It’s tough at the top…

by Clare Bettelley

Only six firms could be short-listed for each of the 18 categories in The Negotiator Awards 2008. In this issue we take a look at the successes of a further six categories.

The Negotiator Awards 2008 promise to be the industry’s premier event of the year. With 18 categories boasting the market’s top-performing estate agencies, it is a night not to be missed.

We have had a staggering response to our inaugural event from firms across the UK, with each hoping to share their achievements with the industry and its leading residential estate agency magazine, and who can blame them?

In a year of economic gloom, depressed sales volumes and a Government housing agenda hardly worth the paper it’s written on, it’s no wonder that agents have jumped at the chance to celebrate their successes, of which there have been many.

The awards will be hosted by top TV comedian Rory Bremner at the London Hilton Hotel on Park Lane in just over two weeks’ time on November 11, in association with FindaProperty and Primelocation.

In the last issue, we brought you the successes of the short-listed firms in six categories. In this issue, we have detailed the strengths of the shortlisted firms in a further six categories, from Lettings agency of the year to Estate agency employer of the year – we explain how they have beat their competitors to feature in our esteemed short-lists and how they have adapted their businesses to survive the economic downturn.

We will share the successes of the remaining short-listed firms in the next issue on November 7, four days before the big night.

Category 4 – Lettings agency of the year, sponsored by HomeLet.

Entrants for this category were asked to provide evidence of how their business has developed; the new services and initiatives they have developed or launched over the past three years; and details about what they consider their landmark achievement.

Short-listed firms in this category are: Countrywide Residential Lettings; Esra; Jordan’s; Parkheath; Pinnacle Property; Sequence; and Your Move.

Countrywide Residential Lettings has more than 1,000 staff across 173 branches across the UK.

In 2004, the business doubled in size and has since grown its income by over 43% between 2005 and 2008. New developments include the launch of a new range of lettings insurance products and a ‘Fast Check’ service for emergency letting requests.

Cambridge-based Esra opened in 2004 with three properties and now has around 185. Run by three sisters, the agency has since launched two subsidiaries; Tilly’s Cleaning Company and Cambridge Inventory Services.

Founded in 1990, Jordan’s was bought back from Erinaceous after the group’s collapse earlier this year, and the firm has since been transformed from a loss-making business to a profit-generating one.

It has introduced a number of new initiatives, including redundancy insurance for tenants and a Rent-2-Buy scheme for prospective buyers.

Over 50% of Jordan’s staff are qualified to the Association of Residential Lettings Agents’ level one standard and half of the staff have worked for the firm for more than 10 years.

Parkheath’s Rickmansworth franchise opened in 2002 with one lettings employee, Jane Gardner.

Five years, nine staff and two offices later, the firm completed an average of 33 deals a month for 2007/8.

Pinnacle has one office and eight members of staff and has developed a number of new initiatives in the last three years. These include a new service advising and assisting landlords of Houses in Multiple Occupation; an annual landlord survey; and a tenant and log-in facility in its lettings software developed by its sister company,

Pinnacle managed 386 properties in 2005/6 – this rose to 512 for 2007/8.

This year, Sequence launched a ‘Landlords Only’ campaign aimed at aspiring landlords and existing landlords in need of advice. It was supported by a landlord-specific brochure.

In 2006/7, the group’s property portfolio increased by 20%; it currently has more than 10,500 properties on its books. Income has more than doubled in four years, while profitability has quadrupled over the same period.

Your Move operates its lettings business in more than 190 of its offices. It has doubled its lettings income in two years. New initiatives include a rent-indemnity scheme and development of insurance for tenants. It has also developed a corporate landlords service with a specialist team for dealing with landlords with multiple properties.

Category 5 – Residential auctioneer of the year.

Criteria for this category are the same as above.

Short-listed entrants are: Auction House; Breach Wood Ingram; Graham Penny; Mark Jenkinson & Son; Sequence; and The Property

Auction House operates from 12 regional auction rooms, with four further openings due shortly. The firm began franchising the business in 2006, with Lincolnshire estate agents Drewery Wheeldon becoming their first franchisee early last year.

