The importance of the phone in modern estate agencies
Building solid relationships with buyers, sellers, landlords, and tenants has always been a crucial part of a successful Estate Agent's repertoire. While most will use various communication methods, talking to someone is still arguably the best way to build trust quickly. Indeed, it's true that some 50% of people look for properties using email alerts (it's 60% in London), and social media is increasingly popular too, phone communication remains central to the moving process, particularly during the final stages of a transaction where urgency and often skilled negotiation is needed. However, with agents often out on viewings, in the car, between offices, not to mention potentially working from home, it can be difficult for people to track them down, and it's even harder for agency owners to ensure that calls are being handled effectively and efficiently.
The trouble with traditional phone systems
Chances are, if you're an established Estate Agent, you'll be using a phone system of some description alongside mobile phones for when you and your team are out and about. Now, firstly, let's point out that this isn't a terrible set-up, and before cloud VoIP became more reliable and prominent, it's the kind of thing we would recommend and install for our clients. However, there are some downsides to having in effect two types of phone service in play which you might relate to:
- It's costly; you're paying for a phone system and the associated lines in the office that are only used a fraction of the time.
- Everyone in the business is operating two direct numbers, one tied to the phone system and the other, their mobile device. That means maintaining two voicemail boxes and a higher probability of missed calls.
- Calls to agents mobiles can't easily be monitored for training purposes, but equally for dispute resolution.
- Your phone system is tied to the office where the ISDN line is installed, meaning that when you need to work from home, the options are somewhat limited.
These are just a few examples we can think of, but we're sure that there will be more frustrations you have with your business communications that can be linked backed to an inflexible office phone system and mobile phones here there and everywhere.
How cloud-hosted VoIP phone systems work
OK, so we've outlined why phones will continue to be a vital part of an Estate Agent's armoury into the future and some of the failings of traditional phone systems. Let's now explain how VoIP works for a typical Estate Agent.
What is VoIP, and how does it work?
If you'd like to get into the nitty-gritty of how this technology works, please read another of our guides titled "What is VoIP?" where we explain how it works. Here, we will give you a quick round-up of what we think you need to know as an Estate Agency owner.
What is VoIP?
VoIP is an acronym for "voice over internet protocol", which is the technical way of saying phone calls made over the internet. We've all used VoIP in one-way, shape or form, be that calls via WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom or Teams; it's the underlying technology that allows for telephone calls to take place over the internet.
It's important to point out that when we refer to VoIP phone systems, we mean cloud-hosted telephone systems, not one that's installed in your office. While you can purchase the equipment to run you a VoIP system from your office or even from your own data centre, it's usually not as cost-effective and somewhat negates some of the core benefits of subscribing to a hosted service.
How does VoIP work for estate agents?
A cloud-hosted phone system, as the name suggests, isn't installed in your office; it's located in multiple internet-connected data centres around the UK and, in some cases, internationally too. These VoIP phone systems are built with a few things in mind:
- Scalability - they often support thousands of businesses and sometimes millions of end-users
- Reliability - the best business VoIP providers, invest massively in making their platforms resilient and fault-tolerant.
- Extensive features - it's a competitive market, with many companies vying for your business, which means these systems are regularly updated and improved.
For you as a business, that means that you get all the benefits of a hugely reliable, feature-rich system for a relatively inexpensive monthly fee.
The following diagram shows that VoIP phones work by converting voice waves into bits and bytes before sending them across the internet rather than traditional telephone system networks. Where it gets clever for estate agents is that now that your phone system is in the cloud, you're no longer tied to a physical landline in the office. You and your team can take business calls from anywhere you have an internet connection. From a callers perspective, they won't know where you are in the world; they'll always call the same phone number, be that a geographic one starting with something like 0207. or a non-geographic number like 0845, but you will have the freedom to take the call on your mobile or laptop using an app, or using a traditional desk phone if you so wish. As we will go onto explain in the next section of this guide, we think the most significant benefit to estate agents in moving to VoIP is that you remove the need for agents to share both an office number and a mobile number; everyone has one business number, how and where they answer it is up to them.
Benefits of VoIP for Estate Agents
Hopefully, by now, you've got a good understanding of how VoIP phone systems work, so let's now focus on the vast number of benefits switching to VoIP can yield.
1. Work from anywhere
Ok, so as we know, your team is likely already working from almost anywhere, but how they are doing it is probably not optimal. With a VoIP phone system, they need only give out one telephone number, they have one professional voicemail to maintain, and they'll have access to the whole suite of features that a business phone system brings, wherever they are. If they need a quick conference call or transfer a call back to the office, they can. By using a VoIP phone system, rather than a traditional one with mobile services when out and about, you start moving towards what is called Unified Communications (UC) and simplifying your business communications.
2. Improve customer experience
Estate agents are the first point of contact for potential buyers, and therefore they must be easy to contact. No one likes being given the runaround, and in the 21st century, calling the office to be told to call their mobile to get then a voicemail which they may or may not pick up, isn't good enough. A phone system configured well for estate agents will simplify internal communications and external and significantly improve the caller experience. Voicemails are sent to agents via email; missed calls are diverted back to the office, and customer service improves.
Importantly, when you come to set up your VoIP phone system, make sure you choose a provider that will do more than merely provide you with a platform. To get the most from it, thought needs to be given about how it's configured and therefore working with a provider with experience is invaluable.
