Meet Cherrelle Wharton, the Director at Chaad Estates. Cherrelle started...Read More
Meet Glenn, the Director at Douglas Pryce. We spoke of his experience, journey and his unfortunate redundancy during the pandemic, which ultimately led him to starting his own agency, Douglas Pryce. With a plan to change the narrative around estate agents, by focusing on providing exceptional service to his clients. Here is his story:
Can you start off by telling me about how and why you got into real estate?
Like most young people, I came out of school and went straight to college but didn’t really study like I should have. At that time, I hoped that music would be a career, but that didn’t work out too well. I then got into the building trade but again, I wasn’t really suited to it at all.
At that time, I had a friend who owned an agency in Canary Wharf, an independent, but a pretty large independent and he approached me and asked me to give it a shot. I gave it a try and to be fair, I really hit the ground running. I did really well and worked my way up. I started in sales and obviously started as a trainee, but then worked my way up to become the sales and lettings manager for the entire branch.
Unfortunately, on the first day of lockdown, things changed. I had negotiated myself to a level where I was on a great package, but I was now self-employed and unfortunately being self-employed meant that I was pretty easy to get rid of. Because of the uncertainty of where the market was going and as I couldn’t be furloughed, I like many in the industry at that time, lost my job.
I was back to that point of not really knowing what to do with myself, I knew I was good at the job and my thought was that I was going to work for another company. I applied for a couple of jobs close to where I live but I was a bit unsure of where to go, to be honest. I have always known that the East London market was where I needed to stay because it’s the market I know best.
Ultimately, I had a friend who had a small company which operates in Canary Wharf and so I decided to join him and help out with what he was doing. I worked with him for a while when we did quite well but from a business perspective as we were both on slightly different wavelengths. So after about six weeks or so, we decided that it was probably better for our friendship if we went our separate ways.
That time however helped me to realise that doing it by myself wasn’t unachievable. I thought to myself… what do I have to lose? I had a small amount of start-up capital to get myself setup, including branding and portal costs. This was all around August/September time.
Since then, things have been going really well, I’m managing about 15 properties to let and have about sales 3-4 flats that are under offer. I have found the sales market to be fairly challenging at the moment. I’ve had a couple of sales under offer for a while now, but things are just so slow with solicitors and things at the moment, which seems to be slowing the sales process down quite significantly.
Sorry to just go back in the story here, from a marketing perspective it was a sort of a standing start. I just knew I had to get a bit more creative, maybe think in different ways for different people to make things all a bit more client focused. I do feel I have done that though and I have come up with a marketing strategy which so far, seems to be really effective for me and my business.
Among other things I’ve always tried to remain true to the customer, I’ve seen independents that have grown larger and seen their ethos change. They go from having the best of intentions for the client to being another cog in the system. And it isn’t necessarily their fault either, they’re overworked and at that point and therefore the customer service struggles, so I completely get it! That’s why with my company I’ve tried to make sure that every landlord is, on friendly terms, they have a direct line to my personal phone/email. But fundamentally and most importantly, I am trying to change the narrative around estate agents.
Unfortunately, it is a bit negative.
When someone asks me what I do, there’s an element of shame attached to it when I say I’m an agent, you know, and that should not be the case. It shouldn’t be only the bad ones that have built the reputation that estate agents carry with them. My plan is to sort of break down that that barrier and change the narrative. Especially for my clients.
I think what the customer wants is changing as well. Which helps.
From a selfish perspective, I want everyone to like me. I’m a very amiable person. You know, I thrive off of good sentiment and good feeling. I also am very enthusiastic, very motivated and fundamentally I feel as if I am very good at job I do. I have every confidence that I can be as friendly as possible to my clients whilst I also I do a really good job for them. I thank that’s a nice balance to strike. I am confident in myself too, I have no problem going up against some of the ‘bigger agents’ in the area and I have a track record speaks for itself. At my last company, I broke every sales record they ever held so I know I can do the job with my eyes closed. I’m trying to learn on some my friends and contacts in the industry for some of the other parts of the job that I don’t quite know so well; like the accounting, the admin in the office and all of that sort of stuff. But the meat and bones of the job I know I’m very good! On top of that I am just trying to deliver a service that I would personally want myself. For many other agencies, you’re almost faceless to your clients but we are dealing with most people’s biggest asset and it is a lot of money that they’re spending with us. In the grand scheme of things, I guess I am just a small fish in a big pond but particularly for those that come on board with Douglas Pryce, I am just trying to change things. I have no doubts that as we grow as business, which I am confident we will, I plan on remaining heavily involved throughout which isn’t always the case with your estate agent. You’ll deal with one negotiator and then the next minute they’re gone and your assigned someone else. I want my clients to know that I am here for them, always!