Auction House expects to hold in excess of 40 auctions this year and aims to have 40 licensee-operated auction rooms.

With over 30 years’ experience wielding the hammer, Christopher Breach has established Breach Wood as a reputable auction house in the South West. With six staff and its main office situated on a farm, the business receives instructions from a range of clients including corporate clients, Government bodies and housing associations.

Graham Penny Auctions was launched in 2006 and quickly became the leading auctioneer in the East Midlands. It claims to have achieved a success rate of above 70% last year on all auction entries. Next year, the firm expects to hold seven auctions in Derby and 10 in London.

Its most recent development has been the launch of an auction house via a joint venture with Spicerhaart. It also provides live access to its auctions online, which is an initiative it introduced last year. The firm has 12 staff across two offices.

Mark Jenkinson & Son is a Sheffield and South Yorkshire-based firm that was launched in 1877. It has conducted 230 auctions over the past 20 years, with some 7,000 lots having been sold. Over £50m has been raised in the last two years alone, with an overall success rate of 90%.

The firm employs 10 surveyors, of whom six are chartered surveyor partners. A total of 20 staff work in one office.

The firm has computerised its property management department and, over the past three years, it has developed a bespoke package of auctioneering software.

Sequence has auction businesses in Brighton, Southampton, Derby and Norwich, with its largest, Barnard Marcus, based in London. In 2005, the brands offered 1,975 lots for sale at £220m; 2,400 lots in 2006 for £280m; and 2,725 in 2007 for £320m.

Sequence has grown its auctions by 35 per annum, with 45 expected to be held this year.

The group offers clients free legal documentation and Home Information Packs online and provides staff training on the legalities of auctioneering.

The Property People has established five regular dates for auctions for each of the past three years, with between one and 25 lots per auction. Regardless of size, all auctions have printed catalogues and a pre-auction show.

In terms of new initiatives, the auctions are now bilingual and ‘ask the specialist’ sessions are held for members of the public.

Category 7 – Land and new homes agency of the year, sponsored by

Entrants for this category were required to explain how their business has developed; what new services/initiatives they have developed or launched over the past three years; and provide details of the house builders who regularly instruct them, including a short case study highlighting their best recent sales campaign.

Short-listed entrants are: Connells Residential; Enfields; The Frost Partnership; Hunters; JDM Land & New Homes; and Land & New Homes

Connells Residential appointed a land director to its residential board earlier this year as part of the expansion of its land and new homes division. The division acts for over 250 developers and last year completed on 3,216 units, up from 2,500 in 2004.

In terms of new developments, Connells has introduced Connells Support Agency Services to supplement developers’ sales and marketing operations, and acquired a new homes mortgage company, New Home Mortgages Helpline.

Achievements include the sale rates of Brolly Works, a former umbrella factory conversion in Birmingham, despite the oversupply of apartments in the city centre. Over 50% of the properties were sold off plan, with all properties sold within six months of the launch.

Enfields offers a comprehensive sales and marketing process for the sale of new homes. One of its most successful campaigns last year was the sale of Chapel in Southampton. The new-homes team was instructed by Persimmon to sell the 32 apartments in the development, which it achieved before the build was completed.

The Frost Partnership covers new-home sales across The Thames Valley, the Chilterns and Middlesex. It has restructured its website to give new homes more prominence, recruited sales staff and introduced bonuses for negotiators for selling specific plots.

Hunters has its own research department to support developers in determining market demand and determine the mix of property, which should feature on their sites. It also has a dedicated investor team, which manages individual and syndicate group investments in sites.

Its sales progression team, which has a fallthrough rate of 19%, employs individuals to manage 28-day exchanges.

JDM Land & New Homes is part of JDM Estate Agents and its services range from managing the sales and marketing of new-build properties to consulting on interior design.

One of its landmark achievements has been the winning of the joint contract to market Kingswood Chase, a development by St James that comprises 32 units ranging between £430,000 and £2m. Over half of the units have been sold on the site, which is due for completion in the first half of next year.

The land sales of Land & New Homes Countrywide are expected to be responsible for up to 1,000 new-build units for first-time buyers, professionals and families, pending final planning permission.

