Outsourcing has become a bit of a business buzzword over the last few years. But how can YOU exploit it in a practical way?

What exactly is property outsourcing?

It’s to do with property (of course!) but you won’t have to buy or sell, and it’s nothing to do with development or renovation…

This opportunity is to do with providing a property outsourcing service for estate and letting agents. Providing a range of useful support services they need to make their businesses easier and more efficient to run.

You probably already know that most estate agents use outsourcing services to place their “for sale” boards. Well, this opportunity is a vastly improved take on that (and no, it’s nothing to do with signboards).

You will be offering customers a range of essential back office services including sales brochures, property photography and energy assessments. (Don’t worry, all will be explained.)

What you need to start this business

This is a very straightforward opportunity to get started in. You can run it part-time to start with, and go full-time later if you want to.

You can work from home. You won’t need an office. You won’t need any staff – unless you want to employ people to do the hands-on work and just manage everything.

All you’ll need is a PC or laptop and a decent quality digital camera (plus a good measuring tape, more about that later!) You’ll also need some means of transport in order to visit the properties in the area you want to cover.

Most importantly, you won’t need any previous experience or qualifications in the property business. (Unless you want to offer an energy assessor service – and I will explain all about that later.)

Services you can offer

With this opportunity there are THREE different services you can offer. You can offer some – or all of them, it is entirely up to you. But the good thing about the opportunity is that they are all interrelated. Each service you offer will pull in business for the other services, and so on.

• Preparing property sales brochures: In other words, the particulars agents hand out to people looking to buy/rent a property, or post to their websites. This involves collecting information, measuring properties and writing a short description.

• Property photography: To illustrate sales brochures and property websites with. Good pictures are essential if a property is to attract interest from buyers. Some property websites now include video clips too.

• Energy Performance Certificates: By law, every property that is put up for sale or rent today requires a current Energy Performance Certificate or EPC. In most cases, estate agents arrange these for householders. So you can offer a service providing EPCs alongside sales brochures and photography.

Later on in this blueprint I will give you full details of these services and how you can offer them.

Who will your customers be?

According to leading property website Rightmove there are around a million properties in the UK on the market at any one time. All these properties need these services. So the potential demand is literally massive.

There are three main types of customer you will be targeting:

• Estate agents, i.e. agents who sell property.

• Letting agents, i.e. agents who arrange property rentals.

• Auction houses, which auction property. (Perhaps slightly less potential than estate/letting agents but still worth contacting.)

Why will these companies want your service?

This is an interesting point, and you need to be fairly clear about it before you start because it is crucial to offering this service successfully. There are bound to be some agents who would rather do this work themselves, as they always have. But there are lots of benefits to them of using your service:

• It can make their business easier to run. • It can be cheaper than doing it themselves. • And it can provide them with better, more professional property brochures and photography.

Think of it this way: As I said, most, estate agents already use an outsourcing service to plant their “for sale” boards. Why? Because it’s easier, cheaper and better for them. So there really is no reason why they won’t want to multiply the benefits of outsourcing by outsourcing these services too.

This is not a pie-in-the-sky idea. It is already an up-and-running service!

Here are a couple of companies who offer similar services: Datography at www.datography.com. Virtual Preview at www.virtualpreview.co.uk. But as far as I can see there aren’t many companies offering these kinds of services as yet. So I think it’s very much a gap in the market waiting to be exploited.

Finding customers for your service

This should be fairly straightforward. To get started, make a list of all the estate agents, letting agents and auction houses in the area you want to cover. If you’re in a town/city you can operate in a fairly small local area. Elsewhere you may need to travel further.

How do you locate them?

As well as local knowledge use your local Yellow Pages. Also look on the main property finding websites – Rightmove (www.rightmove.co.uk) and Zoopla (zoopla.co.uk) – where you can do a search to find all your local agents.

Good tip: Agents using these websites should make VERY good prospects because they are already highly marketing-aware, plus Rightmove and Zoopla are very competitive marketplaces where good descriptions are essential.

Approaching your prospective customers

When you start I’d advise you to be very proactive about marketing so you can get up and running as soon as possible. Make a direct approach to all the estate agents, letting agents and auction houses in your local area.

I recommend sending a sales letter mailshot to potential customers. Then a few days later telephone them or call in and ask if they are interested. (The letter should work as something of an ice-breaker.)

