Marc Goldberg, Hampton International’s head of residential, has much on his plate, having just become a father, but his focus on motivating his 600-strong staff to boost sales is steadfast.
Marc Goldberg is exhausted but not because of the impact of the credit crunch.
He’s just become a father. It is his first day back into the Sloane Square office of Hamptons International after just a week’s paternity leave – the agency allows two – and he seems somewhat fazed by the return to reality.
The 46-year-old acknowledges he has embarked on fatherhood later than he might have and quips that he is fortunate to have a younger wife with endless energy to cope with their new bundle of joy. As well as preparing for the birth of his daughter, Goldberg has been busy settling into his new role of head of residential sales, to which he was promoted in January.
Hamptons International managing director Mark Anderson, created the position at the end of last year, following a 30% growth in the midto- upper market agency network.
Eight sales directors now report directly into Goldberg, instead of Anderson, to ensure a more dedicated focus on the residential sales division. He appointed Phil Tennant to fill his former role of sales director for Central and North London.
Goldberg was one of a number of internal and external candidates to apply for the newly created position last year. The process, which lasted three weeks, involved psychometric testing and the presentation of business plans, outlining how each applicant planned to grow the sales division if appointed.
Goldberg considered the testing “intimidating but actually quite straightforward’” which is to be expected, given his 23-year tenure with the agency.
Hamptons poached Goldberg from Gillands – which was later acquired by Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward – in 1985 to become a negotiator in its Hampstead branch in North West London. He was promoted to branch manager in 1990 and then to local director of North London in 1995, covering Hampstead, St John’s Wood and Islington. He added Kensington to his remit in 1997 and continued to add further branches until he was promoted again to director for Central and North London in 2002. Just three years later he became sales director of the agency, and then head of residential sales with effect from 1 January this year.
Like so many of his peers, Goldberg never intended to become an agent, despite or perhaps because of the fact that his mother was a director of John D Wood & Co, based in Camden in North London. But after a year’s overseas travel, he undertook a six-month stint for John D Wood, managing show apartments within a new development in Swiss Cottage, which he says he really enjoyed. Uncomfortable working for his mother, Goldberg went in search of a new agency, hence his move to Gillands in St John’s Wood where he worked for six months.
Rather than a waste of time and expense, Goldberg insists his economics degree from the University of York provided him with a sound business base on which to build his agency career.
He says: “The degree didn’t directly lead me into a particular profession. I wanted to be educated. I thought it would open up opportunities for me.
“As it happens, I didn’t need a degree to become an estate agent but I think my educational background has helped me in my career, in terms of financial training, understanding of the financial markets and in business, generally.”
Hamptons International was looking for a head of residential sales to provide leadership to the agency and a coherent strategic direction to the sales division. It also wanted someone who could help the agency become the leading brand in estate agency in the UK. Goldberg has so far concentrated on maximising the output of his 600-plus staff.
He says: “My objectives are to ensure that 95% of our customers rate us as excellent or good and recommend us to others, provide consistent service across the network, through adherence to a framework of best practice and to expand the network. He adds: “I want to increase the productivity of staff by working smarter and more consistently and that involves using efficient systems, time-management initiatives and closer customer contact.”
Steps to success
Goldberg will use the agency’s best practice manual, Steps to Success, to try to achieve his objectives. It was created by a number of sales directors, including Goldberg, over the past two years. It has been implemented in Central and North London and the aim is now to roll it out across all offices within the UK. The manual features a range of values, including a call for staff to deliver on promises, have a reputation for excellence, be confident, have an eye on the competition – but not be to fascinated by them –and be flexible and intelligent enough to think on their feet. It also outlines the agency’s expectations on how staff should structure a working day, from daily meetings to dedicated times when they should be calling clients.
Goldberg says: “Essentially, a working day will comprise a team meeting in the morning followed by a good two hours of contacting vendors and applicants, with most viewings taking place in the afternoon.” Goldberg insists that the framework is more suggestive than prescriptive. “It is a guideline of how we would like our offices to operate – it is not rigid to the point where staff are not allowed to do other things.” He adds: “When I joined Hamptons we were eight offices and we are now over 85, so it is really just about combining the best elements of each office we have.” Offices are fully audited every six months while staff output is regularly tracked by the agency’s IT systems, in terms of customer contact and viewings and sales figures. Clients are also surveyed to enable Goldberg to monitor the service standards of his staff. He says: “Maximising the performance of our offices is an ongoing task – audits are really just a window as to whether we are functioning with the right methods and the right abilities.”
Goldberg explains that his focus on staff output is crucial in the current market, which requires staff to work twice as hard for business. His staff registered 10,000 instructions and 70,000 prospective buyers last year, which led to approximately 5,000 sales, with an average price of £600,000.
He says: “This year, we are currently marketing twice as many properties as this time last year and registering 25% fewer buyers. We are now selling approximately one in four properties compared with the norm of in excess of one in two. Prices have dropped by anything up to 15% since the peak of the market last year.
“Price is key – where we are succeeding in achieving price reductions in line with the market we are getting results.”
Goldberg says clients are accepting of the fact that the market is very tough and are generally open to the suggestion that their properties are worth less than they were before. And, he hastens to add, there is activity in the market to be encouraged by. “We are still registering five buyers for every property we take on. While buyers are slightly more cautious and price sensitive, they have got a much better selection of properties to choose from at the moment and, with much more amenable vendors, if the prices are right they will buy, so it’s not all doom and gloom.”
Nevertheless, every sales negotiator undertook at least three training courses last year, and training will continue to help staff maximise their performance and, says Goldberg, counter negative market publicity and instill positivity in clients, to ensure buying activity continues. Goldberg is also focusing on his cost base. He plans to reduce it by approximately 20% this year, through a reduction in advertising spend, direct mail, staff entertainment and sponsorship. In addition, Hamptons now charges for Home Information Packs, which it initially offered clients for free. Redundancies are also on the card.
Goldberg says: “In light of lower transaction levels we have scaled down our workforce by around 20% over the course of the year. In many cases this has been achieved by non-replacement of those departing but in some instances this has regrettably involved a redundancy process.”
He is also on a drive to strengthen fees, which have dipped to 2% in London and 1.5% across the rest of the country in the last year.
He says: “Having reduced our fees in a good market, we’re going back up to our norms of 2.5 and 2%. We’re carrying out 59 viewings for every net sale we agree as opposed to 29 last year, so we are having to work a lot harder, which I think justifies the increase.” In addition, Goldberg aims to increase the division’s market share by 10% each year and double revenues in a five-year period, with the aim of producing revenues of around £100m in the next few years. But while performance will be key, some comfort must taken from the fact that the agency has vast resources, thanks to its parent company, Emaar Properties. Listed on the Dubai Financial Market, Emaar is one of the world’s largest property development companies by market capitalisation – AED 90.8bn (£12.5bn) – so there is some comfort for Goldberg and his staff in knowing that they are highly unlikely to be a casualty of the credit crunch. With this safety net together with his extensive experience in agency and exceptional focus on his task in hand, all that’s left for Goldberg to do is instill the latter into his 600-plus staff to help Hamptons excel in the coming years – and of course survive fatherhood along the way.