Interview with Simon Woodcock from Robinson Michael and Jackson
In these challenging times, it isn’t easy to find positives in the housing market. Here’s one agent who has assessed the current situation and implemented rational solutions to today’s problems.
Simon Woodcock is the managing director of Robinson Michael and Jackson, one of the most renowned and successful estate agency practices within the South East. We asked Simon how he was coping with challenges in the housing market today as a result of the lockdown, and what they are doing to keep things moving along.
What has changed about your business in the last three weeks?
From January up to around the 12th March we were really busy, and it was looking like it was going to be our best month ever. We realised big changes were on the horizon when the Coronavirus started hitting the headlines, so we started to prepare for the worst-case scenario. We are currently busy, as most people want to know what’s happening and seek advice. Our approach has been to switch to video valuations and viewing. In a way things are the same as before, apart from we can’t visit the customer’s house – so we have adapted.
What were the first steps you took to adapt a more online approach?
Firstly, we quickly produced video tours of our customer’s properties, and these have been uploaded to our YouTube channel. As restrictions tightened, we asked homeowners to send us videos to use. I initially thought the quality wouldn’t be professional enough, but they’ve surpassed my expectations. Customers want to be involved and all in all, it’s an initiative that’s gone down really well.
How are you valuing houses online right now?
So, I took a look at this and thought – I know what we can’t do, but surely there’s a lot we can do. No one has stopped communicating, so in theory, we should be able to deliver a great initial experience, we’re just utilising different tools.
The only part of the valuation we couldn’t do is go into the heart of the house and view it. We know the roads and the properties, but what we don’t know is what they are like inside.
Now we speak with the owners on the phone or video call and explain what we’d like them to do – they really get into it! Firstly, we ask them to record a video of the property – taking it slow and describing each room and any improvements they have made, along with anything else they feel as relevant information.
So, are you live when they are doing this?
No. They are doing it themselves and can take their time. We might ask them to take it once or twice to make sure we have everything we need. Then we carry out the pre-appointment analysis in much the same way as we would normally. Once done, we carry out a video call with the client. We approach this very much as a listing opportunity as we would if visiting the property and meeting the customer in person.
How different is it doing a valuation via video call?
The process is much the same, only we are video conferencing and screen sharing. We follow the same process of qualifying the clients’ position and what they are looking to achieve, informing them on market conditions, including running through comparables, and showing them how we can best help.
Screen sharing with customers and being able to go through a presentation with interactive comparable property photo slideshows and floor plans, along with the reasons to instruct us, is an effective way of delivering our key USP messages and communicating market conditions.
This sounds very good…but does it really work?
Yes, we have won multiple instructions already. We use the customer’s video to help market the property and build up a bank of applicants who want to view. We’ve even had situations where an offer has been placed based on viewing via video only!
At least having all the decision-makers in one place is not really an issue anymore!
What are the main tools you are using to help you?
A week or two ago our valuers did not know what Zoom was, now we are all using it, we screen share and use Acaboom to present to the client and Homesearch is used too.
So, you are mainly building the pipeline for the future, aren’t you?
Yes, I think you have to. I wouldn’t use the word optimistic, but I think it is about taking stock of the situation, being realistic, and asking what is achievable with a can-do attitude. We are faced with challenges, every market has them, it’s about how companies rise to them. We have still got lots of people that want to buy and sell, but we are just not allowed to marry the two together in the traditional way. Right now, we can get part of the process done, and as soon as we can get back to full marketing, we will finish the last part. All the while there is an appetite amongst the public and customers continue to seek advice and ask for our help, I’ll encourage proactivity.
One of the things we are promoting here at Acaboom is communication to your clients. You have taken a recent interest in Acaboom data export and import tools. What results do you hope to see?
I’m not looking for instant results. I’m interested in seeing what type of engagement we get from customers over this period. If customers are open to conversations, then we are going to get business. We know web traffic is going to go up because people will be at home looking for something to do, that’s why we want to keep our properties updated and looking their best. We are also updating all of our databases to make sure they are fit, so we can effectively communicate with our contacts. We plan to use Acaboom to send out fresh presentations to both old valuations and buyers.
What have results looked like since the start of the crisis?
To give you some idea, last we had seven sales agreed, (agreeing a number subject to actual viewing when guidelines allow) this keeps owners and buyers engaged in the market, and six new properties have come on to the market. We booked nine valuations, and one of my offices is doing three video valuations that have come in today. So yeah, we are still busy and booking lots of viewings for the future.
What’s Your Outlook for the next 2-3 months?
I see next month as an absolute disaster from an income point of view because all we will be getting is income from lettings and financial services. As far as business coming in, I see that dropping. I am not sure how much by, but I have worked on a theory that if I can do 20% of what we usually do, it will keep us ticking over. I see this lasting 5-6 weeks if the public do what they are supposed to do and stay at home. The worst-case scenario is for three months. When this is all over, I see the market coming back really big. We want to make sure we are fighting fit and ready for that.
What is your number one tip for an agent right now?
Listen to your staff and consider all the ideas they throw at you. At the moment nothing is a bad idea. Stop listening to negative people who say this & that won’t work – how do they know? I think this is an exciting time to try new things.
If you’re short on ideas, my top tip, is to get yourself on social media and look at what others are doing proactively. You only need to find one thing you are not doing to make the difference.