The secrets of an Estate Agent, how to make offers on property and more, with special guest Rachel Ollington

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The secrets of an Estate Agent, how to make offers on property and more, with special guest Rachel Ollington

Every person and their home as a story.  How they’ve chosen their new home and why they are moving… it’s important to that person, and us understanding that is important too.

Welcome to The Mortgage Mum Podcast with me, Sarah Tucker, founder of The Mortgage Mum, where we believe mortgages are about more than just money. Join us every week where we will share with you bite-sized tips, interviews with inspiring people inside and outside of our industry and tools to help you achieve balance in every area of your life.

And a very warm welcome to The Mortgage Mum Podcast where today I am interviewing Rachel Ollington, now Rachel is an Estate Agent and I am really excited she has had over 23 years of experience working within the property industry for independent, corporate and online Estate Agencies as well as working with property investors and she recently qualified as a mortgage broker.  She has recently become a mumprenuer starting her own personal Estate Agency business and she is on a mission to try and steer the service away from targets, figures and KPIs and make the process about the people and their properties which I really align with.  Her eldest daughter is coming up to 20 and that has given her a passion now more than ever to help first time buyers get on the property ladder by giving them the education and tools that they need to think outside the box and make it happen.  We are going to be talking today about advice and tips around negotiating an offer on a property, how you can really secure that place that you have fallen in love with and Rachel has got some great things to share with us about the property market in general but about those things that Estate Agents don’t always tell us, so it’s going to be a great episode and I am really excited for you to get what you need from it, enjoy.

So thank you so much Rachel for joining us on The Mortgage Mum Podcast today.

Thank you for inviting me. I’m very excited.

So how did you become an Estate Agent?

So, when I left school at 16, I was due to go back to six form in the September to study Law, English and I can’t remember what the third one was to do my A Levels. But I got a summer job in an Estate Agent so basically the gopher while everybody else was on holiday, while other people were covering more important roles I photocopied because that’s what you did then photocopied the details and put them in the drawer, updated the window displays, posted details out to people because you didn’t email people then, yea posted details out and I just loved it every bit about it. So, much to my parents’ disgust, instead of going back to school in the September I stayed there full time and yeah, I didn’t go back and do my A Levels, I stayed there as an office junior and worked my way up.

Wow and how long did you stay at that Agent’s for, did you work your way up there for quite some time?

I was there for 3 years, the minute I could learn to drive, I learned to drive and the day I passed my test I was supposed to have the whole day off, but I actually went back. It was in the morning, it was a 9am test. I went back into the afternoon just so I could do viewings in the afternoon.

I knew I’d booked them in, so I was like, yes, I’m going back to do that. And stayed there 3 years and then went on to another one after that and yea slowly worked my way up really.

So how long does that mean you’ve been in property? I’m not disclosing your age, but that must mean you’ve been doing this for a long time, right?

26 years. I’m 39 now and I was 16 when I started.

Wow, so the property market has changed dramatically in that time. So you’ve rode through the credit crunch in that time. How was that for you?

Crazy, crazy. Yeah I think generally there’s an 8 year rule in property of how things move around and what happens. Particularly people who’ve invested in property that’s generally what they work by, but things obviously like the credit crunch and then more recently Corona virus completely throws everything out and doesn’t yeah, it doesn’t follow any rules, so yeah. It’s nice, and it’s good to have it because you can adapt and you can see a different way, but yeah it’s a bit scary sometimes when you’re in it.

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So with that 8 year rule, then the first thing that popped in my head is does it reset after a crisis? What’s the typical pattern?

It all depends, I mean it pretty much did after the credit crunch obviously you know, financial wise obviously things never went back to what they were before which could be a good thing, but things didn’t go back to how they were before, but the market did and everybody sort of adapted and as you say almost reset to before and carried on from there, obviously lots of things happened that were good changes and that the borrowing and people being able to buy houses that actually they couldn’t afford stopped. So that side of things was good but as a rule the property market will always keep going, it’s what speed it goes at. Because there’s always going to be people that have to buy, there’s always going to be people that have to sell, there’s always going to be people that have to move. And one thing I think it was my granddad said to me when I didn’t go back to six form and I started at the Estate Agency was ‘at least you’ve got a job that someone’s always going to need someone you always need somewhere to live’ and that is what always keeps the property market going.