The business represented over 350 developers, housebuilders and housing associations last year, handling a combination of new-home sales, land acquisitions or disposals.

It has launched a marketing department exclusively for developers to provide creative services for clients and offers a 24-hour service producing marketing literature.

Category 8 – Block manager of the year.

This category was open to standalone block manager specialists or teams from bigger multidisciplinary firms who specialise in this area.

Entrants were asked to explain how they have improved the management of the blocks on which they have been instructed, from the perspective of residents and scheme owners.

Bridgeford & Co specialises in block management. With offices in Hampshire and Hastings, the firm has increased the number of blocks under its management from around 60 to 400 since 2003.

It has introduced an internet-based service called The Integrated Property Management Network to allow online, real-time tracking of tasks, projects and messages by its 11 staff. It has also reduced service charge debtors by up to 90% within six months for a number of blocks that it claims had dissatisfied leaseholders before it started managing them.

Having managed commercial property for 16 years, London-based Chainbow moved into the residential market in 2005, growing its properties under management from one to 40 in three years.

The firm charges a flat fee for management and only charges administration fees for supplying information upon sale or remortgage.

Chainbow provides an annual service budget for properties prior to the next financial year and regularly monitors expenditure against budgets.

It has developed its own secure portal for each block it manages, which allows owners to access information about their developments, such as service-charge spend and minutes and venues of residential meetings. It has also introduced a quarterly newsletter to keep residents informed about relevant property and local issues.

Chelton Brown launched into block management in 2005 with the acquisition of a small, local company with 12 blocks under management. The business was grown by 50% by 2006/7.

With four staff, Chelton Brown Block Management now manages 24 blocks of flats (494 units), which it expects to increase by five by the end of the year.

The Northampton-based firm has secured Government funding to train staff to NVQ level 2 in customer care and a new software system for block management allows it to provide real-time account information for each of its blocks.

Encore Estate Management
has grown its number of sites under management from three to 22 in just two years. With 20 staff, it manages developments in and around East Anglia, London and along the M11/A14 corridor.

The firm uses a team of multi-skilled porters and caretakers rather than sub-contractors to help manage its sites. It has also launched its own website and a concierge service, and has invested £20,000 in software.

Hulford Salvi Carr Property Management
is London-based and charges fixed fees for its service. It has introduced an online accounts service that enables tenants to organise their own services, and launched a bespoke website for an individual block. It also tripled investment on staff training.

Peverel OM is a division of Peverel Property Management Group, which is part of The Peverel Group. It manages over 1,100 developments across England and Wales.

Its customer website ‘Avenue’ provides residents with real-time information and allows them to make secure payments, view service charge estimates and receive text and email maintenance alerts.

The firm has also launched a ‘major issues coordinator’, which is a team tasked with managing incidents affecting large numbers of residents, such as a power cut or a fire.

Category 9 – Estate agency franchisor of the year.

This category was open to standalone franchise networks and multi disciplinary agencies with franchise businesses.

Entrants in this category were asked to explain what differentiates them from competitors in terms of standards and services; to detail how they support their franchisees; and to provide examples of one success story within their business.

Short-listed firms in the category are: Hunters, Martin & Co, Winkworth, Xperience and Your Move.

Hunters Franchising
launched in June 2006 and has since sold over 65 locations, including multiple outlets. The firm has opened 11 franchised offices, in areas including Leicester and Bridlington.

Its new service, Hunters Personal Agent, launched earlier this year and offers franchisees the opportunity to work from home, looking after both buyers and sellers.

Hunters claims franchisees can build a business for less than £6,000 and have access to City of Guilds training through the Hunters training

Lettings franchise Martin & Co launched in the mid-1990s and now has 135 franchised offices, with 15 preparing to launch. It aims to have 200 offices on major high streets by 2010.

Martin & Co saw record growth last year, with 30 franchisees opening for business, and the network’s overall revenue increasing by 43%. A funding manager helps franchisees develop a five-year business plan and helps ensure they can secure bank funding and expand in line with the network’s strategy.

A premises manager is also available to help franchisees ensure their office opens on time and within budget.

became the UK’s first franchised estate agency in 1981 under the leadership of Simon Agace, who is now chairman of
the company.

