As the deadline for entering The Lettings Agency of the Year Awards in association with The Sunday Times & The Times fast approaches*, (I thought I’d get a quick plug in early), I’ve been pondering their value and the reason why I first set them up almost a decade ago.
I remember very clearly one lunchtime eating a sandwich at my desk and reading several stories criticising estate agents, (the news must have particularly thin that week as these were all the same old tales lazily rehashed without any research), and thinking no one ever says anything about all the good things estate agents do nor highlight the best performers – and that was the moment that the longest running awards in the industry were conceived.
I don’t judge the awards myself, instead an expert panel is chaired by The Property Ombudsman, but I do know from the judges that the standard of entry has improved every year as has the number of entries, up by over 100% in the last two years. So we are definitely achieving one of our founding aims – to provide incentive to raise the standards of the industry ever higher, but how do we score with the other goals we set, to reward the achievements of the best agencies and to help raise the profile of the industry?
I’m grateful to Gareth Ashington of Ashington Page in Beaconsfield, who won Gold for his Best Small Agency in 2009, for sharing his experience. Using his achievement to spur his team on even further, the following year he increased turnover by 54% by repositioning his agency towards the higher end of the market, which resulted in double the sales of properties over £750,000. Of course it wasn’t just the award, Gareth gave his office a facelift and produced a new marketing campaign, but he confirms that the award actually won him business as a consequence of displaying it on all his communications plus it helped to give his team the confidence to know that they could compete with everyone in this highly contested area. Many other winners have told me that thanks to the awards they too have enjoyed huge publicity, won business and increased their profits.
As for raising the industry profile I fear we still have a long way to go. The tabloid media had a feeding frenzy when they learned that the number of complaints to The Property Ombudsman doubled last year although none chose to pick up on the Ombudsman’s report that the amount of compensation awarded in each case had halved which suggests that the issues people are complaining about are much smaller than a few years ago. I’m not so naïve as to expect the press to run a story along the lines of “estate agents do a great job selling over 90% of all properties in the UK” however when we carried out a survey of 1,562 home movers recently, 84% did say they would recommend their estate agent, a statistic few industries would be able to claim and something I’m keen to get covered in the media. We will persist in our pursuit to put the record straight – many sales and lettings agencies do a fine job for their clients and comprise teams of highly entrepreneurial people who contribute a lot for the general economy and to society as The Estate Agency Foundation charity, and many other examples of good works, clearly demonstrate.
The awards have rightly attracted criticism as well as plaudits, the most common being the judging process and we take all constructive points on board and have made several changes as a consequence. The trouble is I don’t think a perfect judging system exists; some suggest the public should judge but how can they compare and contrast estate agencies when they normally only instruct one and move on average once every eight years? So yes the judging has an element of subjectivity but this is true of all industries awards and each year our panel has had new blood, categories rotated and the format changed to include an interview with every single entrant rather than just relying on a written submission. I’ve only had two rather nasty critics, and both made me smile recently when they were themselves the recipients of other awards similarly judged by a peer group but overall winners and losers alike have been very helpful and positive.
As both sales and lettings agencies struggle to find and to communicate their unique competitive advantage for their customers I feel that the awards are doing their bit to help the best performers differentiate themselves and so conclude that they are worthwhile and worth winning. Of course only those who enter have a chance so with less than a week to register and two weeks to make your submission you’d better get your skates on.
*The deadline for entering The Lettings Agency of the Year Awards is still the 31st March however the deadline for submissions has been extended to the 6th April. You can register to enter at www.estateagencyevents.com but only until 31st March.