Important: Always address your letter and call to the Partner or Manager (you can usually find out their name from their website) as these will usually be the only people in an agency who are in a position to make the decision to use an outsourcing service. Your letter should be short and simple: Tell prospects what you do and – most important of all – what the benefits of your particular service are to them. (More about this later.)

Free professional sales copy: I’ve had one of my copywriters put together a sales letter you could use for generating leads. You’re welcome to adapt and use it for your own particular service.

Signing customers up… handy tips to help you make the sale

One of the big advantages of this service is that you won’t have to spend a lot of time explaining what each service does as it is pretty much obvious. However, what you should do is spend time explaining the benefits of outsourcing these services – as opposed to the agents doing it themselves.

Bear in mind that many of your prospective customers will be doing their own sales brochures and photography (although fewer will be doing their own EPCs) at the moment. So you need to persuade them that outsourcing is a better alternative (which it is!).

Here are the benefits you should push when talking to prospective customers:

• It will save you time: You will have more time to concentrate on important, revenue-generating tasks like selling property rather than “back office” jobs like this.

• It can work out cheaper than doing it in house: No fixed salary, national insurance, holiday/sick pay, car to provide an employee with. No need to hire somebody full-time. By outsourcing you only pay for the work you actually need doing.

• A better quality of sales brochures and photography: If these tasks are done by someone who is a specialist in the field rather than someone who just does it as a sideline to their job, i.e. a negotiator or administrator.

• It gives your agency the leading edge: It gives a more professional impression of your business, and will impress your customers!

Of course you are bound to find some agents who would rather do it themselves for whatever reason. If so, just keep trying new agents. You do not need that many agents to support a small, efficient home business.

Tip: What I would suggest you do is offer your services to customers on a trial basis. Say, for 6 or 10 properties initially. This way you will have the opportunity to show them how useful and valuable the service is.

Medium-long term, however, you should try to agree a regular arrangement with your customers, i.e. to do all their brochures/photos/surveys on a regular basis (with say a three month notice period if they wish to terminate).

Another good idea to help close the deal is to offer them one free sales brochure and photography to go with it if they sign up for your trial.

What about marketing on the Internet?

You don’t necessarily need a website for this business. However, if you are offering the EPC service you may find it useful to have one. This is because some people selling their properties search the Internet for an EPC provider themselves, rather than having their agent organise it. So you can attract business direct from householders this way.

If you set up a website be sure to create a Google Places listing for your business. This can be done here using Google places and is FREE. This way, when customers in your area search for an EPC provider there is a very good chance they will find you.

In the next part of this blueprint I will look at how to actually provide these three services. (Remember, you can offer some or all of them.)

How to provide the sales brochure service

This is probably going to be the easiest service to offer.

Once an agent has signed up a new house to sell (or to let) arrange an appointment to visit it and collect the information you need to compile the brochure.

Free sample brochure. Here’s a sample brochure which you can adapt for your own business. A good idea might be to create a standard sales brochure template. Then, for each job you do just cut and paste the details of each property, and customise the brochure for each customer.

Procedure. When you arrive, start by making a checklist of every room in the property and then visit these in turn. Your checklist should include every habitable room, plus any usable attic areas, cellar areas, outbuildings, garages and sheds.

Writing room descriptions. When it comes to writing the room descriptions you don’t need to write long, poetic descriptions of each room! In fact it’s very important that you don’t. Estate agents can get into trouble under the Property Misdescriptions Act for descriptions that they know to be incorrect. Keep descriptions interesting but factual.

Here are some basics to cover:

  • What type of room it is. • How many windows it has. • What view it has. • What adjacent rooms it leads into.
  • Interesting features such as fireplaces, mouldings, exposed stonework or beams, fitted appliances, etc.

Make the room sound inviting but do not add descriptions that may be misconstrued.

Taking measurements. Measure each room carefully and note down its size. Although feet and inches measurements are still usual it is good practice to note down both imperial and metric equivalents. Round down to the nearest inch/tenth of a metre. Try to be accurate but extreme accuracy is not essential (as sales brochures usually include a clause to the effect that they are only a guide).

Although any good tape measure can be used to do this, for about £30 you can buy ultrasonic/laser room measuring devices that can take the approximate dimensions of a room in seconds.