So talk to me about post coronavirus, obviously we’re not completely on the other side of this thing at the time of recording but how has it affected the housing market? What is the housing market looking like right now?

I feel like the housing market in coronavirus had that whole 8 years in 18 months you know, it had that whole up and down that normal cycle that would take 8 years actually happened in 18 months to 2 years.  Because obviously we had a time when moving was, you couldn’t move everything had stopped. So obviously everything was put on hold and then when it opened up again, it went crazy and obviously then we had the stamp duty holiday and you literally couldn’t sell houses quick enough, they were just coming on and going straight away. And then it all stopped at the beginning of the year, it all really slowed down because anybody that thought they couldn’t get in before the stamp duty holiday, it then calmed down and then they introduced that they were going to do it again and then stagger it so then we had another big flurry and then quieten down. And then obviously the last one is the end of this month, September 21 is going to be the last stamp duty as of the 1st of October, it will go back to normal the usual £125,000.

So yeah I think it has slowed down now for the people more so, at one point we had such a flurry of properties coming on the market but there was an even bigger flurry of people looking to buy, and definitely demand hugely outweighed supply. Now we’re seeing that level out a bit which is definitely a good thing.  We’ve still got properties coming to the market and particularly this time of the year when children go back to school etc and people want to be moving for the New Year this is always a busier time. We are seeing that demand of people level out as well so it’s getting a bit more on an even keel now.

House prices at the moment, I mean in our area they seem to be really promising, really positive, really high actually, is that happening in most places that you’ve seen?

Yeah I think so, I think that’s across the board obviously being in the Southeast and London we’re always obviously higher than areas maybe up North, but generally actually ours hasn’t risen as a percentage as much as some of the other areas that are cheaper to buy in, they are higher as a percentage than ours. It was a bit of a false, I guess a bit like a sale, likening it to a sale. People still actually spent the same amount of money because there was so much interest it pushed the prices up so actually what you would normally spend in stamp duty you are spending on the house instead. It was giving people a sense of security ‘it’s okay we can afford to pay that extra because we’re not paying for stamp duty’ so actually I think as a rule for everybody, and won’t be exactly the same for everybody individually, but as a rule in the country I would think that people probably worked out as similar. It pushed the prices up so you paid more for your house but you didn’t pay stamp duty, so it outweighed itself.

So can we give some really good, honest tips to people listening, how to make a successful bid on a property that you’ve fallen in love with?

Yeah definitely, I think the first thing is always have your second viewing on a property so I know obviously at a time when they were moving and selling really quickly that was quite tricky because in the time that you arrange your second viewing the property was sold. But now it’s starting to calm down again, have that second viewing and you’re making an, and this is the, probably the hardest thing, because it’s definitely easier said than done, you’re making an offer with your head and not your heart. It is hard and I say that is probably the biggest tip I can give someone, and it’s an awful, especially when you’re in the moment you have to live by that ‘what will be will be’ mentality because otherwise you just snowball, you end up paying more for a property than you want to or are comfortable with or able to particularly if it needs work doing to it, if you budgeted X amount for work, and then you’ve spent that actually because you’ve gone higher than you wanted to buy the property you’ve then got to live there for the next year not being able to do that work because you’ve blown your budget.
So it’s really about working out what it’s worth to you because people can put property on the market at any price and actually if you’ve been looking a long time and you need it in a particular area for your family, for your schools, for your work, that property could be worth more to you than it is to somebody who already lives around the corner and just likes it because it’s got an extra bedroom. It’s about what it’s worth to you and then also obviously looking long-term look at what you can do to add to the property as well, because it’s not just about what you’re paying for it now, even with inflation and price rises, it’s what you’re going to be able to sell it for or when you’re looking at your long-term plans if you’re only looking to stay there f5 years, particularly you look at what you’re going to be able to sell it for in that 5 years. Is there anything you can do to add to it so that when people are looking to offer you money for it, it’s going to be higher as well. 

