An open letter to all independent estate agents who wish to own their future
Tuesday 17th January 2017
Dear Independent Estate Agency Owner,
I write to ask you a question. Would you ever consider uniting with all your fellow independent agents in the fight against corporate domination and unfair practice, if you had shared ownership of such an organisation, and legal certainty that it could never be sold off?
Tomorrow, I am holding a meeting with a small number of your industry colleagues, all owner-managers of impressive independent businesses from around the country, to find out whether or not enough support exists to initiate such an organisation just at the seed level, and if so to appoint them collectively as the Founder Members of the National Committee to represent your industry.
Before reading on, please remember everything in this letter is merely a suggestion, a proposal, and does not cover all questions. I have already had people clamouring for me to “tell us everything, now!” but it simply isn’t possible unless the Founder Members agree to form, and agree to the proposals. But I appreciate the enthusiasm!
The organisation’s aim would (if we proceed) be simple:
- To give the independent estate agency industry collective ownership and control of its future
- Be a collective voice promoting the benefits of choosing good independent agents to the public.
- Provide additional income streams, via an organisation which, when it profits, so do you.
Nothing CIELA would do would overlap with any existing trade organisations. We would not presume to tell anyone how to run their business, nor be trying to encourage better practice, because other organisations already do that. But what they don’t do is proactively represent you on a national level to the public. Nor do they defend you against damaging corporate practice. No organisation that I am aware of has ever effectively done this.
In the twenty years I have been serving estate agents I have never known a time of greater pressure. At the same time, I have never known a better opportunity for independent agents to unite against corporate interests.
Don’t get me wrong; some of the most impressive agents I have ever encountered, particularly during my two years as a judge at the Sunday Times Estate Agent Awards, have been employed by the corporates, and I have no criticism for the individuals who work within corporate firms.
But, large, corporate estate agency does not serve the property industry’s or the consumer’s best interests. They are large machines designed, in fact required, to harvest and extract value from staff and customers and funnel it to their shareholders.
Large, national “online” agency brands are even worse. Not only are they undermining the whole industry, they are exploiting vulnerable first-time sellers who are naive to the challenges and difficulties involved in a successful sale. They must be stopped and made accountable for their misleading practices.
Imagine the most powerful agency group ever to exist, representing over 80% of the industry, recouping and restoring that extracted, undermined value, in full. Imagine having shared ownership of it, receiving annual dividends from the benefits of having united, to maximise the value of your business.
20 years working with some of the best agents in the country has taught me, more than anything, that homeowners selling or renting their home need Personal Service; friendly, professional advice tailored to their exact, unique circumstances, by an individual local professional who is as invested in the successful result of their client almost as much as the homeowners themselves.
When a homeowner chooses the best agent for their specific circumstances, that is when they have the best chance of achieving the highest price in the shortest time. Every situation is unique and personal, and requires the right agent for that particular sale or let.
You cannot automate, scale or commoditise Personal Service. That is why the Corporate agents have lost the only unique selling point they ever used to have, the size of their network. This is no longer important in the sale of a property, now that all agents of any size can access national advertising where they know most buyers are searching. Now is the time to exploit their weakness.
This idea has been suggested, tried and repeated many times, yet none has ever achieved the full dominance that would be possible if there was total unity. Why? Up until now, no nationwide offering has ever existed uniquely and only for all independents. They have always included corporate members, who have always had controlling interests, and have either failed, become benign, sold out early or somehow lost their way.
Unless you all unite, behind CIELA or any other such venture, you will lose the chance to own and control your future.
Most agents I speak to are not hopeful of achieving unity, saying that you only need a minority of short-sighted agents who refuse to join in, meaning failure, or else they say that every attempt in the past has been based on un-kept, or undelivered promises. All true.
100% of all efforts to completely unite have thus far failed, despite the obvious benefits. Perhaps it will never happen, perhaps you feel the same and have given up hope of ever having ownership of the future of your industry.
But if it is possible, what might it take to succeed?
This is a question I have been studying intensely for the last 10 years at least, watching with interest and learning as various attempts have failed, and trying to understand the reasons why, even with funding and high profile support, they didn’t succeed.
How do you create an organisation that benefits all it’s stakeholders, not just shareholders?
Is it even feasible for such an entity to exist?
Yes, absolutely. When all the stakeholders’ interests are aligned, which they are (nobody wins unless the sale/let is achieved) it’s more than feasible, it is highly desirable. Such an organisation would benefit not only its members’ businesses, but also the home-moving public as well. A straightforward win-win, where committed movers know exactly how to choose the best agent for their circumstances, and achieve their sale or let sooner, at a better price.
It’s feasible, but is it practically achievable? That depends entirely on you, and your fellow agents, and whether or not the circumstances exist where you would choose to swiftly join and unite with all independents.
So what are the conditions, what is the offer, what is the proposal which has even an outside chance of galvanising all independent agents together, quickly, behind a new organisation?
It is too early to lay out details of how the organisation would achieve its aims, until I get the support of the first members, and their agreement to the strategy. But in my armoury there are major, all-new propositions which have never before been made to independent agents as a collective, effectively handing every member the kind of power and resources usually reserved for large corporate organisations.
