Why flexible working is the future for the UK's estate agents

Written by, Ben Taylor - MD, Keller Williams, UK

The concept of flexible working is not traditionally associated with estate agents. Most firms work Monday to Saturday, 8.30-5.30 - or a variation of this - from a high street premises.

In the last few years, this rigidity has caused a conflict with changing consumer behaviour. Employment structures and the way we go about our daily work is changing too.

According to the government figures, the number of people who usually work from home increased by over 150,000 between 2016 and 2017, while the number of employers offering flexi-time increased by over 12% between 2012 and 2016. This combined with the news that around 50% of visits made to estate agents’ websites are when their offices are closed (according to Yomdel), means that the agency industry in the UK needs to adapt.

Working to a more flexible model with a focus on maximising time is becoming an increasingly efficient alternative for estate agents. And even more importantly, it's what their clients want.

The characteristics of the modern consumer

Modern consumers, particularly millennials - who may be the tenants of now but most certainly the buyers and sellers of the future - are increasingly ‘time poor’. The demands of hectic work schedules and busy social lives – especially for those living in the UK's major cities - means that when people kickstart the moving process, it's not always easy to find enough time to get things done properly.

Many prospective property buyers and sellers are only able to dedicate time to their property transaction on weekday evenings or at weekends. They certainly won't be keen on taking a phone call from an estate agent during office hours. Agents therefore need to consider these factors and bridge the gap between the same service they have been offering for years and what consumers clearly now desire.

Due to evolution in other industries, consumers now want to carry out large parts of the property process online, from the comfort and convenience of their smartphone. Holidays, dental appointments and restaurant reservations can all be booked online without the need to speak to anyone. This trend is now migrating to property with consumers wanting to book viewings using online calendars and carry out other administrative parts of the process online.

What’s more, the modern property consumer is probably not going to be too bothered about meeting an agent in their office, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still want the support and advice of a dedicated property professional when they need it.

It’s all of these changing consumer behaviours which mean that agents must adapt and meet the needs of the modern consumer if they’re to thrive in what are becoming increasingly challenging conditions.

How can estate agents bridge the gap?

Considering the characteristics of the modern consumer, we can come to the conclusion that the need for agents to have a high street office presence is diminishing. There are the obvious money-saving benefits of taking your brand off the high street, but there are also various other advantages to think about.

Here at Keller Williams UK, our agents work out of ideally-located hubs called market centres. These fully-serviced offices allow our agents to collaborate with and learn from other entrepreneurial and forward-thinking individuals. And if a client does want to come in to the office, then of course they can come by at a time that suits.

"When you think about it, there’s no longer much to lose and plenty to be gained from not having a high street presence."

It could also be time to ditch the rigid office hours and allow staff to have more freedom in their working day. If it is more efficient for an agent to work from home on a day when they have a number of market appraisals nearby, then the agency shouldn't be putting up barriers.

The aim of flexible working is to empower staff to be more effective in fulfilling their primary objective - servicing their clients. Agents could be sat in a high street branch all day waiting for someone to come in, or they could be out and about trying to find new opportunities. What's more, they could be working in the evening in order to see their clients - something which would be a much better use of their time.

If consumer behaviour and habits are diverting away from the norm, then it's vitally important for agents to adapt to this change. A flexible structure that allows staff to provide an efficient service to clients at a time that suits them will be crucial to achieving this.

The money saved from reducing overheads and gained from providing a more efficient service can be invested in the key areas of technology and staff training.

By improving processes and training people to be even better, an agency can drastically increase its chances of securing repeat business and fostering client relationships which last a lifetime.

Ben Taylor was a guest speaker at FUTURE: PropTech 2018. Ben Taylor is Managing Director of Keller Williams UK

The UK division of the largest estate agency brand in the world with over 185,000 associates working in 34 countries.

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