Case Studies 3

The star performer who can’t help but outshine the rest.

Estate agent Neil Sime is celebrating after out-selling all the competition. He is now responsible for 25% of all house sales in the market town of Newark upon Trent; a performance that’s also helped him scoop the top award for sales performance in the Newton Fallowell estate agency network two years running.  He attributes success in this competitive industry to his marketing techniques and motivated team.   

A career estate agent, he joined Newton Fallowell in 2007, having been headhunted to help grow the network, after successfully opening offices for a number of other agents in the region.  Becoming a director of the parent company, he took responsibility for growing the offices in Grantham, Melton Mowbray, Boston and Newark.  Reaching a crossroads, with projects completed and developments rolling out, he made the change to become a franchisee, taking over the Newark branch in October 2011.  

As a shareholding director of the Newton Fallowell parent company, he sold back his shares to raise funding to buy the Newark franchise.   

“I was in a unique position in terms of knowing the brand and all its processes inside out,” explains Neil.  “It meant the training and support was less fundamental for me, but for new franchisees, there’s massive benefit in the training provided by head office.  That extends to highly experienced guys who can help if you come up against something that’s not your usual everyday property or piece of land, including expert surveying advice.”  

He adds:  “The other advantages of the Newton Fallowell model include head office making sure everything looks the way it should, handling the IT, the infrastructure, HR, and accounts.  You’re running your own business, but without having to deal with all the back office functions.”  

For Neil, the best thing about being an estate agent is that there’s never a typical day but he has one very fixed routine – the team meeting that takes place every morning.  He explains: “That’s when we look at who has registered with us, what properties we’ve valued, why any properties aren’t getting any offers.  We touch every property and go through any vendor issues.”  
The rest of Neil’s day is taken up with the overspill on valuations and meeting and greeting whenever he’s in the office.  He adds: “I get a real buzz from meeting people and selling houses.” 

Much of the time Neil is at his desk, listening to what’s happening in the team.  It’s a sharing environment where everyone motivates and encourages each other, which is evidenced in the branch’s sales figures.  They currently take an average of 12 weeks to sell a property, compared with the lowest performing agent in town, who is taking 27 weeks.  

Neil explains: “This is a very competitive industry and staying ahead means keeping everyone motivated and being focussed on marketing techniques that will give us the edge.  Many buyers won’t even look at properties these days unless there is a floor plan, and that’s standard for us, as is GoView location maps, energy rating, and good quality photographs.  For a buyer to see how the property sits to the road or in its garden can help inform decision making.  By taking out time wasting on both sides, we improve the process for all parties.  

“We also have the highest click-through rate online and achieve that by making sure our properties always look good.  We have premium listings for all our properties on RightMove and great pictures to draw people in, backed up by all the details they need to make an informed decision about whether to view.”   

At Neil’s branch, there is everything for sale from a studio flat to an £800,000 country house.  The branch has a track record in securing strong offers and achieves an average of 98.7% of the asking price.  Neil says:  “That is a strong message which helps secure new customers, as does our record as the best performing agent in town.  We’ve increased our market share year on year, selling 300 properties last year, and this year is shaping up very well.  Just 12 weeks in, we had secured sales on 70 properties, achieving prices that are averaging 6% higher than last year.”

The high street showroom for the Newark branch is a major investment, costing £40,000 per annum at a premium rent, but the building is located in the busiest area of town, on the main thoroughfare, and has catapulted the branch to a new level.  At weekends, the customers are sometimes five people deep.  

The branch also advertises more than other local agents.  Despite the popularity of the internet for house searches, the local paper generates a massive amount of business and is a big draw.  

Neil’s next big ambition is to open a second branch but first he plans to grow the Newark branch by another 30%.  He explains:  “I’m aiming for ten more sales per month, against the current level of around 30 per month.   Tied to that is a £1m objective for annual turnover, up from the current £650,000-700,000 level.  It’s a giant leap when you consider that turnover was around £300,000 when I took on the branch four years ago, and it’s down to the great team I have around me.  

“People buy people before anything else and I have got very good people. It’s taken years to build the team and together, they are keeping our nose out in front – and it’s our customers who benefit.”

Neil’s top tips for would-be estate agency franchisees:  

  • Do your homework.  Undertake plenty of research and make sure that you can get good people in place to support you - both from the franchisor and the employees you need on your team. 
  • Do not spend money that you have not got and make sure you invest wisely – including investing in your people, keeping them motivated.  
  • Treat your team like your family and be open and honest.  I do not expect anyone to do anything I would not do.  
  • It’s a tough thing to say, but you have to realise you can’t create a successful estate agency overnight.  It’s a steep learning curve, especially if you’re not working in the sector at the moment.  But if you are currently a good estate agent for someone else, then I’d say find the money, as the model is great.  You start working for yourself with support from the franchise network.  In the past, I’ve helped create several millionaires within my previous companies – now I’m doing it for myself.  
  • Would I do it again?  Well, before taking on the Newark franchise I was a company director, financially secure and on a good salary package, but now the potential is unlimited.  I would recommend a Newton Fallowell franchise to anyone who is entrepreneurial or has an estate agency or related background.

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