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You keep asking, so I’m going to tell you how we do it – Part 3



So in parts one and two I’ve covered off the model that we operate in the UK and where it differs to the one you are familiar with locally. This post is to complete this series by outlining my thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of our model, our ability to change with the times and areas where I think the UK and US models might be converging.

The threat in terms of the model we operate is that with the growth of the internet, the perceived value an agent adds to the home moving process is eroding.

Estate agents used to be valued for their intricate knowledge of house prices that wasn’t accessible to mere mortals. We would know what sold and for how much and it’s only in the last few years that this information has been available to the general public – this has taken away some of our superhuman powers.

Estate agents also used to hold a valuable list of people wanting to move home. The general public would call and register with all of the estate agents in the town so that they could be alerted when a new property became available. Now they can register on the property portals and get automatic alerts when a new property becomes available

Property portals are like kryptonite

So as a result, property portals that also list house price information are to estate agents what kryptonite is to Superman, and what were traditionally our main powers are significantly reduced. They give so much control to the home sellers and buyers that many of them feel they don’t need estate agents, other than to get their properties listed on the portals for sale.

As I mentioned, the main portals don’t allow FSBO listings and this is clearly good news for agents. But now is the time that agents need to seriously look at where we add value to the process, because there is no guarantee this will continue.

Any good agent knows that they do a hell of a lot in the process that isn’t appreciated by the home seller. In no small part their negotiation skills are often what make deals happen that otherwise wouldn’t and also holds many deals together through the rocky process leading up to completion.

I see a similar threat to way you operate in US, with some alternative models emerging. A tech savvy generation coming through who can see the traditional model isn’t perhaps as valuable as it previously was and social media sites advocating the FSBO model in a new guise.

It seems to me that there may be as many similarities as there are differences between our two models and after all, we are both working in a customer service driven, people business.  Clearly on both sides of the pond we need to work at presenting a model to the vendor that demonstrates where an agent adds real value.

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    December 17, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Great article Ben! I am sure many agents in the UK would not like it if FSBO’s were suddenly able to get on your major listing websites. It has already happened here (via the Flat Fee MLS Broker) with brokers like me, who assist FSBO’s in getting their home on the MLS and for a small fee.

    Maybe I should move to the UK and open up a Flat Fee Brokerage? 🙂

    • Ben Harris

      December 20, 2010 at 11:59 am

      Thanks, glad you like the article.

      There are some firms that are starting to launch these services but I’m not a big fan of it personally.

  2. Bruce Lemieux

    December 17, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    Interesting. The UK market sounds like it was here when listings were printed in listing books and only available to agents (long before my time). Agents were gatekeepers of basic listing data. In the U.S. that model passed a long, long time ago.

    My typical clients gets a lot of data on their own. They know what’s on the market, they know what’s sold next door, they read blogs, etc. So where’s my value-add? With the flood of data that consumers get, I help separate the facts vs. myth and help translate data into information that can be applied to a client’s specific micro situation.

    With the tsunami of available data to consumers, it’s harder for an agent to fake it. You have to know your market by areas and price range. Because there’s so much information, we are better positioned to add value than before. Ultimately, educated buyers are the best buyers. Don’t fear the data — it’s ultimately a friend to the agent who knows what he/she’s doing.

    • Ben Harris

      December 20, 2010 at 12:02 pm

      Great points Bruce, and you are spot on, this is exactly where the good agents are heading on this.

      Tsunami of data – I like that!

  3. Rainer

    December 17, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    I’m interested to see how many agents in the US will try to hang onto the old model instead of changing with it. I agree that things are changing, and many people in the US realize that agents are not providing enough value for a 6% fee. I agree with that sentiment in probably half the cases.

    I think it’s important for sellers to prepare the house for sale, and market the property well. Unless a single site like dominates the housing search, and becomes the go-to place for FSBO buyers and sellers, then agents will offer more value by being able to list on more portals for lower rates than individual sellers.

    I do think fees in the US will be pushed down over the next 10 years…probably to a rate closer to 4.5-5% on average. I still see 7-8% rates on single family homes, but those agents are going to have to really offer significant value to maintain those.

  4. Agent for Movoto

    December 17, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    hey, great post-series. Just throwing a question out there: how much, if at all, do you think the sheer size of our respective countries influences the way we think about buying/selling land and homes?

