11 questions we ask every agent: Abode Living

Abode Living is built on strong values and offers lettings in and around Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Managing director Margaret Richardson shares the agency’s journey from Jupix to Alto, as well as what to look out for when choosing letting agent software.

Can you tell us a bit about your agency – what areas do you cover and how long have you been operating?

We’ve been in business for 11 years and we’re growing all the time – we’ve just taken over a portfolio of properties. We have one branch, employ six staff and we’re the closest you’ll get to a family-run business without being one. We have strong values and we expect our staff to adhere to them.

We used to do sales but now our USP is being a true lettings specialist. Abode Living is based in Heaton in Newcastle and we cover as far as Hartlepool, up to Northumberland and the Newcastle areas. 

How and why did you get into estate agency?

I worked in a large agency for years, but felt it became challenging do things correctly. I had too many properties to manage successfully and ended up being reactive, not proactive. 

I started here six years ago and I’m now managing director.

What would you say are the three biggest challenges your agency has faced over the past year?

  • Staffing. It’s been a challenge trying to find another member of staff who has the same values as us, which is worth more than experience in my opinion. We have eight core values, one of which is passion. Our company is built on the passion of our staff and it’s tricky finding the right cultural fit. 
  • Stock. The market is still incredibly busy. We get a property, we put it on and it’s gone. Sometimes even without viewings. We have very few properties on the market because we’ve let them all! 
  • Our last challenge is people who don’t know the company. It’s about getting people to recognise a small agency and believe in us. 

How has your agency coped with such a busy property market?

The biggest issue is time. A lot of us are working long hours because we have to keep up with demand. 

People want to move the very next day, which means we need to have contracts and inventories ready. 

Having Alto in place is a big help. We’d streamlined a lot of our admin processes already, but now they’re all on Alto. 

Anyone can see anything within a minute. We can send direct emails, add tenancy agreements and request e-signatures – all without leaving the system. 

How do you see the industry changing in the next few years?

Because of the pandemic and how badly it’s hit a lot of people, we may find some people will be more reluctant to buy. 

No one ever imagined something like this would happen and it’s scared a lot of people, so they may be more likely to rent in the next five to ten years.

How long have you been using letting agent software and how has it changed the way you run your business?

I’ve been using software for the past 30 years. I originally used spreadsheets but I don’t understand how anyone can run an agency today without property management software. I certainly couldn’t run mine without it. 

Any form of software saves so much paperwork.

Image of UK letting agent Margaret Richardson from Abode Living

Margaret Richardson, managing director of Abode Living

How does Alto compare to other letting agent software you’ve used?

We migrated from Jupix to Alto three months ago so it’s early days, but it seems very user friendly. 

I like the way it’s colour coded. Even my lettings negotiator – he’s 62 and hates computers. He was dreading it, but he had the training and now he’s absolutely fine with it. 

He’s asking less questions already!

What’s your favourite Alto feature?

It’s all cloud based so you’re not going to lose anything. I could move abroad and work from home if I wanted to. 

As long as you’ve got wifi, you know everything is safe.  

How was the migration process?

We had a few minor issues with the test data, which you’d expect, but the team soon put them right. They kept in contact constantly and I never felt like I was on my own. 

In fact, the support has been great. If we have a problem or question, the team gets back to us within an hour and sorts it out virtually, immediately.  

What made you choose Alto, and were there any business challenges or problems that encouraged you to make the change?

I’m a member of lots of agent groups and a lot of people mentioned they use Alto and how good it is. 

What would be your top tip for other agents when choosing estate agent software?

Have as many demos as possible. I had the demo for Alto and loved it straight away. 

Build a shortlist, speak to other agents and see what they’re using too. 

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