Importance of local expertise with a strong national brand in RE

Panel discussion at Real Conf. 2021 tackling the topic of marrying the importance of local expertise with a strong national brand in the Real Estate Industry.

Rikard Jonsson
March 15, 2022
5 min read

Table of content

This is an ongoing series of articles that cover the topics and insights shared during the three-day Real Conf 2021 hosted by Adfenix. The following article summarizes the panel discussion held on Day 2 Session 2 of the conference. 

The panel consists of Nick Neill, Managing Director of Ewemove, a UK national franchise agency brand; Douglas Driscoll, CEO of Australian brand Starr Partners; Leanne Pilkington, CEO of Laing + Simmons, a franchise organization in Sydney; and Nick Moir, Head of Marketing at UK-based company, Andrews. The group tackles the topic of
marrying the importance of local expertise with a strong national brand. 

Can a local expertise and a strong national brand truly complement each other?
According to Nick Neill, the answer is a resounding yes, and particularly so in real estate. 

  • For example, people choosing an agent first need to be able to trust the brand they’re dealing with. The bigger and more reputable the brand is, arguably, the more trust and confidence can be placed in them. However, all that means nothing if the individual agent isn’t able to inspire confidence and exhibit a solid expertise in the local area. The brand has a big job of getting agents through the door, but from that point on, the agents themselves must be able to bring the conversation home with local knowledge, execute all the necessary tasks that the vendor requires of them, including selling the house in the right time frame at the best price possible. 
  • In the UK, property selling is very much about people moving within local towns, what with job mobility, migration out of the city etc, but the majority of moves are relatively local, which means having the individual operate in the micro territory is vital. It makes business more efficient, because the agent is the expert in that local area.  
  • Leanne Pilkington points out that in Covid times, the industry has seen global trends of people moving out of cities and into regional areas - for example, from Syney to the north coast of New South Wales - but nevertheless people still recognize the nuances of the brand that they’re dealing with, despite the differences in location. 

Is there a tension between the local office and the national brand when it comes to digital space? 

  • Douglas Driscoll, who has experience managing over 30 offices, believes that digital doesn’t have any geographical boundaries at all, but in regards to the network within his company, all the offices are within close proximity to each other. This leads to the crucial action of promoting referrals and word-of-mouth referrals amongst the offices themselves, otherwise the value of the brand, as well as opportunities for buyers to be exposed to properties, are lost
  • According to Nick Moir, it is now very easy to target locally, in a digital sense, but in order to maintain that trust, there has to be authenticity. Putting out a local ad for the sake of it is not effective; it must represent the local community, its properties, its people and its lifestyle, otherwise digital advertising might just be localized by geography but becomes inauthentic and thus actually breaks down trust. 

The industry is trying to concentrate on how to do social, not be social 

  • Being immersed in the local community is absolutely critical, and some agencies are now overly reliant on the digital space, while they should really be immersing themselves in the community, helping out, being seen and becoming known. 
  • This is especially important because the reliance on digital space has somewhat reduced borders, so people are selling property and listing property much further away from their actual offices than they were five years ago. 
  • Being part of a bigger organization and national brand can be advantageous if they have the ability to have someone that customers can rely on and refer to as the local expert, with ‘expert’ being the keyword.  

Does digital make any difference to selling a property and engaging with the buyer? 

  • Yes, because hearkening back to pre-internet days, the job of the skilled agent was to have a buyer list and work those local buyers to try and sell a property. However, that doesn’t apply today, because buyers can find you through digital channels, and as long as agents are there to engage with them 24/7, then the possibility of securing that buyer with a viewing slot is very high - an impossible feat in pre-internet days. 
  • The digital space has fundamentally changed the relationship between agents and buyers

The personal experience versus the national brand 

  • For Leanne, experience has revealed that real estate agents are great at listing and selling properties, and particularly so if they’re able to leave everything else to their brand: the consistency, marketing, tech, etc. It also leaves room for them to truly partake of their local communities and become trusted advisers there.  
  • Agents that are aligned with a national brand have also got more time on their hands to do the things that really matter in their business and community 

Comparisons of the UK and Australian markets 

  • For UK-based Nick Moir, there hasn’t been a huge change in geographic spread over territory over the last few years, citing an example of a colleague who verified that 80% of their transactions were within a mile and a half of the physical office still. While there is some growth at the fringes, the UK continues to show trends that are very densely patterned as people who do move tend to do so at a very local scale.  
  • Nevertheless, post-Covid trends do reveal that there are some big moves, particularly from people coming out of London and with deep pockets. 
  • There is also some indication, according to Leanne, that Gen Z and millennials actually expect the properties of their preferences to come and find them, via retargeting and digital channels.  
  • Douglas shares that one of the trends in Australia is the rise and rise of the agent or the ‘super-agent’, as agents are utilizing the powers of digital platforms for business and broadcasting their message to the public. “It’s not what they know, but who knows them”. 

Advice to agents: 

  • Leanne advises agents who choose to be part of a brand because of the benefits they can utilize, to pick a brand that aligns with their values and direction, because of the sheer number of different brands out there. 
  • Neill Neill poses the question: do you want to start your own business in an agency? If so, franchising is the answer, as they can take care of all the ‘business noise’ and distractions and free up franchisees to actually connect with and nurture their prospects. 
  • Douglas advises agents to choose what suits their goals best, even if it means becoming an independent. The reassurance of a national brand can offer gravitas, but going solo may suit some agents better who desire to be unique and autonomous.
  • Nick Moir believes that localness gives more authenticity, but brands offer a level of credibility, and the best option may be a balance between the two. 

To sum up: 

  1. A local expertise and a strong national brand can complement each other - a brand can inspire confidence and credibility, but the role of the agent is vital to inspire confidence and knowledge at the local level 
  2. The majority of moves are still relatively local, which means the ability of the agent to operate in the micro territory is extremely important. 
  3. Although post-Covid trends have revealed more people are moving out of cities and further out, there is still an appreciation for recognition of a national brand who is able to reach out with local expertise. 
  4. Thanks to growing digital trends in the industry, it is now easier than ever to target locally, but in order to maintain trust, there must be authenticity that prioritizes the local customer. 
  5. Agents have a number of options to choose from in terms of working independently, with a franchise or a national brand, depending on their personal business goals and views. 

About Real Conf.
Real Conf 2021 is a three-day virtual event exploring ways that agencies and brokerages can leverage the power of digital to increase business opportunities, elevate the brand, and empower agents to deliver success. The conference features hundreds of invaluable insight from keynote speakers, panel discussions and case studies from experts in the field. 

All 15 sessions with 25 speakers are now available to stream on-demand. 

Gain full access to the stream and watch the sessions in their entirety by signing up here: 

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With thought-leaders, digital experts and industry disruptors that will deliver first-hand insights to help you build your business, grow your market share and support your agents.

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