  5. Nadina Cole-Potter

    December 17, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    Hoo boy! In Part 2 you talked about how deals could fall through when there were better offers before the contract was drawn up by the attorneys and signed by the parties and when buyers came close to signing a contract after a substantial wait for the lawyers to draw up the contracts and then wanted the price dropped. I am so glad that we have a different system — yours, Ben, is crazy-making, and if you can still get a deal to close without the parties hating each other and their agents, you have more than earned your commission! In Arizona, for residential transactions, in addition to having separate agents for seller and buyer (common practice but “disclosed dual agency” is permissible), we also have a contract form, developed by the state Realtor association and updated regularly to reflect a changing market or misunderstandings, which combines the offer with the contract. So, when both parties have offered in writing (on the form), counter-offered in writing (on another official form) and the combined document is finally acceptable to both (rarely are lawyers brought in on a residential deal) and signed by both, there is a contract, there is an earnest money deposit in escrow which “goes hard” after an inspection period (with a minor exception), and there are a limited set of circumstances in which either party can withdraw from the deal. Especially, the seller cannot withdraw because s/he gets a better offer. The better offer is only a back-up in case the first contract fails. The period for negotiations and finalizing the contract is, at most, a week-long process. And anything goes before the contract is signed.

    I would say that the above is a “best practice”. One one hand, attorneys still maintain that residential agents and brokers are “playing lawyer” (and there are some I have met that I am sure haven’t yet read the contract form) ; on the other hand, most of the real estate attorneys I know would rather not be bothered with residential deals.

    In commercial deals, we do have to wait until an attorney drafts the contract and the attorneys and parties refine the deal and sign off. However, we add a provision that once the Letter of Intent is signed by the seller, s/he (or it) can take back-up offers but our accepted offer cannot be replaced by another unless the deal falls through. Again, there is a time when the inspection/due diligence period ends that the earnest money deposit “goes hard” and cannot be refunded if the buyer bails out or can’t perform financially. The sale price can be reduced by the seller, at the request of the buyer, particularly on issues of appraisal, condition, vacancies, financial condition not being as represented. I have even made an accepted offer where the seller would subsidize the rents and the CAMs for a year at (then quite high) market rates until the property was stabilized.

  6. Rob McCance

    December 17, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    Very interesting series. You lost me way back at the 1-2% commission, but it’s been interesting reading since then, none the less.

    I think you are describing the evolution of a limited small market and many more hundreds of years of evolution of the industry.

    We may not go down the same path in the US as our dynamics are a LOT different. So many markets, so many differences, so much geographic space.

    Maybe our commissions here should go UP. LOL!


      December 19, 2010 at 10:27 am

      Unlikely that commissions will go up! LOL they are shifting downward.

  7. Denise Hamlin

    December 18, 2010 at 1:27 am

    Interesting series. I haven’t lived in the UK for a long time so don’t have a personal opinion. I do know that my family has a very different perception of real estate agents than anyone I know here. As far as I can tell it’s not a relationship based business over there, which of course it is here in the US. It seems the systems are so different it’s difficult to draw any conclusions.

    Then there’s the fact that moving is a way of life here and something people do every couple of years or so. It’s not like that in the UK, which changes the whole dynamic anyway.

    Ultimately I don’t think agents, (at least not good agents) will have any problems staying relevant here. Our profession has moved away from “selling.” We’re here to provide a service and in order to provide value to the consumer, (both buyers and sellers), we need to know our stuff. Will the same model work in the UK? Seems like they’re a long way from it at the moment…

  8. Lani Rosales

    December 18, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    Ben, it seems to me that you guys are in a similar position of reconsidering the industry’s value proposition and I bet you agree with us that it’s a good challenge. 🙂

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Business Marketing

The use of offline marketing can still be advantageous in a digital world

(BUSINESS) Offline marketing is usually skipped over nowadays for the sparkly, shining ‘digital’ marketing strategies, but don’t forget the roots.



offline marketing billboard

Everywhere you look, people want to talk about digital marketing. In fact, if you don’t have a digital marketing strategy in today’s business world, you’re not going to last long. But just because digital marketing is popular, don’t assume that offline marketing no longer yields value.

When used together, these strategies can produce significant returns.