But yes generally I would say you have a price and there’s two ways you can do it. 

You can do a best and final, so you work out the most amount of money that you want to pay for it, and this is something, if it is your dream home and it really does, it’s worth that money to you and it’s going to make a massive difference to your lifestyle, work out your best and final offer and go to them with that and say ‘this isn’t a negotiation this is the most we can do. We really want this property and this is the best we can pay for it’. 

If that’s the asking price and that’s what it’s worth for you, you haven’t lost a battle because you’re paying the asking price for a house. I think people have that mentality in their head that unless they’re going to get money off it’s not a good deal, but that’s not necessarily the case because it’s a good deal for you. So, you can do the best and finals or you can go along the negotiation route, in which case still have your bar set of the maximum you want to go to and then look at increments below that you want to go in. So if there’s a property and you’re looking at and it’s on at £300,000, you’re happy to pay £280,000 it then start at £260,000 and work your way up from there, they’re going to come back and say no and you’re going to have that negotiation.

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The only thing with that is you’ve got to rely and you’ve got to really trust the Agent that’s communicating that.

Well that’s the other thing that I would say is, and even being an Agent, to a degree the agent is working for the person selling the property. Ultimately that is who is paying the Agent. Generally an agent works on a percentage based fee and the more they get for property the more they get paid for selling it. Not always they can work on a fixed fee, but generally that is the rule it would be a percentage base. Ultimately that is their client as an Estate Agent, your client is the person selling the property which is okay when you’re working through that buying process. It’s when it’s a first-time buyer, because the first-time buyer hasn’t got anybody working for them because they aren’t selling a property. If you’re selling a property that’s fine you can call your selling agent and say, ‘oh, can you give me some advice, or can you help with this or that’ there’s no hidden agenda there, but when you’re a first-time buyer you’ve got nobody working for you which obviously is awful because they’re the people that need somebody working for them  because they are the people who haven’t done it before. And to even have your parents, actually your parents may never have moved, you know they might have bought their house, extended it, a family home and they’re still in their first house that they bought. So it doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand that they’ve got any advice to give you or they know what they’re doing.

Mortgages and buying property – it does need to be a little bit clearer for the first-time buyers because they’re vulnerable as it is and don’t know what they’re doing so they rely on the professionals. So I know you’re really passionate about this as a concept and as a subject.

Can you talk to me a little bit about that because that’s quite unusual for an Estate Agent to say?

Yeah I think I’ve just had even more so since starting up on my own I’ve just had, we’ve sold quite a few properties to first-time buyers and actually there’s just so little help for them and I think it goes all the way back, I’m quite passionate, as I know you are of trying to get that information in schools or at least six forms and colleges that, because these are life skills that people need to know about, even if not necessarily about buying but even renting a property and managing your finances, what you need to do. And lots of first-time buyers aren’t clued up on that and they don’t know, because like you say if they haven’t moved before or their parents haven’t moved it’s not something that they’re ever taught ever so I am passionate about getting that education out to them because it’s not necessarily whether it’s the right thing or the wrong that it’s letting them make up their own mind and deciding for themselves, I feel like opinions and things are pushed on them especially when, I mean everybody’s heard it  ‘oh, young people will never be able to get on the property ladder today or it’s going to be impossible for them to buy a house’ and that’s what they think because that’s what they’re told and I don’t think that that is true but they don’t know that because no one tells them that there is that possibility.

You’re a Mum of three children, how old are your children?

They are 10, 14 and 20 now.

10, 14 and 20 so that if my maths is correct that you were an Estate Agent and a Mum and you joined straight out of school. So talk to me about what that was like because I still think the Estate Agency world is still male-dominated, so how was that for you as a Mum?

