A four day week for estate agents?
Although the residential sales and lettings industry is hardly a 9-to-5, five-day week sort of business as it is, could it be that a shorter working week is going to be the norm sooner rather than later?
As this week sees the start of the 4 Day Week Global project, a worldwide experiment where, in the UK, 70 SMEs are cutting their working hours by 20% but still getting full pay. The idea is to do more in less time and give workers a better work-life balance.
The businesses involved in the project span all verticals, including retail and sundry office-based sectors, and will involve over 3,000 people here in the UK. According to a BBC report, Juliet Schor, the lead researcher of the programme, the reasoning behind having a shorter working week is that “there’s activity going on in many workplaces, particularly white-collar workplaces, that’s low productivity and that you can cut without harming the business.”
Having run over a dozen agency businesses in various locations in the UK for 30 years, from quiet upmarket village locations to hugely busy sales operations in North London, if you had asked me a decade ago if cutting hours for the team was a good idea, I would have thought you insane. Now I think it is insane not to cut those hours.
Now, following the pandemic, with the acceptance that work is a much more fluid concept, especially with 40% of people still working from home as the norm, plus the Great Resignation movement, where a lot of people are downscaling or simply retiring sooner to live more, is it not time that labour-intensive industries like the property service business takes a brave step forward and embraces a shorter working week?
When I started in the industry in the mid-1980s, many financial institutions wanted a vehicle to capture new business. They found it by buying and expanding chains of estate agents. To feed the growth, longer hours and six-day weeks became the norm. I was one of those drone negotiators working six days a week, 9-to-8, with a Wednesday off if I hit my targets.
Yes, I sold a lot of property and I also learnt that a driven sales force working a huge amount of hours can service a lot of people, but that was in an age where my tools of the trade were a desk, a landline phone and a plastic applicant box with cardboard applicant card…this was long before CRMs, property portals or the internet.
Unfortunately, many agencies in 2022 still have this outdated “work hard, work long” DNA baked into their sales and lettings operations, mainly as they’re seniors, typically my age, from a generation when doing extra hours means better cash flow. It also means a 40% churn of people in the business, however, where still an average property practitioner is only 23 years old.
I am lucky. My day job for the last six years has been to meet people and learn about what they do. Over 600 property technology and fintech founders are digitally building to help those doing real estate. They are not looking to replace humans, but they are looking to use software to remove the mind-numbing operations that take hours out of the day.
They make businesses more efficient.
With cloud computing scaling up nearly two decades ago, and new technologies being utilised daily, we must acknowledge that we live in a world where service is even more sought after, and humans alone, however many hours they work, can not look after the nano-second needs of the digital natives who run their lives through their smartphones.
If agencies want to retain great talent and grow, instead of spending huge resources on employing a smaller and smaller pool of new people, then embracing the idea of a 20% shorter working week aided by useful digital hand tools must be the way forward.
Will Boris go big on selling off housing association property?
It has been widely reported that later this week, depending on if challenges to his leadership materialise, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will unveil an initiative whereby tenants in Housing Associations can ‘buy’ their rented flat. If he survives the vote of no confidence, of course.
In what is seen as a thinly veiled re-run of Thatcher’s 1987 initiative where you could buy your council house, a popular policy underpinning a large base of support for the conservatives, it will be interesting to see if this initiative materialises at all.
At a time when Michael Gove has rowed back on the notion that this government will provide 300,000 new homes annually by 2025, it seems that populist political expediency may mean creating a bigger problem, by taking housing stock out of the social sector.
Whilst it might garner some votes, especially from those who can buy their flat no doubt at a reduced amount, all it does is put even more pressure on the system to replace this stock and more.
On a separate point, it will be interesting to see, if this policy sees the light of day, how many housing association leasehold flats will have fire safety or cladding or sub-standard building issues. It’s thought that over 27% of flats built in the last 20 years may have problems when looking to be mortgaged.
With rampant house inflation, which I put at the door of Rishi Sunak and his giveaway SDLT scheme, a new home planning system in disarray, which will hamper the volume of new properties being built, presently at an annual rate of only a 178,000, housing or the lack of it is a big topic.
But I am not sure selling off even more of the present stock is going to help those in need of four walls and a roof over their head. As they say, a week is a long time in politics. If Boris can get to Thursday, the day earmarked for the Housing Association announcement, it will be interesting to see how it is received by the house and the general public.
Andrew Stanton is the founder of Proptech-PR, a consultancy for Founders of Proptechs looking to grow and exit, using his influence from decades of industry experience. Separately he is a consultant to some of the biggest names in global real estate, advising on sales and acquisitions, market positioning, and operations. He is also the founder of Proptech-X Proptech & Property News, where his insights, connections and detailed analysis and commentary on proptech and real estate are second to none.