3. Get callers to their destination quickly
An auto-attendant is a menu system designed to route phone calls to their destination faster; think of it as a virtual receptionist. Most real estate agents in the UK operate at least two departments, sales and lettings, but the bigger you get, the more sites and departments you'll likely have. An auto-attendant is an efficient way to get callers to their destination quickly, and they often have multiple menu levels depending on the structure of your business; for example, for a multi-site estate agent, you might set up the following:
- Press 1 for our London office
- Press 1 for sales
- Press 2 for lettings
- Or to switch office press 3
- Press 2 for our Birmingham office
- Press 1 for sales
- Press 2 for lettings
- Or to switch office press 3
- Or for everything else, please press 3
The great thing about this type of menu system is that both the caller and the business benefit. The caller gets where they need to go faster, and the business reduces the time employees spend picking up phones that aren't for them.
4. Minimal call charges
VoIP systems typically come with generous free call bundles included as standard. Our two favoured solutions, Horizon and 3CX, each come with thousands of free domestic call minutes per user per month!
5. Call Recording
While it might not spring immediately to mind, an increasing number of our estate agency clients are opting to record their telephone calls. VoIP systems with Call Recording help protect you and your team from disputes, disagreements, and verbal abuse. The brilliant thing about VoIP with call recording is that regardless of the agent's device for the call, it can be recorded if you so wish. For all parties on the call, knowing that it is being recorded helps to maintain professionalism and politeness. That said, if things do escalate, or what one of your agents has supposedly said is the bone of contention, having recorded calls allows you to go back and find out precisely what was said. While your team may not provide formal financial advice, estate agents are often dealing with high-value transactions over the phone, and being able to go back and listen to what was or wasn't agreed on a call can be vital in the future to resolve disputes. Finally, you allow yourself to monitor and train your team; after all, even if they take a call on their mobiles, they're representing your business.
6. Integration with Microsoft Outlook and CRMs
Most of the best cloud VoIP services will integrate with popular applications you're likely already using. For example, two of our preferred systems (Horizon and 3CX) integrate with Microsoft Teams and Outlook, not to mention CRMs such as Salesforce and Hubspot and Estate Agency Management Systems like Reapit and Dezrez. By combining your business phone system with your other core business applications, you'll improve workflows and efficiency, ultimately providing better customer service and increasing profits.
7. Multi-office support
Perhaps one of the most significant benefits of a Cloud VoIP system is the ease of supporting multiple offices. Whereas in the past, you may have had separate phone systems, numerous ISDN lines and all of the costs that go along with them, cloud phone systems for estate agents are shared between offices. While you may have multiple sites in the same city or even a national network of branches, you'll all be sharing the same phone system. Calls between offices are effectively internal calls, so it's easy to transfer calls between sites and users. You could have an agent in your head office talking to a client, and they want to bring someone in a different location into the call; with cloud VoIP, it's straightforward.
Another example is using the ability to automatically route calls to ensure that when people aren't around or an office is closed, the call is diverted to someone that can take the call.
Again, we need to point out that to get the most from your business phone system, you must work with a provider that has experience in your industry, else you might miss out on some of the more subtle benefits of VoIP.
While strictly speaking, the feature is called "Music-on-Hold", the ability to pre-record and play messages to people while they wait is a great way to market and sell to them. It could be that while people wait to speak to your sales team, you play a message outlining the benefits of working with your company. That caller is then primed when they come through to the agent, already knowing the best bits about your agency. Equally, it could be that you have an immense listing that you want to promote; why not play a message telling people about the upcoming open house so that everyone that calls your business knows about it! The possibilities in this respect are endless, and I'm sure you'll have more and better ideas of how you can use the Music-on-hold feature. It is an important factor in choosing a platform that makes it easy to record and upload your custom marketing messages.
9. No maintenance costs
As you're paying for a service rather than buying and hosting equipment, there are no maintenance fees to pay. All you'll need is active internet connections, and any one of the following to make and receive phone calls:
- Traditional desk phones
- Computer softphone s
- Mobile apps
10. Choice of numbers
A virtual phone system (yet another name for a VoIP system) allows you to have phone numbers anywhere in the UK and worldwide. If you decide to open an office in a new town, you can contact us, tell us the dialling code you need and within a few minutes and for often free, we can assign a number to your account. This is massively powerful, again reiterating that you don't need landlines in your small business anymore; you can get virtual ones for literal pennies at the click of a few buttons. Of course, you will likely have at least one existing telephone number, so be sure when reviewing systems to check that you can bring yours with you, otherwise known as "phone number porting".
Finally, you may or may not know that BT is turning off its ISDN and PSTN networks in 2025, so all businesses will need to move to VoIP in one-way shape or form before then if they want to keep their landline numbers.
Choosing the VoIP phone system for your estate agency
It would be fair to say that the market is somewhat swamped with VoIP services, you may see that as a good thing, you're spoilt for choice, or you may, on the other hand, be somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer volume of marketing noise out there. This is where we come in. With over 25 years of experience in telecoms, we have direct access to the best business phone systems on the market. As an independent provider, we aren't tied to a single solution, meaning that our team can recommend the platform they think is best for your business. Best of all, because of the volume of business, we place through these providers, you'll often get the same or even better pricing by coming through us.
You get free, independent advice from experts, great pricing and access to the best systems on the market what's not to love!
Frequently asked questions
What is the best phone system for small businesses in 2022?
As an independent telecoms provider with over 25 years of experience, we found that the following phone systems are currently the best for small businesses:
- Microsoft Teams
When is ISDN being switched off in the UK?
BT have announced that they will switch off their ISDN network in 2025, so all businesses will need to move to VoIP before then if they want to keep a landline number.
Can VoIP systems integrate with estate agency software?
Yes, the best cloud-VoIP systems will integrate with most CRMs and Estate Agency Management Software. Please consult your VoIP provider for a specific list of integrations.