bedroom house, it was a very long-winded process. The details would generally mention every power point, light fitting and radiator, double or single panel ? ; be full of ‘delightfuls’, ‘immaculates’, ‘panoramics’ and other superlatives. These adjectives never told you anything useful as they are so subjective: they were more about pleasing the seller than informing the potential buyer... Nowadays, we use laser tapes and dictaphones so can scoot around a property much more efficiently. And, as we have all become used to electricity, heating and windows, we don’t necessarily mention every plug socket ? We can even take really good quality photographs on smartphones although ‘professional’ photographers are very common now. We of course produce floorplans, EPCs and sometimes videos (which, in case you didn’t know, were quite popular in the mid ‘80s with VHS!!). So, where there are some savings on time and cost, other costs have replaced these.
Leaving the property, we returned to the office and our secretary would type up the specifications; on a word processor in the ‘90s or a typewriter in the ‘80s. We would then have a ‘master’ set which could be photocopied. Photographs were created by a firm which sent a man and a small van around all the local agents, picking up our film rolls, taking them to a processing studio, to create colour prints...or black and white if the agent didn’t want to spend so much. We would typically have ordered 2 large prints for the window displays and 20 to 30 mini-prints to stick on the property particulars. Imagine the paper and the waste!
Then, we would write out envelopes or use label printers and send out a whole host of property particulars daily. Nowadays, we send 3 or 4 letters a day; then it could be 20 to 30 or more. Our post bill was painful! Nowadays, it’s a match to our database of potential interested buyers and then a batch email out with super digital photographs and instant contact.
The most important task agents had was to call potential buyers and talk to them. That is the heart of our business; talking to customers. Back then, we would pull out your card, read our notes then check if we had any new property or price change to tell you about. Of course, we would often get answering machines, as you could not call many people whilst they were at work...and, no mobiles!
Imagine the revolution in our industry with mobiles and email...it’s phenomenal! Not all to the good though as a good telephone conversation can elicit so much useful information and develop great rapport; the essence of good agency.
So, no more mini-print studios; no more mass-mailing; hardly any paper property details. But the costs of technology have ramped up especially with the need to be on the ‘right’ property portals. We now talk SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), Google Analytics and the ‘Long Tail’ searches...
Company cars used to be a big status symbol; nowadays some of us use bikes for appointments or join car club schemes to lessen the number of parking spaces we use. The bannered small car is another marketing tool some agents use. Of course, the neighbours start talking if they see an agent’s bannered car park outside.
We still do paper advertising but realise that 80% plus of our customers appear through the ether. The latest thing is cloud storage, so you do not even have PCs in the office and all your data is securely stored on the ‘cloud’; a large digital storehouse in UK or Iceland or...
Notwithstanding all the SEO, Analytics, technology and fancy websites agents use, they cannot replace real two-way communication between people - the essence of agency.