In the past four years, the company’s turnover has increased by around 20% year-on-year.

A new franchisee pays a £10,000 start-up fee for their first office and £5,000 for all subsequent offices. Winkworth receives 8% of a franchisee’s gross income, plus an additional monthly IT fee of £200 and a quarterly marketing fee of £385.

Winkworth offers over 60 bespoke training courses to all staff members, with IT support including in-house web development and maintenance and business support services, including the maintenance of compliance procedures.

Xperience has around 90 branches across England and Wales and offers on-going training for members. In addition, all new and existing principals, partners and directors are required to become members of the National Association of Estate Agents and take its technical award within their first year with the company.

Xperience has invested in Dezrez software and has launched new brand websites across the business.

Your Move franchisees focus on sales, lettings and financial services and have access to comprehensive IT systems, group purchasing deals and a dedicated support team, which helps with applications, premises selection and launch preparation.

Category 12: Estate agency employer of the year.

Entries for this award were from the management of estate agency firms or members of staff who consider their firm a great place to work.

Entrants were asked to explain why the firm is a good employer and provide details of its recruitment strategy, including its retention rate. Information was also required on firms’ training schemes.

Short-listed firms for this category are Davis Tate; Enfields; Greene & Co; Karl Tatler; Waterfords Property Services; and The
Property People.

As one of just four estate agents listed among The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies To Work For list last year, Davis Tate prides itself on its staff. Staff consider the firm’s joint managing directors, David Tate and Matthew Davis, to be strong leaders who demonstrate enthusiasm and goodwill consistently within each of their nine offices throughout the Thames Valley.

Each new joiner has an induction programme to undertake and, after three weeks, they are required to visit each of the firm’s offices and spend time within each department. Staff are trained in both sales and lettings and sourced locally where possible.

In terms of career opportunity, Claire Parker joined the firm as a lettings negotiator at the age of 21 and was appointed as head of lettings in 2005 and lettings director earlier this year, at just 27 years of age.

Enfields claims to place great importance on personal development programmes for its staff, with regular off-site events held to maintain

In addition to its training academy, which runs regular seminars on estate agency roles, skills and new market trends, Enfields has an intranet, which provides access to league performance tables, operational procedures and training modules.

All of Enfields’ branch managers had little or no training when they were recruited. Kevin Ashley is a case in point.

He joined the firm from McDonald’s and, after intensive training and a tailored development programme, he progressed to beat every sales and customer service target set for him and won the firm’s Negotiator of the Year Award in his first year. He now runs its Hedge End office.

North London-based Greene & Co has set three goals for its staff: to earn a lot of money; to act with integrity and honesty; and to have fun. It offers a range of incentives to help them fulfill these goals.

The firm provides access to a life coach, who visits the business every week; a colleague rep, who organises the firm’s social calendar; career counselling; a £100 bonus to quit smoking; £1,200 worth of Continuous Professional Development training per person per year; and overseas trips, such as its three-day, all-inclusive weekend to Marrakech last year.

As another of the estate agency firms featured in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies To Work For list, in both 2007 and 2008, Greene & Co also runs a staff suggestion scheme to help find ways to improve the business.

Karl Tatler claims not to have had one member of staff leave the firm to join a competitor since he started his business Karl Tatler Estate Agents in 1997.

In terms of staff development, Tatler prefers to offer general guidance rather than formulaic programmes, with training tailored to individual team members. Perks include ad hoc bonuses.

Waterfords is accredited by Investors in People, and has offices across Surrey. It offers new staff an induction programme, which it runs in addition to monthly workshops for all staff, focusing on all aspects of estate agency.

Overseas trips are offered to incentivise people, with destinations including New York, Dubai and Val D’Isère.

The Property People is another firm accredited by Investors in People. It offers staff tailored personal development programmes, while new starters have the opportunity to shadow senior staff to learn role procedures.

The firm has invested £500,000 in its offices, which include training and staffrooms and company car parks. The firm has 21 staff across three offices in North Wales.

Please note: the finalists of each of the 18 categories will be revealed on the night of the awards on November 11.

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