Yeah massively male-dominated and actually you couldn’t do a whole encompassing job in an Estate Agent part time either, that’s the bit I struggled with, although it’s actually helped me in my career because I’ve done different parts of the role, because when I went back part time I would do the sale progression side, I would just do the viewings, I would do a part of the job that didn’t necessarily involve having to be there all the time. It was actually really hard because I loved doing the negotiating side of things and I loved being able to help people and speak to the first-time buyers and do those things but it’s very limiting and for me as time went on the Estate Agency industry itself, whilst it’s still very male dominated, it’s also become very figures based.
It’s all about KPIs and figures. This is a general across the board, obviously not every Estate Agent is like that but generally that is the consensus and for me Estate Agency has never been about that it’s about the people and the properties. Every person has a story, every house has a story, how they come to move in there, why they’re moving out and it’s important to that person and an understanding that it is so important and I think that’s really and I say the flexibility side of things for me I’m more than happy to have a message with somebody of have a weekend but I can’t do 3 o’clock because I’m picking my children up. So I think as long as you tell people that they understand because I’ve taken the time to be interested in them as a person they’re interested in me as a person. So they know that I’ve got children and they know that I’m doing school pickup or I’m messaging them back while I’m watching my little boy swimming, they know that and they understand it and they actually like it. They like that I’m a real person because they are a real person and I’ve taken time to understand that about them.

So it’s a much more personal interaction, so did you come across problems with having that approach within an environment that dictated that figures were important?

Yes, hence why I do it on my own. It’s still very much thought of as a 9 to 5 job and obviously you do have to be professional when you’re speaking to Estate Agents and then there is a protocol but clients don’t want that. You are the middleman, that is the idea of an Estate Agent, you can be personable with your clients but then you and your homeowners and your buyers and sellers but you can then have that professional conversation with the Solicitor. You turn it into normal, translate that jargoning into normal everyday people speak and feed it back to them. That’s what you’re there for so I think that persona that you need to be in a suit and turn up with a briefcase is just so old fashioned, I am in a summer dress and I go in and I sit down and I have a cup of tea and we talk about when they moved in, their experience from they moved in and just the whole process not just the money side of it.

So when did you decide ‘that’s it, I’m going on my own, I’m going to do this’?

The beginning of this year actually, last year I studied for my CeMAP and that was going to be the route I was going down but the actual property side actually going out and seeing people in the properties is my passion and that’s what I love and I really had to have that. I’m pleased that I did my CeMAP because I think it gives me an extra understanding although I don’t know how you do it because things change so quickly it’s absolutely crazy, it’s like a full-time job just keeping up. It changes all the time. But yeah the CeMAP has given me my basics there to be able to speak to people and sort of know what they’re talking about and be able to help people a bit more. So at the beginning of this year I thought ‘you know what’ I’ve got to go with my passion and started up on my own.

My thing for you is I think you’re going to become so popular that you’re going to need more Rachel’s.

I have started to let go a little bit. Obviously my colleague Charlotte helps me with my social media stuff. She’s a photographer so she came on board initially to take pictures of the properties and so I definitely couldn’t do that myself. So she came on board to do that and I’m slowly giving her more and more jobs to do and we are going to look at others. Personally my issue is I’m not very good at handing over control of things but I can’t physically do everything myself. We limit the properties that we take on so that we have as much control over them as possible but I can’t physically do everything myself and I have tried.
Having more of me would actually be really handy, particularly when it comes to cooking dinner. Within the business I have tried to do everything myself and I had a few months of thinking ‘it’s fine I can do it all myself’ but actually you can’t and everybody, that is the whole idea of like same as your sort of set up, actually it’s about balance and your life as well as your business. I am looking at training some people up but actually I don’t want Estate Agents if that makes sense?

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Ok so more support around you so that you can focus on that?

I think in a Estate Agency, although definitely not all Estate Agents because I don’t feel like this, so maybe somebody who has got a bit of a Estate Agency background but depending on when you join Estate Agency your training and your thought process of how to manage people and houses in the Estate Agency business isn’t my ethos, it isn’t what I want my business to be. So with that in mind actually I think more personable people, I think it’s more about the personality really of who’s going to work because I think I can teach the sales progression side and that the process I can teach to somebody having that personable side and being able to speak to people and relate to people as probably from your side, empathy is a massive massive part of a Estate Agency.  One of the, probably the biggest skills you have to have is empathy. You need to be able to talk to people, a lot of people are moving not necessarily for good reasons and good and bad things happen with chains and offers and you need to be able to ride that roller coaster with them, understand that it’s frustrating for them or they’re upset, take that onboard but then pull them out of that and look forward. You need to have that sympathy but then show them how you’re moving forward. So yeah not necessarily an Estate Agency background but more the personable side of things.