“Some people will argue that traditional marketing is dead, but there are several benefits to including offline advertising in your overall marketing campaign,” sales expert Larry Myler admits. “Combining both offline and online campaigns can help boost your brand’s visibility, and help it stand out amongst competitors who may be busy flooding the digital space.”

How do you use offline marketing in a manner that’s both cost-effective and high in exposure? While your business will dictate how you should proceed, here are a few offline marketing methods that still return considerable value in today’s marketplace.

1. Yard signs

When most people think about yard signs, their minds immediately go to political signs that you see posted everywhere during campaign season. However, yard signs have a lot more utility and value beyond campaigning. They’re actually an extremely cost-effective form of offline advertising.

The great thing about yard signs is that you can print your own custom designs for just dollars and, when properly stored, they last for years. They’re also free to place, assuming you have access to property where it’s legal to advertise. This makes them a practical addition to a low-budget marketing campaign.

2. Billboards

The fact that you notice billboards when driving down an interstate or highway is a testament to the reality that other people are also being exposed to these valuable advertisements. If you’ve never considered implementing billboards into your marketing strategy, now’s a good time to think about it.

With billboard advertising, you have to be really careful with design, structure, and execution. “Considering we’re on the move when we read billboards, we don’t have a lot of time to take them in. Six seconds has been touted as the industry average for reading a billboard,” copywriter Paul Suggett explains. “So, around six words is all you should use to get the message across.”

3. Promotional giveaways

It’s the tangible nature of physical marketing that makes it so valuable. Yard signs and billboards are great, but make sure you’re also taking advantage of promotional giveaways as a way of getting something into the hands of your customers.

Promotional giveaways, no matter how simple, generally produce a healthy return on investment. They increase brand awareness and recall, while giving customers positive associations with your brand. (Who doesn’t love getting something for free?)

4. Local event sponsorships

One aspect of offline marketing businesses frequently forget about is local event sponsorships. These sponsorships are usually cost-effective and tend to offer great returns in terms of audience engagement.

Local event sponsorships can usually be found simply by checking the calendar of events in your city. Any time there’s a public event, farmer’s market, parade, sporting event, concert, or fundraiser, there’s an opportunity for you to get your name out there. Look for events where you feel like your target audience is most likely to attend.

Offline marketing is anything but dead.

If your goal is to stand out in a crowded marketplace where all your competitors are investing heavily in social media, SEO, PPC advertising, and blogging, then it’s certainly worth supplementing your existing digital strategy with traditional offline marketing methods that reach your audience at multiple touchpoints.

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Business Marketing

What you can learn from Ulta Beauty’s marketing mix up with Kate Spade

(MARKETING) Ulta Beauty’s insensitive marketing email surrounding the Kate Spade brand can be a lesson: Be cautious and respond to crisis appropriately.



Woman typing on computer representing the Ulta Beauty and Kate Spade email scandal

Last week in an email sent to subscribers, Ulta Beauty made light of designer Kate Spade’s suicide. Ulta said the lighthearted connection to Spade’s death was unintentional. The email sparked anger across social media and some national news outlets picked up the story. In an emailed response to the New York Post, Ulta apologized to their customers, their Kate Spade corporate partners, and Kate Spade’s family. They ended by saying they will strive to do better.

Words matter. Messaging matters. Hopefully, we can all learn a lesson from this painful mistake.

Check your tone. It’s one of the early things we teach writing students. The tone should match the content. If the icon you’re using to sell a product ended their own life, perhaps light and fun isn’t the tone you should embrace. Ever. But most businesses won’t be dealing with well-known people whose stories have been shared with millions. It’s up to business owners and those who write their copy to ensure the tone matches the message.

Always have a second pair of eyes look over words going out to the public. Or even a third and fourth. Often those in the creative room are brainstorming messages, reworking copy, and looking for the perfect pitch. And they get it. It sounds good, looks good, is easy to say and share, and, best of all, it will lead to sales. Having a multi-person system in place to check the copy and someone separate to give final approval can help catch the oh-my-God-no great words, but absolutely not pieces of sales copy.

Listen to your customer base and have a system in place to listen quickly. All businesses need systems for immediate customer response in play. Ulta caught their so-called oversight quickly.  But they’re a huge brand and Kate Spade was a beloved fashion icon. The negative response went viral and they had a giant mess to clean up. Companies make messes with their words often, messes that don’t immediately go viral but lead to real pain for consumers. When customers ask you to stop a message, listen to them and act.