Floor plans. An increasing number of property particulars today include floorplans to illustrate the layout of the property. This is a good feature to offer in your sales brochures. The easiest way to create a floor plan is to use floor planning software and there are several software packages on the market.

Tip: Sketch out a rough freehand drawing when you are at the property and then use it to compile a finished version later.

Completing the sales brochure. Once you’ve collected all the necessary information simply cut and paste it into your sales brochure template. If you have a laptop you could even do it as you tour the property.

When your sales brochure is complete, email it over to your customer. You could also arrange printing for them at an extra charge if required. As most sales brochures nowadays are posted to the agent’s website and/or a property search website you could also offer a service uploading this for them if required.

How to provide the property photography service

If you look at estate and letting agency websites you will see that they are using more and more photos. Some are also adding short videos too. But – by and large agents are not photographers and do not have time to take good quality photographs.

Your equipment. You can start this service with almost any digital camera or digital camcorder. However, if you want to offer pictures for print rather than just the Internet a minimum 5MP is recommended. A digital SLR with wide angle and zoom lens from 16mm up to 100m will allow you to compile great room panoramas and outside views, but this is optional.

Tip: Before you offer this service to customers practice property photography. Try photographing your own house, or that of a friend or relative.

An inexpensive tripod is a simple way to take steadier, better quality photos. A photographic floodlight/umbrella set up will allow you to take better pictures in poor light, although this is optional.

Procedure. Once you get the order contact the householder to make an appointment. Be sure to tell them that you will be taking photographs and point out (tactfully) that they might like to ensure their house is tidy and well presented as potential buyers will see it!

Once you arrive at a property make a brief plan of action. Start with some exterior/garden shots and then move inside. Study each room and photograph it from a position that will show it at its best – not necessarily from the entrance doorway.

How will setting up the camera in the right place enhance the pic? Is there an interesting feature (such as a fireplace or roll top bath) that you can use as the focus of the pic? What less desirable features (such as a pile of washing up) can you tactfully avoid?

The importance of lighting. As expert photographers will tell you lighting can make or break a shot. Unless it absolutely can’t be avoided photos should be taken in daylight, not at night. Bright days are always better if possible. Bright, natural daylight is also best for internal photography where possible. Only use your floodlight if the natural daylight is poor. Generally, a room will look better with all the lights turned on, even in the daytime.

More property photography tips:

  • Move the furniture to face the camera. (Ask the householder of course.) When furniture faces the camera it makes a room look more interesting – and tends to make it look larger too.
  • Open windows, where possible and practical. These make a room look light and airy, and can also make it look larger.
  • Depersonalise. You want to project the character of the property, not of the sellers. So suggest they remove things like personal photographs, clothing, toiletries in bathrooms and children’s toys.
  • Make something the focus of the pic. Put a bowl of fruit or a vase on a table. Or some wine and some glasses on a kitchen counter.
  • Exterior shots look better without parked cars, caravans, etc.
  • If there is something unattractive about a room don’t photograph it at all! It could be considered dishonest if you crop it out from a picture, but not if you don’t snap it in the first place.

Always take plenty of pictures! Twenty to thirty is not too many. When you’ve finished go through and select the best six to eight or so. Email these through to the agent – or incorporate them into your sales brochure if you are preparing that for the customer.

How to provide the EPC service

I should point out right now this is a slightly more difficult service to provide. However, it is a service property sellers and letters HAVE to have. So arguably the potential for offering it is even better. You do not have to offer this service initially, you can always add it later.

What’s an EPC? The EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) means that all properties that are put up for sale or rented out throughout the EU must include an Energy Performance Certificate (or EPC) showing how energy efficient (or not) it is. Once compiled an EPC lasts 10 years.

Estate and letting agents must include an EPC when a property is put up for sale or rental. Some agents are able to do them themselves but most aren’t and need to pay what is known as a domestic energy assessor (or DEA) to prepare them.

Sample EPC: If you haven’t seen an EPC before you can see how they are incorporated into a sales brochure in the sample in our download pack.

How to offer EPCs: To offer EPCs you need to become what is known as a Domestic Energy Assessor or DEA.

The work isn’t as technical as it sounds. DEAs do not usually need any previous property, building or surveying knowledge. However, not just anyone can become a DEA. You need to study on a short training course, obtain a DEA qualification and be accredited as a DEA. You need at least the Level 3 Diploma in Domestic Energy Assessment (Dip DEA).