What is going to mean you can satisfy your need to help people with your family’s needs which is the hardest thing for a working Mum particularly if it’s your own business. Do you feel that juggle?

Yeah definitely, I think as I say my eldest daughter’s going to be 20 at the end of the week and I think from the moment that you find out you’re pregnant with your first baby, your mum-guilt starts. Should you have done this? And I do think and I say not just women I’m sure men are too but we are particularly hard on ourselves as well, we do want to give everything to everybody. When we’re at home we want to be a 100% Mum, we want to be 100% making sure that eating properly, making sure their homework is done, we want to be doing everything we can for them, but at the same time, I know you definitely feel the same way, my business is my fourth child, it is my baby as well and I want to make sure I give everything  to that as well. When I went in the business I want to give everything to that, I want to make sure I’m being the best I can for my homeowners. I want to make sure I’m helping my buyers as much as I can, particularly first-time buyers who don’t have anybody to help them. I want to make sure that everything is running smoothly and is being done properly. So yeah there’s a lot we put on ourselves really to make sure that we’re doing a 100% good job for everybody all the time.

I wanted to ask you, at the school gate how much pressure have you felt as a working career minded mother?

Lots and my only my only saving grace and I don’t know if it’s as I’ve got older or as my children have got older because obviously where Abby’s 20 at the end of the week, I’ve now been a Mum for 2 decades. It makes me feel really old and I think as the time has gone on I was definitely the youngest Mum in her class, in baby groups and I felt a lot of pressure. I felt like I was the one going back to work because I was young and I hadn’t done what I needed to do beforehand.  I feel like lots of labels were put on me when she was small.  Then as my middle one coming along it was a little bit less generally the people of my own age then because I’ve got a big gap between my children.

Generally people of my own age were then starting to have children so it was a little less and actually now with my youngest so he’s the only one I have to go and do school runs for. I am one of the older Mums and I feel like I’m the Mum that when the younger Mums say things like ‘oh, I’ve got do this, I’ve got that and I feel so bad, I’ve got work and I’ve got do this. Did you see what she’d done with her kids in the school holidays? How does she fit that in?’ and I am then saying ‘do you know what, don’t worry about it, they’re happy, they’re fed, you love them, they love you, like you’re winning, you’ve got through the day’. And I think and I hate to say it because it makes me sound so old but social media and I love social media, I love being silly on Instagram and I love helping people on Instagram and that’s how I get my advice across. But I don’t think that’s helped with the pressure, people see what people do with their children in the holidays, where they’re taking them, where they’re going on holiday, what they’re doing. And this actually feeds back to buying a property, especially your first property, the help to give first-time buyers because they think their house has got to be Instagram ready. They think the house has got to be perfect because that’s what everybody’s houses are like on Instagram and social media. Everybody’s got a perfect house, as you were saying perfectly tidy kitchen perfectly, everything’s perfect. That’s not how life is, you might not be able to afford your perfect house straightaway. That’s why I say, even though it’s boring, it is a property ladder, you don’t start at the top of the ladder, you start at the bottom of the ladder and you work your way up. And that’s lost because of social media and it’s the same with the pressure to be a Mum. I think a lot of it comes from what you see on Instagram and actually that’s probably not true.

It’s our generation that’s trying to move that forward for our children and children’s children and your business is just a shining example of that because you’ve gone ‘yeah this doesn’t work for me actually and you know what, I think I can do it a different way and achieve the same thing and I’m not going to play the same game, I’m going to play it my own way.’

