10 questions with...Nicky Stevenson from the Property Academy

The largest survey of home movers returns next week with more than 5400 respondents giving feedback on their experiences with their conveyancers. Conducted by the Property Academy in association with tmgroup, the comprehensive annual survey seeks to shed light on the opinions of those who have moved house over the previous 12 months, including what they really think about their property solicitors.

Ahead of the Home Moving Trends’ report publication next week, we sat down with the Property Academy’s Managing Director Nicky Stevenson (image right) to find out what has been revealed in this year’s study…

Q1. How did HMT come about and for how many years has it been published?

The first Home Moving Trends survey was carried out in September 2007 but the survey has included questions about conveyancers since 2013. We wanted to help our clients make better decisions by understanding consumer behaviour as much as possible, thus enabling them to shape and direct their business activities as effectively as possible.

Q2. What do you think are the major findings for conveyancers from this year’s survey?

What stands out for me is that 51% of home movers chose their conveyancer based on their estate agent’s recommendation. This is over half of all customers and a massive increase from the same question 12 months prior where it was 38%. Consumer behaviour has changed and it appears they trust their estate agent! It shows that, for conveyancers, relationships with estate agents are extremely important and highlights a need for marketing activities to be reviewed.

Q3. And for estate agents?

Just 18% chose the cheapest estate agent. It is not all about the fee and, at a time where different models of estate agency are evolving, the cheapest is not necessarily going to win. Consumers are looking for more.

Q4. In recent years, the survey has revealed that home movers would rather their conveyancers contacted them via email rather than phone or post. Do you see this shifting towards online and smartphone notifications in the coming years?

There is definitely a change in consumer behaviour and we know that property searches are now carried out on mobile devices over 50% of the time, and 60% said in the Home Moving Trends survey that they would rather receive updates from their conveyancer via email or online. My view is ‘embrace not replace’ when it comes to technology. It should definitely be embraced and we all need to evolve our businesses to keep up with consumer expectations, but it should not replace all human interaction. There is still a need for a personal touch ensuring that the customer feels important.

Q5. Online estate agent Purple Bricks floated on the stock market in mid-December with a valuation in the region of £240m. Did the survey reveal anything about whether the market is ready for online-only estate agents?

We asked if sellers considered using an online-only agent and 22% said yes, so not an insignificant amount. There is no doubt that times are changing but then change is constant and if you are not evolving you are effectively going backwards, allowing innovative competitors to come in. Which is what has happened. In any sector, customers have freedom of choice and now they have a variety of different options when it comes to selling their property. The survey did show that 70% of sellers visited their estate agent office at some point during the transaction so the high street obviously still has its place.

Q6. What goes into producing the report?
It takes a lot of time and effort to get the survey prepared, generate responses and then create the final report. Also to those agents that generate a good response we provide them with their own personal data vs the national average.

Q7. The report is provided free of charge to estate agents and conveyancers and, as you say, takes a lot of time and effort: why do you keep doing it?

It is extremely important that we keep doing it for the benefit of the whole industry. Amongst many others, we are keen to see standards raised across the whole of the sector. Understanding our customer’s expectations and behaviours offers valuable insights into how to achieve this and continually improve our offerings.

Q8. How would you reply to people who say that the feedback doesn’t match their personal experience or that it’s not reliable?

We have had some people over the years believe that the data just does not apply to them or ‘their area is different’ but each year the survey incorporates responses from across all of England, as well a small percentage from Wales and Scotland. In the past, we have broken the data down by region and there are minimal differences in the results.

Q9. How can firms use the information and do you have any examples of firms that have directly benefitted from applying the insights to their businesses?

Conveyancers and estate agents are using the data to make more informed decisions when allocating marketing budgets and sales training by using the survey to understand how customers choose them and how they rated the experience. One estate agent, Thomas Morris in Cambridgeshire, has told us that it is a crucial part of their strategy each year and they use the findings to inform their training, advertising and PR.

Q10. Consumer behaviour is changing rapidly and expectation rising – what do you think is the next big challenge on the horizon for the property industry?

I think the biggest challenge will be staying relevant. We are not just in the business of property transactions but delivering on hopes and dreams – helping people move into their ideal homes. Customers have access to choice when choosing their estate agent and conveyancer. Those that are relevant and have the attention of customers will win.

The full Home Moving Trends 2015 report will be published next week.

The Property Academy provides; Information, Insight, Ideas and Inspiration to those in the property sector, helping them fulfil their potential. They run live events, mastermind groups, have a membership programme and provide a free newsletter. You can find out more about them at www.propertyacademy.co.uk