When Stephen Little managed MORE Property & Real Estate, an independent real estate agency on the Mid-North Coast City of Coffs Harbour, he had the processes so systemized that the business was turning over in excess of $1.5 million. Most real estate agents of that size struggle to get to $1 million.
Little personally contributes only one list and sell per fortnight to the business to keep in tune with the market. The rest of his 40 hour week was devoted to improving MORE Property & Real Estate’s systems and identifying potential problems before they became urgent.
Not one message on my desk when I returned.
“If a Principal is working really hard and long hours, it just means his business is not working hard,” Little says, “Our clients identified with our firm and how we do things to get results for them, rather than with myself or any individual. I only saw key clients who entrusted us with projects, exclusive homes, high dollar commercial premises to market or purchasers seeking something unique or specialised. I went away 16 days in one month and there was not one message on my desk when I returned.”
He explained to clients that he didn’t get involved personally with their listings because he wanted to work only on their most important strategic issues, that is creating the means to market their properties to get the highest price possible in the shortest time possible.
Clients get the message that they were to trust their listing salesperson or property manager to carry out the marketing or management strategy which had been implemented as a result of the proven systems that had been developed.
Growth can be managed with good systems.
“Other Principals often told me they wanted to restrict their firm’s growth because it is onerous and profitless,” Little says. “They were actually saying that they see growth forcing them to work harder personally. My business enjoyed rapid growth but 10 times more under control than the average”.
According to Little, when most agents think about how they can reduce their costs they end up doing more of the work themselves. They also take on open, over priced and low motivation listings, which are high cost, low profit. These activities put a lid on the growth of their business.
“My goal was to not have a single piece of paper on my desk” Little says. “I rarely filled in an Agency Agreement – that was my PA’s job to do. That would be as bad as the CEO of Qantas flying a jet instead of minding the business.”
Dealing with staff shortages in real estate agencies.
Little believes that Agencies that have constant crises over staff shortages are managing the business badly and reactively. Salespeople should be recruited constantly and trained to plug the inevitable holes as other staff leave.
“Have you ever heard of H&R Block or a McDonald’s store being short staffed?” Little says. “They are not, because they have training systems to generate a pool of good recruits”.
Little trained his own agents which meant people didn’t enter his business with baggage from their former firms.
MORE Property’s Intranet and policy manuals set out the standards and checklists so that everyone in the office was able to deal with a vendor, prospective purchaser, tenant or landlord in the same way, including how the phone was answered.
Refining social skills for outstanding results.
Eighty percent of the service provided by the company involved social skills – only 20% was technical.
Eighty percent of the training was devoted to improving interactions with clients using scripts, dialogues and role-playing. Even a confident handshake needs to be taught. Wet fish handshakes are a turn-off.
“Property Management and Real Estate sales are two different disciplines and need to have separate identities and be run as two distinct cost centres. Property Management is the only area within real estate where you can add value to the business” Mr Little said.
MORE Property & Real Estate offered an 18 point guarantee on its service, with a full refund available. The guarantee was signed by the team member as well as the Principal or Sales Manager, to ensure personal commitment.
The guarantee also had a satisfaction survey form attached, covering all contact with personnel.
“This lifted the bar, and everyone knew they were being judged on the same standards. Most client surveys gave us a 98.8% rating on excellent or good, and 100% said they would refer friends and family to us.”
Business Thinking Systems.
The Company spent some time developing the systems, starting with Business Thinking Systems in 1998, an in-house facilitated program to document procedures. This initiative resulted in manuals, checklists and procedures on the Intranet.
A frustration in many firms, including real estate agencies, is that staff do not give consistent service, requiring the Principal or Sales Manager to become involved.
“You can’t manage people, so don’t try. Create systems that manage both the work and the people — the people run the system the system runs the business”, asserts Little.
Train, train, train.
“We also gave our team 60 hours of training a year, emphasising preventative procedures so they were not always putting out bushfires.
MORE Property & Real Estate female team members wore a company logo blouse with navy skirts or slacks while the men wore company logo polo shirts with navy trousers in summer and either a white shirt with company tie or an open neck blue Chambray shirt with a logo and navy trousers in the cooler months. This initiative saved them worrying about what to wear each day and presented a consistent company image. The team paid their own dry cleaning and the logo was tax registered so the team were able to claim rebates in their tax returns.
The theme for MORE Property & Real Estate was MORE Cares for the Community. This programme saw the Company carrying out a minimum of eight community activities per year from free seminars, fund raising for local organisations and children’s activities such as a Billy Cart Race.
Mr Little is Vice President of the Coffs Harbour PCYC and believes that a company should always contribute time and resources to the community and so he encouraged his team to belong to Service Clubs and local charities.
Stephen Little says he does not have a unique secret to efficiency: he just ensures that his organisations do 100 small things 1% better and recognises wherever there is a frustration, there is a lack of a system.
“The big picture then looks after itself,” he says.