I am good at selling houses, I’m good at talking to people, I love it. I’m not necessarily good at working 9 to 5 at the moment because that doesn’t fit in my life. So it’s playing to your strengths and I would much rather for my Mortgage Broker or for anybody that I’m going to use, any trade that I’m going to use I would much rather have a good person that does it around what suits them and somebody who knows what they’re doing and has a passion about it and does it around what suits them then have somebody that is set there and it’s their 9 to 5 but actually they’re not that great at it. And I think people are wising up to that and I think more people feel like that now.

So let’s imagine and this is a random question you may not have ever thought of or you may have it completely planned out. 5 years, we’re catching up and it’s 2026. Talk to me about what that looks like for you, in an ideal world.

Probably controversially I do want to grow the Estate Agency business however, again I am conscious of my own work-life balance and I’m conscious of making sure I can do things well. So it does all depend on finding people that have that same ethos as me to grow that side of it. But I would really love to be able to be out there getting that education out to people so that people can make informed choices that first time, but not just first-time buyers, everybody, like we’ve been talking about making offers, how to make an offer, where do you start? Who can you have that conversation with? And I think processing, it was a first-time buyer but one of my clients this week I sat down with them and we’ve looked through their paperwork that their Solicitors have sent them to sign because they’ve never done it before their parents hadn’t moved. They had no clue what any of this was, should they sign ‘I’m guessing that I should sign it there, but actually I’ve never had a conversation with my Solicitor, only email they’re telling me to sign it, what do I do?’ And yeah, so that side of things I’d really love to get that education out so people can make their own decisions and they’ve got the knowledge to do that. That would be my ideal in the next 5 years.

Love that, and I really do see you pushing that education out there, I can really see that happening.

Even if I did have to get really dirty at the weekend to prove one of my property tips of getting your house ready for sale, I cleaned my driveway in the name of a property. I was absolutely covered. It definitely wasn’t an Instagram ready photo. I had jet washed the driveway in the most inappropriate outfit, a little summer dress. I was like you know what you don’t have to spend loads of money getting your house ready to sell you can just be cheap things that are really going make a big impact like jet washing your driveway, look at mine. This is what I’ve done but yea I got absolutely caked in mud. Little kids were walking past on the way to the park, waking passed like in awe, you’re an actual grown adult and you’ve let yourself get that muddy but that’s amazing.

So talk to us about how people can find you and what they’re going to find on your social media because you’re covering a lot of content at the minute. So what can people expect if they can start following you and what it offers?

The Facebook side of things generally is a bit more of advice but generally sort of Estate Agency based, so sort of what we’re offering in terms of service for the Estate Agency properties that we’ve got on the market. Whereas the Instagram organically really, because people have just been asking me questions on there, Instagram really organically has become more of advice, hints and tips and I do a sort of a property tips or daily or every other day on all aspects of property buying, selling, getting on the property ladder, investment properties even down to sort of saving, because a lot of people first time buyers ‘oh, I need to save this amount of money or I need to do this’ but they’ve got no clue on where to start on what they can do to save a bit of money to be able to move because it’s not just the house you’re buying or your deposit you’ve got then be able to obviously live in it afterwards and you’ve got all sorts, you’ve got furnish it. If you’re a first-time buyer, no one thinks about that, we can get in the house you’re going to need a bed, you’re going to need a chair. So yeah it’s sort of hints and tips on that sort of thing, renting properties just a general sort of overview really of all things property.

I’m sure this won’t be the last time hopefully that you’re on the podcast because as your business evolves we’d love to keep track with what you’re up to and how the property market is changing. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.

Thank you for having me. It’s been good, like you say I could talk all day, I am never short of talking but you’ve made it nice and easy for me.

That’s good! Thank you so much again.

Thank you so much for listening to The Mortgage Mum Podcast and I hope you learned something new today and felt inspired in some way. Here at The Mortgage Mum we really believe in people supporting people. So if you’ve enjoyed this episode of The Mortgage Mum Podcast, please share and subscribe and rate and review this podcast and let’s keep supporting each other. And of course, if you would like help with your mortgage or your insurance head over to www.themortgagemum.co.uk or contact any one of the team on social media, we would love to help you. Thank you for listening.