Apologies don’t make excuses. If you’re caught in a messaging mess of your own making, I’m sorry goes a long way. If needed, follow that apology up with a plan to show you’re serious about “doing better” and making sure this never happens again.

If you find yourself in a place where a public apology is necessary, consider hiring a crisis manager to help with that plan as well.

Part of business today is constant communication with consumers. Try to have systems in place so you don’t find yourself in a “learning to do better” moment like Ulta. Words aren’t just about sales. They have power. Remember that.

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Business Marketing

Experience Design & Marketing: Where do they intersect, where do they diverge?

(MARKETING) The field of marketing has been around the sun and back, whereas experience design is a newer, but growing field. Where do they overlap?



marketing trends and experience design

Identify, understand, educate, promise, and fulfill. Is that marketing or experience design? Is it both? The closer we get to marketing in the digital spaces* being truly organic and less about carpeting mobile sites with pop-ups and interruptions, the more marketing and experience design (XD)** start to intersect.

Software experiences used to be only about getting jobs done and the learning curve it took to operate that software was accepted as unavoidable. There was no expectation for ease of use and the competitive landscape was far smaller. The same can be said of marketing; when the pool of offers and services were drastically smaller, you won with volume or referral. Now there are deep expectations for human-computer interactions, expectations of low friction when dealing with a system or entity, and more choices than there are biting Tweets. Volume rarely wins anymore unless the traffic spend is massive or the niche is narrow. Both of these are the result of crowded, loud marketplaces and way more noise than signal. So what did marketing do? What did XD do? They turn to delivering more curated, personal interactions and messages. Those are now driven not by gross demographics and forty pieces of car dealership push cards in my mailbox, but by extrapolated wants and needs taken from human voices and applied to custom outreach.

  1. XD uses ceremonies and activities to discover and define our version of market evaluation and segmentation.
  2. XD prototypes and iterates based on focus groups, unmoderated testing, business requirements validation, and the things they expose. That’s our audience testing.
  3. XD seeks to remove the uninteresting, unused, or unnecessary parts of a decision tree (journey if we must lingo) based on response and introduce a version sans those things to drive closer to the intent and outcome. This is our nurture.
  4. XD uses continuous feedback to improve, refine, and in some cases recommend next steps, products, adjustments, or augmentations. That is our remarketing/retargeting, it’s how we adjust the “campaign”.

And those are only the most obvious fibers of the common thread the disciplines share. Others with a deeper knowledge of both topics can surely add to this list tenfold. The essence of this examination is to ask the question, should marketing and experience design work in tandem? Under one shingle? Can they coexist as a federated faction under the larger umbrella of CX?

They are both a part of a unified journey and the natural progression from first exposure to adoption to “damn I love this thing, I think I’ll TikTok about it” for products and services. That kind of melding could serve a common goal; seamless brand engagement.

The people that consume whatever is being offered don’t see us, the company, the thing, as a cluster of siloed pods vaguely marching in the same direction. They see us as a whole and our disciplines should support that impression.

Marketers and Experience folk– integrate! Learn each other’s wares and purposes, share things that work and definitely those that don’t. XD gang, I mean really combining to achieve specific goals. Don’t just send them a Jake Knapp YouTube, find common goals. And marketing kin, this means more than citing some Sprinklr data and the latest NPS around trending SEO. Wonder Twin into a test and prove machine, use HCD tactics to undercover new copy strategies, and test it with a group in a Pepsi/Coke standoff. I know you are A/B-ing your work, but you can narrow that lane before you traffic it. We can learn from each other, we can benefit from one another, greatly.

I’m betting we can forge something slightly fresher than passing people through our business cotton gin and expecting them to feel like we are one. What are the afterimages that last from the time I see a LinkedIn post, follow to the affiliate, subscribe/buy and actually get something good out of the product? Don’t tell me there isn’t a marketing/design love story in there.

I look forward to following up on this with an actionable plan and (hopefully) killer outputs.

Be well, feel good, and know peace.

*Experience Design as a proper name encompasses exactly what is in the eponymous name; the experience is every interaction, passive or active, through the entire cycle. From the first shred of awareness of a product or service to the lasting relationship made– that is experience in this context.

**I’m not going to call it Digital Marketing anymore, pretty sure we aren’t doing direct mail along with our IG ads

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