Cotswold Homes Online - A new regional model bespoke for the Cotswold marketplace

Karen Harrison explains the benefits of using Cotswold Homes Online and how this new property marketing platform is different from other online models

What is different about Cotswold Homes Online from other national online / hybrid models?

Cotswold Homes is particularly effective because it is designed to target a specific regional audience. Thousands are registered to receive our e-mailers about local events and competitions as well as property news. Many of those may not actively be thinking about moving but if the right house comes up will decide to view. As such it’s great for capture of an affluent local marketplace that has always been motivated by desire rather than need to move.

Used in its purest form with Rightmove as an online-only platform it provides the ability to broadcast to the widest possible number of likely buyers at a very competitive price point.

Unlike a standard online model our clients still have invaluable access to the most proactive elements of successful and traditional high street estate agency - phone-outs, accompanied viewings, sales negotiation and sales progression.

Why do you offer freelance sales services with Harrison James & Hardie?

As a hybrid platform this provides complete peace of mind. Clients know there is a motivated and experienced local high street team actively working to achieve a sale. It may seem counter-intuitive but our no-sale-no-fee fee is expensive by necessity because we take the risk and burden of all costs until exchange. Bear in mind we have sixteen qualified and experienced staff working out of two flagship high street offices.

On average we spend around £6000 per instruction. With Cotswold Homes the risk is shared. The cost comes down because we charge only on the level of resources, expertise and time spent on achieving a result. It makes things fairer and far more affordable on both sides. This new model offers the same excellent provision of expertise and exposure, accessing the very best in local high street agency and upper quartile marketing if required, for around half the average cost of our no-sale-no-fee agreement. As such it is far superior to national online / hybrid models. 

Is going online-only ever a good idea? Wouldn’t you always advocate traditional methods?

Well, all of us have one house that we drive past and think: ‘If that came onto the market I would buy it.’ If you know you have a desirable home that could just sell in a single day on the first viewing at the full asking price and you might save yourself £5,000 or £10,000 on sales fees? It’s seductive, I will give you that. 

However, I would argue you still need to ensure the widest possible audience because the most desirable properties might achieve far more than the asking price. Last year we sold a property in Blockley at £100,000 over the asking price after doing seventeen viewings in one day.  That’s a bit of a no-brainer in underlining the value of using a really good high street agency.  I can understand why vendors want to take the risk but the virtual equivalent of a window card and a for sale board isn’t going to ensure best price even if it brings a few buyers straight to your door.

With Cotswold Homes we have developed a perfect marketing and sales campaign strategy that allows such vendors to test the saleability of their home without being tied into a long and expensive sole agency. You can have the whole shebang - it’s your call. A bespoke Launch Pad e-mailer, an Open Viewing Day, boosted social media posts on Facebook, a glamorous editorial feature in the magazine, the power and reach of Fine & Country. 

We have the capacity to reach thousands of potential buyers at local, regional and national level in a matter of days. If your property does sell quickly then the costs will still be considerably lower than a percentage fee but you can feel confident that you have introduced the widest possible number of buyers and therefore that you have definitely achieved the best possible sale price.

Do we need the expense of an accompanied sales service?

The first viewing is online these days, for sure. That’s why all our instructions are professionally photographed.  It’s a visual universe. You get one chance to attract an enquiry online. If the buyer thinks you’re on at too high a price or poorly presented you just won’t get a look in. The internet is just an information tool though - too much to take in, too random. Dismissed on a photograph, hit and miss.

We often agree sales on properties that have originally been overlooked by that buyer. It’s our job to press home all the specific benefits of location, the unseen potential of the plot and the flexible arrangement of accommodation.  To listen to someone who really knows their stuff is hugely beneficial.  Accordingly at least half our viewings each week are self-generated. We spend a great deal of time chasing up on enquiries, phoning out on new instructions, re-qualifying applicants, refining  our knowledge of their circumstances, prompting them for offers, thinking laterally, offering a few curve balls for consideration.

The internet and social media are amazing tools but nothing can substitute the ability of an experienced negotiator with superlative local knowledge who will persuade buyers to view on the basis of an in-depth understanding of their needs and the suitability of every property in their price range. Great local estate agency is all about capturing those potential buyers and generating fresh activity. It is vital to register each person properly. Not to do so is such a wasted opportunity.

