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  • 11 questions we ask every agent: The Accommodation Bureau

    Sam Whitehead is Office Manager at The Accommodation Bureau, a lettings agency in Cornwall that’s used Alto’s property CRM platform since 2020. 

    He speaks about the advantages of cloud-based software and how the Alto Marketplace prop tech integrations are delivering benefits for the business and its landlord customers. 

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

    We’re an independent lettings agent covering most of Cornwall, with offices in Bodmin and Pool.

    We’ve got a total team of ten, looking after 600 properties. When the current directors bought the business in 2004 it only had 50 properties under management – it’s grown considerably over the last 19 years. 

    How and why did you get into estate agency?

    My mum and stepdad are the owners and directors. I grew up around the dining table hearing all their stories but I never thought I’d go into it myself. 

    I went to university and when I graduated I didn’t really know what to do next. I worked here over the summer to see if I liked it and ten years later, I’m still here. 

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

    Definitely the number of lettings enquiries we get from potential tenants. 

    It’s been crazy for the last three years. Cornwall is a popular place for people to move so we’re always very busy and the challenge is getting enough properties on board to grow our portfolio.

    How long have you been using estate agent software? How has it changed the way you run your agency?

    We’ve always used software but we switched to Alto in 2020. 

    The big thing is that it’s improved our audit trails. We can see what tasks have been done in a workflow, when and by who. 

    Our old CRM didn’t have this so we were ticking boxes on a paper trail. Now it’s all logged in one system and everybody can see it – even when there are three or four involved with the same property. 

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

    Our old CRM needed a server and every time our internet dropped out, the system went down. 

    With Alto you can log in from any computer in the world and use it. It’s incredible, I wish we had switched sooner.

    Did you and your team have many concerns about changing software? Did you use the Alto training?

    There was some hesitation from the directors because they had used the same CRM since they bought the business back in 2004. We had members of staff that had used it for 10 years or more too. 

    It was a daunting prospect but I knew we had to change because our old system wasn’t being updated. We went for short-term pain for a long-term gain. 

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

    If there was any criticism of Alto when we switched, it was the lack of prop tech integrations. 

    But in the last 12 months they’ve really focused on it and transformed the amount of prop tech integrations available to us. I’m excited to see what else is coming in Alto Marketplace.

    We use the Vouch referencing integration, which means we no longer have to manually copy and paste details from Alto to Vouch. Instead, we press one button and it takes less than ten seconds – it takes less time and it removes the possibility for error. 

    What’s your favourite Alto feature?  

    I deal with accounts in the business and I love the whole accounts package. It’s so easy and user-friendly compared to what I’ve used previously. 

    We’ve got well over 300 landlord clients and I can pay them all within a morning. Before, that process would’ve taken a whole day, sometimes even two.    

    How do you think the market will change over the next 12 months? And how do you think having the right property software will play a part in that?

    I don’t see the demand from tenants dropping. There will still be a shortage of properties and that will see rents pushed up slightly. 

    The challenge in our business will be to find new properties to manage. That’s our number one goal for the next 12 months. 

    What tips would you give to another agent looking to move software?

    By all means listen to other agents but make sure you do your own research too – and don’t just get one demo, get four or five. It’s time consuming but it’s worth it. 

    Each business is different – a CRM that works for one company could be a disaster for another. 

    If you had your time again, would you move to Alto knowing what was involved?

    I would 100% choose Alto again. 

    The rate at which they’ve improved the product seems to have really picked up in the last year. They’re introducing more features, new integrations, and it’s all good news for our business. 

    Choose a letting agent software solution that’s right for your business. Book a chat with one of our Alto experts today.

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