Skip to main content

Lettings agencies and their toilets

A friend of mine, lets call him the Welsh Wizard, is a man who runs a very large Car dealership for a rather up market brand. He is a man of great acumen when it comes to running a business. The brand he has, sells large 4 x 4’s which sell for over £100k, but at the same time, you can buy a less fancy one, ideal for farmers from £23k .. so he gets everyone coming through his showroom. He has ran a number of large car showrooms, been an Area Manager and taken over others. I asked him how does he judge if a particular business is ran well, good for its customers, good for its workers, good for everyone .. and the answer that came back surprised me. He said, his boss had taught him many years before, that he only needed to look in one place to determine how good all those things were.. 'how the toilets were presented'.

What! .. the state of the toilets?  Yes .. its an ideally measure of how sophisticated an operation is, which at the end of the day, is what both car garages with fancy showrooms and lettings (and estate) agents with offices are trying to exude .. there is no other reason in paying mega rent on the High Street than to give the impression of sophistication, that you are the agent to rent or sell the owners £400,000 house.

It's very easy to underrate the value of sophistication, otherwise known as cultural acumen, or another way of saying it, ‘cultural good judgement’. You see, if you walk into a solicitors’s office and the wall paper  is pealing, the carpeting is wrong and it feels dated, this gives an instant lack of trust. Meet the Rightmove or Zoopla representative in your office and he doesn't shake hands, he's fumbling with an old Filofax, he mispronounces the company name or doesn’t know its basic background and doesn't make eye contact.
In each case, the reason you wrote someone off had nothing to do with their product or service and everything to do with their lack of cultural acumen. We place a high value on sophistication, because we've been trained to seek it out as a cue for what lies ahead. We figure that if someone is too clueless to understand our norms, they probably don't understand how to make us a product or service that we'll like.

So walk into any swanky London agency, and you are presented with £1000 coffee makers, fridges full of Icelandic glacier mineral water melted by the hot breath of Venezuelan virgins on Mount Olympus (you know over priced £5 a bottled stuff). But that is all for show in my humble opinion. If you really want to know how good they are, how good their companies sophistication or cultural good judgement is, go to the toilets .. that will show how sophisticated the operation is

So why toilets Watkin? If the toilet is spotless, clean, loo rolls full, paper towels or clean towel, smells nice, it isn’t a store cupboard, with graffitied posters, then that will conscientious or sub conscientiously give you, or more importantly that prospective landlord (or for our estate agency friends) vendors and perceived perception of your operation. If they do go to the loo, and its bad, they will think fancy pants frontage but a $hit tip at the back.
The British have an ability to remember poorly presented  loo’s and lovely loo’s .. don’t we? If the loo’s are mucky, will they leave my property as mucky when the tenant leaves? .. I know it sounds daft .. but as they say up North ‘Nowt as queer as folk’

Who's in charge of cultural norms at your lettings agency? Does someone hire or train or review to make sure you and your people are getting it right? At Savills and Knight Frank, of course, that's all they do. If they lost it, even for a minute, they'd be toast.
You can be as good as Savills and Knight Frank, and not necessarily in the same posh markets they excel in. All landlords want is a letting agent they can trust who gives good customer. They will judge that trust on many levels and yes its most down to the relationship you can build with that prospective landlord, but before they make that final decision to use you, they will use other methods to judge you, one could be your office facade, one could be your shoddy To let boards, one your poor photography on your particulars, but some could just your loo one time?

It's funny that we assume that all sorts of complex but ultimately unimportant elements need experts and review, but the most important element of lettings agency--demonstrating cultural acumen--shouldn't even be discussed. .. just done correctly