Guest blog from Jerry Lyons.
“Everyone is magical. We just need to find where that magic lies within them.”
The above wasn’t proclaimed by a motivational guru or an inspirational teacher, nor whispered by an ancient philosopher.
It was said during a conversation I had with Spencer Lawrence, Lettings Director of Paramount Properties, during my visit to the northwest London-based agency.
It was a surprising thing to hear from a letting agent, but Paramount is, as I discovered during my visit, an agency full of surprises.
For context, it has won a stack of awards over the years, is held in the highest regard by some of the industry’s brightest minds and has more than 1,130 Google Reviews – with an average rating of 4.8 stars out of five.
That Google Review ranking is worth thinking about for a second. Achieving that percentage of positive reviews as a letting agency is remarkable.
As all agents who do sales and lettings know, if you are going to get a negative review, it’s usually from a disgruntled tenant. They are clearly doing something right.
When I asked Spencer if I could visit his office and meet his team to write an article, his response was illuminating.
He said: “Sure, you’re very welcome to come, but we want the article to be candid and highlight any flaws or areas where we can improve. So write it as you see it.”
This reply highlighted three things that, during my time spent with Spencer, seem to combine to make Paramount the elite agency it undoubtedly is.
One – They trust people. Two – They are always looking to get better. Three – They combine confidence with humility.
Speaking with team members, it became clear that the company’s values weren’t just words on a wall (that said, they are prominently placed in the office’s kitchen). Instead, they are the cultural compass that guides behaviour within the office and towards people.
Their values are:
Be brave, be bold – An example that was shared with me was the team are encouraged to have difficult conversations when needed with owners and residents.
Do the right thing – As one of the team said: “If someone needs to ask what is the right thing to do continually, then this probably isn’t the best place for them.”
Lead, don’t follow – Spencer explained that they want their team to do this internally and externally.
Here are seven things I learned during my morning at Paramount Properties that other letting agencies might benefit from.
- No KPIs – Reagan, the agency’s go-to woman, told me why the team weren’t set KPIs. She said: “It’s because we trust them and their abilities, so we give them the freedom to make decisions.” There are also no boards with targets on show and no bell ringing (or similar celebratory gesture) when a deal is done. Yet this is a commercially very successful outfit. Spencer made a great point that you don’t measure the value of your friends by targets, you trust them, and that’s the approach Paramount has with its team’s performance. If the recruitment matches the values, the rest looks after itself.
- The power of language – During my research for this article, Paramount’s choice of words was what leapt out. They realise the power of language. Here are some examples. They don’t say landlords – people who rent out property are owners. There are no mentions of tenants. They’re called residents. And no one says property inspections – they’re reviews, goddamn it. Lettings Negs? Nope – they’re called Letting Consultants, which I think sounds a whole lot more collaborative and intriguing. With a few, carefully chosen tweaks to an agency’s phraseology and language, perceptions and expectations can change dramatically.
- Find the opportunity for the client first – The first question they ask isn’t what’s in it for them but ‘where’s the opportunity for the client?’. Spencer gave several examples of this, but the one that stuck in my head was when a landlord, I mean owner, came to them and said that due to relocating abroad, they would need to sell their rental property to fund a house purchase in their new country of residence. Now, many letting agencies would take that as the moment to pass on the lead to their sales team. However, what the Paramount team did was take the time to listen to the owner, ask the right questions and then offer a solution that meant the owner kept their rental investment and achieved their overseas house-buying goal. As Spencer said: “We’re about relationships over transactions.”
- They’re world-class listeners – Unlike many people in the agency industry, Paramount’s priority is to listen before talking. It’s this listening to owners and residents that has helped to hone their service levels over the years. For example, when residents leave a property, they are asked questions about what they liked about the home and what could be improved. This outgoing resident review (essentially a listening exercise) highlights what residents want. This, in turn, helps Paramount advise owners accordingly. Lighting, windows, bathroom and kitchen upgrades, clean communal areas and more storage lead the way.
- Playing the triangle – The agency focuses on Product – Owner – Resident, a triangle with the sides of the shape equal in terms of time and focus. Everything they do revolves around looking after the product (the property), the owner and the resident. It sounds simple, but it’s effective and keeps all minds focused.
- Community work tells its own story – One of the things I love about Paramount is its commitment to the community it serves. Thanks to all it does for people who live in its patch, it’s a regular winner at the Agents Giving awards. There’s the Paramount Pantry, where they offer a drop-off point for the local food bank at their office and make regular deliveries to it. In addition, they financially support several local community groups by fundraising and also volunteering. While chatting with Rhian, who is part of Paramount’s marketing team, she said something profound: “Our community work changes the narrative around us not just as a letting agency but as a local business.” I couldn’t sum up why agents need to get involved with good causes locally any better than that.
- Play to your team’s strengths – This one and the no KPIs policy took me aback a little. But maybe it’s the secret sauce that makes their service so good. They match owners on personality type to the best-suited people in their team. So, if someone likes the direct approach, they’ll be matched with a team member with, guess what, a more direct approach. If an owner is more chatty and light, they’ll be paired with the team member whose personality best reflects theirs. But, and this was where we see levels at play, they even match their full-time gas and plumbing engineer with more of the jobs he likes doing over the course of a year. He likes refurbs, by the way. Of course, the work always gets done, but by playing to people’s strengths, you get the best out of them, and clients get the best possible service. And dare I say it, this approach may even help to find that bit of personal magic that Spencer alluded to.
I could go on as Paramount does so much that others don’t, won’t, can’t or perhaps aren’t aware that these ways of doing things are even possible.
To summarise, I think what makes them exceptional are the things below.
They think and act like a start-up business despite being well established.
The management seems to have struck a delicate balance between knowing their numbers and understanding the importance of emotional intelligence.
The culture is one of trust, where learning is held in the highest regard and feedback isn’t treated as lip service.
An acute attention to detail is employed across all aspects of the business, from an obsession with the condition of fuse boards to how language is used and the need for any visitor to the office to be welcomed within 15 seconds of entering.
And then there are the ‘sprinkles’. These are the little touches a dedicated part of their team applies to properties just before the resident moves in. This includes ensuring everything works, any outstanding issues have been resolved and even lining up the furniture where applicable. Details. Small, delightfully sprinkled pieces.
But what stands out is that they are true to their stated values.
They are brave enough to do things differently (by leading and not following) and bold enough to realise they’re not for everyone.
Be that owners who don’t invest in their properties (they deliberately shed dozens of owners so they can focus on those who want to do the right thing), or team members who find the fast pace too quick for them (a common reason for people who leave, although many stay long term).
I’ll leave you with this little story that speaks volumes about the group mindset that starts at the top (even though the hierarchy is loosely worn).
I got to the office on a freezing cold morning at about 7.30am to be welcomed by Spencer.
At the same time, a driver turns up to collect one of their property maintenance vans and return it to the lease company.
Spencer lets him in with a smile. Then he asks the driver if he’d like to use their toilet.
Mr Driver couldn’t have beamed a more appreciative smile if you’d offered him an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii to escape the cold.
It was clear Spencer’s tiny gesture had made this guy happy and more comfortable.
I asked Spencer how did he know the guy needed the loo. His response was matter of fact.
“He’s had to use public transport to get here, it’s freezing, and it’s the least we can offer.”
I don’t think the significance of the above actions needs explaining for them to be indicative of what this agency is about.
But just in case – it showed a level of thought, care, kindness and hospitality that, when applied to all areas of a business, help create a company like Paramount Properties.
Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year.
Jerry : )