DEA qualifications are provided by several official awarding bodies – the Awarding Body for the Built Environment (ABBE), City and Guilds and the National Federation of Property Professionals Awarding Body (NFOPP). Each is given after a multiple-choice exam and an assessment of some EPCs you have done.

EPC training: Many organisations offer DEA training courses. These include local further education colleges and commercial training companies. You have to pay for these training courses yourself, although subsidised loans and grants are available to some people.

The cost of DEA courses has fallen since they were first introduced and now starts at around £400, which opens up this opportunity to many more people. Details of some training course providers are given later.

The basic qualification just allows DEAs to create the basic EPC. You can take further qualifications that qualify you to produce EPCs for newly-built homes and more complex EPCs for commercial and industrial buildings.

Procedure: It takes around an hour to assess an average property for an EPC. Most training courses will provide the documentation and software needed to produce EPCs.

Basically, you collect data on the dimensions, construction, heating and insulation in a property and then enter the information into a software programme. This, in turn, will produce the EPC and grade the property’s energy efficiency on a scale from A (good) to G (poor). Another task of the DEA is to prepare an illustration of what the rating could be if energy efficiency improvements are made.

Important. Because properties HAVE to have an EPC you can see the obvious potential for offering this service… it’s something of a captive market. However, how much business you will actually get will depend on how successful you are at selling the service to agents. Bear in mind there are other DEAs up-and- running offering this service that you will be competing against. You will have to pay for your training up front but you will not be able to start doing business until you are actually qualified and can start to sign customers up. Pricing: What should you charge?

There are no fixed prices for this kind of service. It really is a matter of what you can agree with the individual customer – and also what similar services might be charging in your area (ring round and ask for quotes).

I strongly recommend that you don’t have any fixed charges or publish a price list. It is far better to negotiate prices individually with each customer. If it is a one-off job, charge a little more. If you have a customer who wants to use you regularly, offer a discount depending on the volume of work they can offer.

You might also offer a discount for providing all three services together. This is very attractive to the customer and also cost-effective for you – since it will not take you three times the time to carry out all three services together.

I have done some ringing around to get a feel of very approximate going rates, which are shown below as a guide. In London and the south east where property prices and prices generally are higher, as well as in rural areas where you have to travel further, charges will most likely be at the higher end.

* Note. You will almost certainly find budget EPC services who charge less than this. But look more closely and you will sometimes find they do not have a very good reputation. It is generally better to charge a higher rate for a better quality service.

Verdict… how much could you make from offering these services?

Being honest now, it’s quite tricky to work out how much you might make from a business like this. It depends not just on how much work you attract (as with other businesses) but on which services you offer.

Let’s sketch out a few ideas though. Say you’re running just a small business. You handle two orders a week, one earning you £150 and the other £250. That would be a turnover of £400 a week or £20,000 a year.

Now, say you had a slightly larger business. You handle two projects at £150 and two at £250. That would be a turnover of £800 a week or £40,000 a year.

Or how about a larger business – probably full-time now: say you handle four orders at £150, three at £250 and one luxury property at £600. That would be a turnover of £1,950 a week or £97,500 a year.

Any of these would still be a one-person business. Your overheads would be quite low; mainly travel, phone calls and stationery (there are also some ongoing costs related to producing the EPCs) so your margins should be very strong indeed. Added to which this is a useful, in-demand service in a massive industry which you can start and run from home.

Useful contacts

Here are some organisations who offer Domestic Energy Assessor training. Note that not all of them offer courses from £400. Some offer more advanced courses, including Commercial Energy Assessor training and residential courses, which can cost considerably more.

Tip: Always check what courses are available at your local FE college too, as they may be cheaper than residential courses and they may save on travel costs too.

Energy Trust Training

Tel. 0845 680 6780 Website: www.energy-trust.co.uk

New Career Skills

Tel. 01424 773650Website: www.professionalpropertycareers.co.uk Offers “Professional Property Marketer” courses, of which DEA training is an element.)


Tel. 08456 123 999 Website: www.ecmk.co.uk

The Energy Link

Tel. 0845 680 8125 Website: www.theenergylink.co.uk DEA level 3 (Domestic Energy Assessor)

The Energy Trainers

Tel. 0800 043 4350 Website: www.theenergytrainers.co.uk