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Mary Portas Secret Shopper – An Estate Agent's View

Friday, 25th February 2011

Categories: Sales

Author: Peter Barry

Mary Portas has turned her hand and quite frank opinions to an array of businesses including mobile phone, sofa and fashion outlets.  Last week it was the turn of the estate agent to receive her very much to the point treatment.  For those not familiar to the show’s format, Mary, with the help of her ‘stealth weapon’ (her own words) secret shopping, exposes the below-par customer service of well known companies and then, armed with the footage, returns and gives the bosses a so called wake-up call.

The opening line of ‘tonight I’m taking on the profession people love to hate’ followed by a few select quotes from the public, set the stage for what I presumed to be an hour of estate agent bashing.  That was followed by the initial undercover video footage trailing unsuspecting agents on
various property viewings with comments such as 1) We had the property situated “within a stones throw of the busy A12”, 2) the sales patter of “there’s back to back viewings next week”, 3) “the property usually goes within the first week if it’s a decent one”, & 4)” I’m not sure which way the garden faces, not many people ask that in London”. 

The first point was a bit of a cheap shot as we always inform people of the property’s location, the details come with a map and if someone requests or asks for a quiet leafy road, the proximity to an A road is obviously something that would be mentioned prior to a viewing.

In the second and third quotes the agents are simply stating the facts. As a prospective buyer I would like to be informed of the interest a property has or hasn’t received, that would surely have a bearing, if I was interested, on how I would proceed.  The last point? Well no argument there from me I’m afraid, that was just plain bad!

Mary’s final piece of evidence involved following a well known North London Estate Agency and in particular sales employee Phillip.  During the first viewing spiky hair gelled and fake tanned Phillip answered his phone several times to the annoyance of Mary and whilst showing the £550,000 4 bedroom house in need of extensive modernisation he proclaimed that on the bright side you have a blank canvas.  Whilst the first instance is an example impoliteness, slamming the second as completely unnecessary estate agent spin was maybe a little harsh.  Phillip does however manage to come out with one complete gem claiming that ‘west-facing is the new south-facing’, and ‘the sun won’t overheat in coming through your back windows in summer.’  Not his finest moment.

The programme did constantly attempt to show estate agents in a bad light, placing far too much emphasis on the poor standard of viewings and ignoring the various other roles and tasks involved in the sale of a property.  No mention of the hours put in to get people through the door, the back and forth with buyers, sellers and solicitors, no mention of any successful last minute efforts made by staff on the eve of a sale falling through.  No examples of the joyful stories of a couple moving in to their dream leafy Victorian semi.

Either way the proposed solution was to go back to basics with ‘honest’ property descriptions, including highlighting property negatives and an insistance that the agents where as clued up as possible on the property in question.  There was some important debate as to being so forthcoming on the less attractive aspects of a property, in particular from the point of view of the seller.  Mary’s new method did however appear to be a complete success with 100% of those apparently randomly selected members of the public now saying they were really impressive with our Portasian version of estate agent.  Maybe all this time she was telling the truth.

Now before you think that I myself have taken a selective and bias view of the production of the show in question, I must acknowledge that in reflection some good points where raised once the hysteria of Estate Agent bashing was removed.  Vendors do get frustrated by viewings that it later transpires were a waste of time, as the property is clearly nowhere near suited to the purchaser’s needs.  Also, having answers to basic questions is essential such as local knowledge on transport, schools, potential to extend and storage.  In speaking for Peter Barry, all new potential purchasers are always asked about their wants and requirements as well as their position in regards to the need to sell their own property or obtain a mortgage etc.  Likewise, when you meet either myself or any of my colleagues for the first time please do let us know what you think are the selling points of your house or flat.  Whilst we do try to go above the norm in terms of property details, any further information we can pass on during viewings is much appreciated.

For those of you who did watch the show I’m sure there are a wide range of opinions, both on the show in particular and of your view of Estate Agents in general.  Either way I hope this short blog post has covered the more interesting points raised in a light hearted manner.  Please do offer your own on any future meetings we may have.  The show was certainly a talking point in our office!

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