Launching my first estate agency at the age of 59

March 25th, 2021

Sheridan by the Wilts and Berks Canal

I’d like to begin this update by expressing my heartfelt thanks to all my ‘virtual’ friends. I could never have got this far without your support, whether you’re one of my followers on social media, one of the wonderful people who visit my website or subscribe to my newsletters, or one of the amazing 3000+ members of our Facebook group, or all three! Thank you all! I have really appreciated your support and faith in me throughout this process.

I have especially valued your encouragement and good wishes over the last few months, because it has been particularly challenging to plan my new business during the Covid pandemic. I have had to build new social and business networks to avoid feeling isolated or losing confidence; I haven’t been able to meet up with my usual sounding boards – my friends and family; my husband Mike has been endlessly glued to his screen with Teams meetings and overtime; my youngest son (the only one still living at home) has needed plenty of support with home schooling, especially as it’s his GCSE year. A huge shout out to anyone else reading this who has launched, grown, or run a business from home during the pandemic. You rock, and I’m in awe of you all!

Launching an independent estate agency at the age of 59 was not a decision I took lightly. Days before signing the contract that would change my life, it still frightened me, but I knew it was worth taking the risk. I was standing on the edge of a precipice, hoping that when I finally got started, everything would fall into place!

Starting an estate agency, during a pandemic or not, is no mean feat. My friends and family were surprised to hear that an estate agent does not have to be trained or qualified, but that doesn’t mean that they are unregulated. There is a great deal to learn, and there are many hoops to jump through before you can launch your business. One day I might write an article about it, but not yet – I’m still too busy!

The first big question – whether to join a group

My first thought was to go it alone, but I recognised that by joining an estate agency group or franchise I would benefit from in-house systems, support and training, and they would give me access to the property portals like Rightmove at better prices. I investigated a number of groups, but amost without exception they were based on geographic territories, and couldn’t accommodate my business, which would cover the whole canal network in England and Wales. Only two groups stood out: eXp and Century 21, both excellent in their own way. Adam Day from eXp and Chris Summers from Century 21 were both extraordinarily helpful to me, and I can recommend both groups to any estate agents looking to strike out on their own.

In the end, I was a whisker away from signing up, when my husband and I sat down together one weekend, ran all the figures, and came to the conclusion that it was worth the risk for me to go down the independent route. It would mean that my learning curve would be even steeper, and that our outgoings would be considerably higher, but I would be able to develop my own brand, avoid any restraints on marketing, especially in territories occupied by other group members, follow my own path, and of course, keep the net profits from my commission rather than sharing a large chunk with the group or franchise.

The second big question – software

All estate agents use some sort of database and CRM (customer relationship manager) to manage their business. It was particularly important for me to choose the right one as I will be a sole trader. Property technology (known in the trade as PropTech) is a huge industry with lots of players in it, from veteran providers, to new companies trying to break into the market. I’ll need my software to work hard – to be my back office, undertake routine automated tasks, and free me up to run the personal aspects of the business. I assessed about twenty different systems, and even signed up with one, but cancelled my account when it didn’t live up to my expectations. Finally I settled on my favourite, Rex, which is newly arrived in Britain, but is well established in Australia. I’m sure that it’s just what I need to make sure that I can offer a slick and professional service to both buyers and sellers.

Lots of details

The list of tasks, both formal and fun, has been seemingly endless. A major challenge was getting to grips with the regulatory framework. This has involved joining the Property Redress Scheme (an ombudsman), registering with the Information Commissioner’s Office (for data processing), arranging specialist insurance, and complying with Anti Money Laundering legislation by registering with HMRC and developing appropriate management systems. I’ve also been applying to join the property portals, working with my talented stepdaughter Rebekah to develop my branding, choosing artists to work with on my brochures, buying photography equipment, and developing my practical skills – things like mastering 360 degree online tours and video filming and editing, watching numerous training videos and webinars, and taking copious notes.

My website has been in a bit of a state of flux lately. That’s because there have been different requirements, depending on whether I was joining a group or going it alone, and depending on which software I was planning to use. I’m sorry if these changes have been a bit unsettling or confusing for you – it certainly has been for me too! The current design should now be stable.

The final question – when is the launch?

I am currently working my way through Rex’s extensive training programme, which they quite rightly call ‘Rex University’. I am also busy adding tweaks to the website, designing my ‘For Sale’ boards, and finalising some of the services I’ll be using, for example photography and home styling. Assuming that the jolly old government eases travel restrictions at the end of the month, as planned, I’m hoping to start valuations from 1st April 2021. Never fear, I intend to continue adding other agents’ properties to the Facebook Group indefinitely!