11 questions we ask every agent: Sparks Ellison

Hampshire-based Mark Ellison, co-founder and director of Sparks Ellison, talked to us about his journey into estate agency, and from VebraLive to Alto.

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

We are a one-office independent covering Chandlers Ford (which lies between Southampton and Winchester). We opened in 2003. 

I run the business along with my business partner and we do the majority of the valuations. We are both still front line,  sitting in the office among the team, so still very hands-on in every aspect of agency.

How and why did you get into estate agency?

In 1993 a friend told me they thought I’d be good at agency after she had spent the day looking at property. I applied to two agencies and got an offer of employment. 

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

  • Coping with the volume of appointments 
  • Dealing with public perceptions and irritations with the market
  • Keeping systems and diaries managed properly

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

We are very fortunate to have a very experienced and driven team of staff. But frankly, heads down and make hay while the sun shines!

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

Very little. As it has done, fundamentally, over the past 30 years and more. It’s just about adapting to the market.

Mark Ellison, co-founder and director of Sparks Ellison

Mark Ellison, co-founder and director of Sparks Ellison

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

Since 2004 – it helps streamline processes and enables easier marketing and contact. And less writing!

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

Basically the same underlying structure but much more updated and flexible

Some parts of software don’t change massively but Alto offers way more options and functionality. And the fact that it’s cloud-based is absolutely imperative in today’s world.

What’s your favourite Alto feature?

Being cloud-based to be honest.  The fact that I can access it 24/7 and wherever I am is great.

How was the VebraLive to Alto migration process?

Moving from VebraLive to Alto, it was generally very smooth. 

Compared to our previous migration, it was straightforward, and the help and support was fantastic. 

I thought the people involved in every step of the process had a clearly defined role and part to play. Ongoing support from James Dolan in particular has been first class.

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

I compared a number of systems, and Alto has what we needed at this time. 

The value for what it provides, I feel, is much better than what I saw as the biggest competitor. I also felt that the migration from VebraLive to Alto was much more likely to be smoother and having heard from colleagues in the business, I knew lots of people had suffered big issues.

I also have to be honest and say that James Dolan was a massive part of us choosing Alto. 

Every question we asked, he knew the answer to and showed us how simple the system was to use and how much it could do.

What would be your top tip for other agents when choosing property management software?

Think very carefully about what it is you are trying to achieve. 

Think about timing and try to do when you know you will have time to learn the system and time to personalise it. Make sure it’s cloud based. Don’t overthink what you need

Agency is a very straightforward business. 

The more you take on the more you sell. Your software is not a replacement for good quality staff or phone calls!

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