by Bob Scarff


This week marks an anniversary for me. It was the first week of June in 1997 that I started an eighteen month period (the only period in my career) away from front line estate agency.

This was when I was appointed as Managing Director of the then newly launched Hambro Countrywide Conveyancing business. I learnt a lot of “life lessons” during those eighteen months - perhaps some of that another time….

But, of relevance to my point today, it also marked the first time that email became a truly everyday part of my working life. Interestingly then, given that this is my fortieth year, this means that I have now been using emails for as long as I wasn’t. This won’t seem very impressive for all of you twenty and thirty somethings, but it’s an interesting milestone for me.


This anniversary and a meeting with Peter Maskell of award winning Horsham agent Brock Taylor last week got me thinking about how the practical aspects of negotiating have changed so much in that time. This is particularly pertinent as most Fee First/No Frills agents facilitate the buyer and seller to negotiate direct with each other by email.

In 1978, it was immutable that you visited vendors to submit offers. The only time we were allowed to tie up deals over the phone (and bear in mind that not every one had a phone in those days!!) was when the vendor lived more than a sensible car journey away.

Then something seemed to happen around the end of the eighties, all of a sudden it seemed ok to routinely phone vendors. Then ten years later as email really began to be the way that people expected to communicate, negotiating went the same way. No colour, no back story. Just black and white, binary remarks batted back and forward in text.

In 2017 of course, we never have to speak to anyone - Pizza delivery, Taxi ordering, Shopping, Holiday booking - I even WhatsApp my own son to ask him if he fancies making me a cup of tea when I know that he’s only upstairs in his bedroom.

So is it any surprise that newcomers to our industry see nothing wrong with offers being negotiated in this same manner? But am I alone in thinking that something has been lost? I know that I tied up countless deals over the years by only looking the vendor or purchaser in the eye and talking through the story rather than just the cold facts.

I’ll return to this next week, but I’d be pleased to hear from you if you think we’ve lost something, or indeed if we’ve gained something. Whether you are a Full Service agent or a Self Service agent, how do you submit offers?

PS I wrote all of this before reading the news about Zillow and their plans to invade the UK with an Instant Offer function on their Portal.

Prescient as ever !!

Bob Scarff

Written by
Bob Scarff

Bob Scarff ran the UK’s largest and most successful firm of estate agents, having worked his way up from a trainee negotiator in 1978. Now bringing his passion for customer service and organisational discipline to other companies and sectors, he saw quickly the benefits that Callwell can provide and co-founded PropTech Solutions in 2016 to relaunch it into the market.


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Graeme MacLeod

08 Jun 2017 14:14:39

We are a hybrid agency operating in a big geographical territory in the north west of England and the Scottish borders. Our centrally based negotiator team takes circa 500 offers per month and the offer in branch/home option is not open to us. I spent 19 years in traditional high street agency and I worried at outset that our model might come up short in sales rates and prices achieved, that some of the value would be lost in the new hybrid service delivery of our service.
When I joined the business I analysed our sales data and was surprised to see that without any specific training on offer handling our team were achieving an average of 96.5% of the asking price across the piece. I last did this exercise 3 years ago in my previous high street life and we were at 91% of guide across the whole brand.
Ok, markets differ in confidence and over time, but why such a gap? Perhaps the answer is in the fee. Selling a high street fee requires the customer to be convinced that they will get more for their money. And if all that ‘local/family/totally different kind of service’ delivers the same sales price as a cheap ‘online/hybrid/self service agent’ then there is nothing in it for the customer. Both the traditional and hybrid agent have to impress the seller with their service, but does the traditional agent also have to impress them with the price tag they put on the property?
So has the hybrid sector brought more realistic valuations negating the need for sleeves rolled negotiations on sale price? Perhaps. For the record we charge as ‘little’ as £499 to sell a house which I know will annoy many of your blog readers. It seems to please our customer though!

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