“Any entrepreneur should constantly be looking for their distinctive qualities. What makes you the best at your trade? What can you offer this changing society? Is this the area of work that suits you best? Everyone has their role, their function; and the key is to find your unique strength. Estate agents too can ask themselves what is their unique added value. What is your network like? How experienced are you, and what can you do to minimise the distance between yourself and the changing world? What extra knowledge would you need for that, and how will you take care of that? Because one thing is certain: that situation where you just go with what your client asks for and then send an invoice for your services after the transaction, is forever in the past now. Entrepreneurs of the 21st century need to meet different demands. In any area.”
That’s the opinion of Danny Mekić: young entrepreneur, consultant to major companies and governments, opinion maker, university teacher and chairman of the Nevacon next October the 7th. He will also be giving the workshop ‘Innovation in entrepreneurship’ that day. In this interview, he gives us a sample.
“Look at how fast and how profoundly the world is changing: when I was 12 and I was the first kid around who had a mobile phone, I was the ‘whizz kid’ and the ‘nerd’ of the playground. Everyone asked what I needed that thing for. Now, 15 years later, everyone has two smartphones in their pockets and a tablet PC in their bags. Ever cheaper and ever smaller technology and our digital connectivity are the greatest disturbing factors of the 21st century: it’s important to follow those developments closely, or else you’ll risk having the world move away from you. If that happens, you’ll see the repercussions in your customer satisfaction statistics, but also in your revenue.
The field of real estate in particular is one where much has changed. To an estate agent, this means working overtime: they need to know what’s going on in the world and in national politics, and how to stay in touch with supply and demand. As an area of work grows older (especially when it’s doing well too), there’s a risk that it collectively forgets what problem they solve. Which in turn means they risk tensing up when times get rough, instead of being flexible and bending with the market.”
Estate agents as guides
“Suppose I want to buy a house or an office building. I’ll want the offer that suits me the best at the best price, but I’ll also want good advice: what relevant political developments are going on, about LTV for example, and fiscal advantages. But I’ll also want an intelligent moving solution (that means no expensive certified moving company!). What’s the real value of the building I’m interested in; what kinds of people live in this area, or what are the surroundings of this business park like? Long story short: I want a guide who can lead the way through this world I don’t know. An estate agent.”
So what sets a good estate agent apart from their colleagues? Mekić: “There are two questions that are important in that regard: ‘Do I really want this job?’ and ‘What will I do today to make sure I stay at the forefront?’. A good estate agent lives for their job and loves doing so, and does everything they can to remain relevant in the field and be acknowledged by others – primarily their clients. That requires a solid plan, and you need to start working on that now. Not tomorrow! You could ask yourself: what makes me a good estate agent; how will I get groups of people in touch with each other? How will I improve myself, and what I have on offer? I often see estate agents just taking what they can get. You can see it in their window displays too: it’s all just so bland and uninteresting. There should also be more parties who dare to experiment, who see the beauty in the craft they practice: giving people and organisations a new home and real estate a new purpose. There are quite a number of estate agents who don’t see that at all. They just sell keys. It’s exactly the smaller businesses that have the opportunity to experiment. They’re not stuck in cumbersome, rigid systems. But what you often see there is a Calimero mentality: aren’t we too small to change the world?”
Mekić is happy to share his thoughts on these experiments: “There are so many great startups right now, many of them single independent entrepreneurs looking for creative ways to make money and solve problems too. Look at Uber, in the world of taxicabs. There are so many ways to connect groups of people with supply and demand. You can offer your clients an anti-squatting contract, but there are other options. Have students from the Photography Academy organise an exposition in a vacant building (and you can use the photos on your site again later); organise an art exhibition with music and consumptions. Every nice apartment that’s for sale should be up for rent on Airbnb. Collaborate with a top-rated chef and sell exclusive dinners at the best locations you have on offer. In other words: let the building be alive! Create some dynamics. There’ll be visitors that way, and those dynamics will suddenly make a building a lot more interesting.”
Mekić: “The objections are predictable enough: it’s too difficult, too labour-intensive, too expensive, not our cup of tea, not necessary… Of course it costs money, but so does a vacant building. And it doesn’t all have to be that labour-intensive: much of it can be done automatedly. There’s a good number of beginning automation engineers who are looking for a challenging internship. Put them to work. Offer them shares if they succeed. Dare to take a risk and to have it fail.