How was it starting a business in the pandemic then?
To be fair it was probably less risky for me because I was forced to make a decision because I lost my job. I wasn’t sacrificing a good wage because the moment I left, that ‘good wage’ was no more. The time off was really good though; it gave me time to reflect. Importantly it also allowed me to make the right decision Interestingly when I did re-enter the market, we were sort of right in the middle of the pandemic and I mean, it is difficult to dress it up any other way, but the market (particularly the rental market) has dropped. Certainly in the Docklands at least, it seems as if there has been a shift, and people are thinking, why do I still live here? Canary Wharf still carries that ‘soulless at the weekend sort of vibe’, which I strongly disagree with. The number of bars, restaurants, shopping facilities etc in the area has risen year on year since I have worked here but I with the pandemic, most of that has been forced to shut.
Ultimately though longer term I think that in this area there are your bigger, more corporate agencies and then lots of smaller ones, that don’t necessarily have quite carry the impetus that some of those larger agencies have. I’m just trying to sort of be somewhere in the middle with the drive of a corporate but the personability of a smaller independent, I think there is a real gap in the market for that.
I think customers tend to go to the larger outfits because they believe they’re going to get better service?
I think they do too but honestly that is such a myth and something that the marketing teams of larger corporates have done really well to make the consumer believe. They give you that feeling like, we get the best rent, the best tenants etc so why would you want to market with anyone else? It’s clever but fundamentally it is all a bit of a marketing ploy. For what it is worth, I certainly favour an independent, I may be a bit bias, but I like the personal touch that comes with it. Generally, you can speak to whomever is in charge pretty easily and when you’re a business owner, you can be a lot more autonomous and fairer with how we treat people. It’s not as regimented or rigid and there is room for flexibility and to cater for people’s needs and requirements. It goes both ways too because if I have a landlord that doesn’t fit my ethos and doesn’t value what the agents does for them then I just won’t deal with them, and I have that choice now which is a nice place to be. I am proud to say that pretty much every client I now have on my books I can consider myself on very friendly terms with and that is a great feeling.
What is the one thing that you’ve changed for the New Year?
I don’t think there’s anything that I’ve actively looked to change in the new year to be honest. If we are talking goals for 2021 then my goal is just to help this grow and blossom into what I know it can and will become. It wasn’t of my choosing but I think that realistically my change probably happened midway through last year as opposed to now. I made a decision to go alone and to also make this a customer focused, friendly business. It almost feels cliche or a bit ‘cheesy’ to be saying this but I genuinely do feel that the customer is the most element of this business. I have around 15 managed flats at the moment. If they turned around and didn’t like me for whatever reason, then of course I have no business, so from that perspective, my change happened when I was forced to change and furthermore when I saw room for change in what looks to be an aging industry. It needs to move with the times!
And the last question is about your predictions for 2021.
I would certainly hope that once we come out of this is that we will see rents go back to the level that landlords are used to. At the moment there is a lot of having to tell people that their property isn’t worth as much as they’re used to, which is not something that people want to hear, but not something I also do not want to be saying to people I value so highly. So yes, I would hope that they go back up to a level that landlords are going to be happy with as a happy landlord is generally a happy business. I guess that only comes with mass vaccination though, so hopefully that happens sooner rather than later. The pandemic is one of those times that, you are going to look at back on and tell your grandchildren and be like; ”oh we managed to get through that”. If we can get through that, then I’m pretty sure we’ll be fine with the rest of whatever the world can throw at us.
From that perspective as well as much I hope that rents go back to normal. I think there’s going to be a shift in how and where people work. Ultimately some areas are going to see increased demand and some, like Canary Wharf and the Docklands, where rents have always historically been always fairly high may find prospective tenants people moving out for now. I am of the firm belief though that the London market is ‘bulletproof’. I can say with every confidence it can and will recover as it always has done in the past. I love London as many of us do and it will always be one of the most desirable places in the World to live so we are very lucky to call London our home!
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