And that’s just the beginning - getting people to the door is the easy bit. No one should ever do their own viewings or try to negotiate their own sale and don’t get me started about the need for dedicated sales progression. The national average fall-through rate of one in three. Ours is half that precisely because we have a dedicated and experienced manager doing nothing but sales progression. That’s ‘expensive’ but as only one in six of our sales fall through it’s a good kind of expensive!

Without this dedicated approach our conversion would be only half as good. We habitually convert 95% of our instructed stock to sold / let each year. The national average for high street agents is 50% and with standard online agents it’s much less - our research in the North Cotswolds found it was around 25%.

I have looked at Cotswold Homes Online - as soon as you go over £350,00 it isn’t cheap?

Cotswold Homes is definitely not a cheap brand. It’s a luxury online service - flexible, with control over exposure, services, marketing costs and brand. That’s why we have a three-tier branded approach. We match typical cost at entry level because these vendors are most likely to be worried about affordability above all else. Of course we can accompany a viewing on a two-bedroom starter home in a fraction of the time spent on a country house with land at £1.2 million so there are natural economies. Price is also easier to ascertain and negotiations are generally more straightforward. Sales chasing tends to be more problematic, however.

But as you go up in value there’s far more at stake in order to get best price. Professional print marketing, national advertising, the reach of the brand, the seniority of staff -what they know and how they communicate, the confidence they instil - and the time required to do a proper job. We haven’t become market leaders by cutting corners but by being the best at what we do in every sector. Upper quartile sales is about service, knowledge, skill so you need the most experienced senior staff and the best marketing profile, therefore of course it’s more expensive.

Can I use Cotswold Homes Online if I am on the market with another online agency?

Yes you can - with any type of agency. Cotswold Homes is a marketing platform with freelance sales services. If your agent hasn’t done a viewing for weeks you don’t have to wait until the end of their notice period. They are only tying you in because you feel it’s wasted money to go elsewhere if you have to pay another agency fee.

But nothing comes of nothing. You might spend another thousand or two with us but we can help to widen reach, to accompany viewings, negotiate your sale on your behalf, certainly to a better level than you could on your own  - in which case we will have paid for ourselves already - and we’ll keep a really close eye on that sale all the way to exchange of contracts.

Better still, don’t go online-only in the first place. Remember after the first couple of days, let alone weeks, the average number of click-throughs on new instructions online will plummet exponentially.  What happens when that first flurry of curiosity dies away? There’s no strategy. No local staff. No answers but to recommend a price reduction. What is the point of ‘saving’ £5000 on sales fees if you have to reduce your price by £20,000 to generate fresh interest? 

Am I cheapening the value and profile of my home by going for an online-only option?

The general quality of estate agency has undoubtedly been compromised over the last couple of years, galvanised by those who dress up cheap marketing as a substitute for real sales skills. You only have to read industry publications to discover mounting concern over average length of time on market, slowing transaction times on sales, the worryingly high level of fall throughs. Online disruptors are responsible for a great deal of this because they are all about volume not service. 

As ever, if you wish to achieve the best price in the shortest possible time you have to look for the company with the most Sold  / Let boards in your area. Despite reports of a weakening marketplace, falling prices, panicking landlords and a slowing economy we have recorded a better result than last year to date. Our instruction levels, our sales figures, our lettings figures, our exchanges, our let completes, are all up. We only launched Cotswold Homes in March and we’ve already sold 75% of our stock.

You can have whichever badge you wish. We have simply worked out a way to give access to the skills and expertise for which we have always been renowned in a more affordable package - that’s all. Whether we act as Cotswold Homes Online, on a traditional sole agency with Harrison James & Hardie or badged as Fine & Country North Cotswolds, it really doesn’t matter. Our ability is what counts. It’s still the same team working behind the scenes. We don’t distinguish between how those applicants arrive at our door - they’re all coming out to view!

Discover Cotswold Homes Online here.

Karen Harrison is co-founder and director of Harrison James & Hardie. The company’s policy of continuous re-investment into the training and retention of local staff, combined with the use of new technologies and innovative marketing methods, has been at the heart of its success. To contact Karen call the Moreton in Marsh office on 01608 651000.