And try to connect networks with one another: your own network, but also your clients’. That way you’ll reinforce each other. Posting a link on Facebook to your apartment on a real estate site and hoping someone will buy it really doesn’t work any more. Like your friends don’t already know your apartment is for sale, and they’ll want to buy it exactly at that moment. That sounds like a very slim chance to me. You know what does work? Give the current owner a digital game — a contest, or whatever — that their whole network can participate in by advertising the premises that are for hire or for sale. You can arrange a nice little prize for the winner, like a special dinner in that vacant building. That way you’ll create a win-win situation from day one. Digitally too, you should make buildings come alive.
But for each of those ideas, you need to understand the point, and you need to set yourself a goal: what do you want to achieve? If one of those elements is missing, you would do better to forget about it altogether.”
“It’s important to forge a relationship with the people in your network. I bought an apartment seven years ago, and since that transaction I’ve never heard from the estate agent again. The same ritual repeated itself three times for renting office buildings. I think that’s odd. Suppose that he would have asked a few years later how I was doing for example, and whether I was happy with the apartment, or if I might want to move again; the odds would have been ten to one that that agent would have been the first one I would have called if I really did have plans to move again. Twitter, Facebook, email; the possibilities are plentiful. And of course you could always just give them a phone call…
Although personal contacts are more important now than ever before, I notice that with the introduction of the internet and under the influence of the crisis, for most entrepreneurs (including estate agents) relationships have become purely transactional. They’re ‘stand alone unions’, whereas the Googles and the Facebooks of the world are putting their money on continuous contact, non-stop unions. ‘Stand alone’ is not going to survive.
“Social media can be used in various ways, but the first question you ask yourself is always: are people talking about me or my company? People also need to be able to find what you have to offer. That means not just putting things on a real estate site like the Dutch Funda. Funda is a blessing, by the way: a digital initiative from the sector itself. In many other industries, all the digital solutions come from Silicon Valley.
Many new digital initiatives are confronted with juridical procedures, That’s happened before in the music industry (Napster/Kazaa), the film industry (The Pirate Bay), the taxi sector (Uber), short stay renting (Airbnb) and now Funda as well. Personally I favour the innovative school of thought: developing new initiatives, taking on the competition or even surpassing them. Coming up with something that’s so great that Funda will be approaching you, not the other way around.
Aside from that, as an estate agent you need to develop a digital spider web, looking up all the websites and social media that are interesting to your clients and your network. You need to be visible on these, along with the items you have on offer and the services you provide.”
Mekić has his doubts about the usefulness of neuromarketing (which studies the emotions of individual consumers): “It’s an interesting tool, but it’s really something for experts. Just make sure you’ve got your website properly sorted out first, and that you’re sending out your newsletter on time. And make your client base into your network and your network into your client base. That’ll already help a lot!
As for appraisal: you can continue to do that just once, but why not have a continuous appraisal together with your client — using an app and a visit once every year? Not to sell the building, but to continuously map opportunities to minimise its devaluation, and find opportunities to increase its value — using big data, of course. Google would offer a digital ‘appraisal’ like that for free; they’d collect a gigantic amount of data with it. But if you start something like that as an appraiser, then of course the user will think of you first when they need an official appraisal.
An app like that should also give other up-to-date tips for increasing sale value, for example by giving information about developments in the market, the geographic area, the current and expected future attractiveness to buyers, subsidies and so on. That would be a way to make yourself preferred partner for life.”
LTV: “Individuals care about more than just housing.”
About a possible decrease in the LTV: “Everyone thinks thinks that for the LTV, housing is all that matters. Like that exists in a vacuum. Housing, healthcare and pension are still thought of too much like separate units. As if Monday at dinner we contemplate our pension, Tuesdays are all about mortgage interest, on Wednesdays the topic is LTV, Thursdays we remember the rising costs of healthcare and on Fridays we’re looking for a new job — because we’ve just been fired. Of course not. Our financial existence isn’t fragmented like that. But everybody only thinks about their own aspect of the issue, and that has caused us to completely lose sight of the whole. We need to find solutions that target all of it.
Building society saving contracts (which are very common in Germany) are a fine idea, but not fiscally possible yet in the Netherlands. But why wouldn’t it be possible to use a house with a paid-off mortgage to pay for healthcare expenses?
There’s lots of talk, but we’re still waiting for a real solution and for real change. Because of all this uncertainty, consumers are confused (and don’t dare to do anything), there aren’t many transactions, and the government misses out on transfer taxes. I’d say there are tremendous opportunities for anyone with a torch and a map in that gruelling jungle. Isn’t that the estate agents?”