I would suggest the following is a list of minimum requirements for you to even consider such an idea, but please tell me if you think I have missed any.
1. An organisation whose primary function and activity results in an immediate improvement in your business circumstances, at the expense of corporate agents, both on the high street, and the online/hybrid corporates.
2. Where every member gets a vote, easily and quickly, on the major decisions facing your industry.
3. Where every member, including members at the the free entry-level, who joins prior to full launch gets a guaranteed and irrevocable share of the proceeds of the organisation’s success.
4. Where there is no possible chance that the organisation can fall into corporate hands, or out of the control of its members.
5. Where being a member makes no difference to your ability to compete at a local level, except against corporates, so that there is no competitive advantage by not joining.
6. Where the combined buying power of such an organisation, owned and run by its members, means you can lower your running costs on unavoidable overheads.
7. Where there is a local representative, who are themselves an independent agency industry colleague, with whom you can meet regularly to discuss your views.
8. Where the majority view of members cannot be ignored and whose wishes, if legal and practical, must be implemented.
9. Where local and regional officers can be removed and replaced with elected alternatives, if members decide they are not the best person for the job.
10. Where pride in the essential service you provide can be restored through being part of a highly respected and powerful organisation, made up only of members like you.
11. Where world class technology is employed on your behalf to bring you the benefits available from large scale applications, otherwise unavailable to small businesses.
12. Where the organisation has the resources to employ the very best professionals in their field to carry out the work of running your organisation on your behalf.
With the above, and more, in mind, I am offering the formation of such an organisation to you and your industry, and I have a plan which, if enough agents unite behind, can deliver you the benefits which are there for the taking.
There is an enormous amount of work to do, legally, technically and logistically to even get started. Some of it is underway already, but there is more to be done before I can disclose to you the precise nature of the offering. Why? Because it needs the approval of your Founding colleagues, so that this organisation can say that it was started and supported by people like you, not employees of large corporates carrying out their employer’s wishes.
Here is what I can tell you:
Tomorrow, Wednesday 18th January, at the Royal Aeronautical Society HQ in London I will be presenting the backbone of my plan to the prospective founder members, and offering a proposal which, if they accept, will lead to the official inauguration of the club on 1 March 2017. If support is not forthcoming, if I cannot secure the support of these first members, then I will discontinue efforts to launch.
1.The next appointments will be the 12 Regional Officers, for which we have received multiple expressions of interest for 9 of the regions already.
2. The precise legal, enforceable definition of which member businesses will and won’t be eligible to join will be determined and finalised by the Founder and Regional Officers, who together will make up the National Members’ Committee of no more than 24 members.
3. To ensure that membership is accessible to all who qualify, entry-level membership will be free, provided that property data is uploaded to the Club’s database (we can accept all software feeds). You, the members will control what happens with that data.
4. There will be three further paid tiers of membership, with details of member benefits to be released at a later date, after we have polled members as to what it is they most wish to receive from such a club.
For now, nothing has been agreed, nothing finally decided, nothing set in stone. Everything is up for discussion and will be decided by you and your fellow members, if we proceed.
We have already had a significant show of interest (more than 100 expressions of interest), especially considering we haven’t decided to launch, which I hope will grow as we start to make announcements, if tomorrow’s meeting is positive.
Right from the outset it is the members who will make the key decisions on what the club will do.
Tomorrow I will find out whether or not the Founder Agents agree that my plan will convince agents such as you that joining makes sense, has no downside risk, and very big upside benefits to you all if launched.
If support is forthcoming and we proceed, I have a launch strategy that I believe will unite all agents very quickly, on a no-risk basis, to join up fast, and with breathtaking speed establish an organisation that will put the balance of power into the hands of members, taking it away from the corporates.
Finally, the question I have been asked a few times already is, why me? I will leave it for the Founder Members and Regional Officers to decide for themselves whether or not I am the best person for this, and for them to communicate to other members why they think so, if indeed they do. I do not believe anybody should hold any job unless they can show that they are the best possible person available for that job. It is not so much that I think I am the best, more that I am the only person with the required knowledge and resources, without taking corporate backing, who is actually willing to stand up (throw myself to the wolves) and propose this.
I trust you will consider what I have said in this letter. Please let us know if you have any reasons not to join, and get ready to join should the prospective Founders choose to get the ball rolling.
Please share this letter with your industry colleagues, so that we can quickly establish whether or not the support needed exists.
At this stage, I am only ask you to support the concept, subject to hearing at a later date the full details of how CIELA would launch and function.
So, once more I ask you: Would you ever consider uniting with all your fellow independent agents in the fight against corporate domination and unfair practice, if you had shared ownership of such an organisation, and legal certainty that it could never be sold off?
I do hope so.
If you have any questions, please email email@example.com
Thank you for the valuable time taken in reading this letter to the end. In the event the Founder Members choose to proceed, I look forward to seeing whether or not you will decide to unite and support CIELA in helping you take ownership and control of your future, once and for all.
Whatever the outcome, I wish you all the best for your business in the challenging times ahead.