Estate Agency Would be “Lost” Without Forecasts Powered by FUTRLI & Xero

Posted on 4th May 2017 in Customer Stories

Written by Freya Hughes

Kent-based estate agents, Laing Bennett, started their business adventure up against hard times. Mid-recession, the partners built the business up from the ground. So, eight years on, we caught up with Operations Director and Owner, Ian Laing-Bennett, to see how the agency has developed over time. Thanks to innovative cloud-based technology, the business owners have really dug into their figures and been able to expand their business, no longer making decisions about growth in the dark.

Tell us a bit about how Laing Bennett got started

We are an independent estate and lettings agents based in east Kent. My husband and I bought the estate agents in the village that he grew up in. We’ve got two offices and we’ve been in business about eight years. It’s a family business, so it’s myself, my husband and my husband’s brother – we’re all partners in the business. My husband, Bill, is the sales guy, he’s out there leading the sales team. His brother Rob manages all the lettings and I’m the person in the background making it all work! I do all the financial sides of the business. The opportunity to buy the business came up so we jumped on it. We set it up in 2009 – right at the bottom of the housing market – so if you can make it work then, you can make it work whenever!

How did you operate before you found FUTRLI?

We used Sage because that’s what our accountants used. I discovered Xero about two years ago and we migrated across and never looked back. FUTRLI is helping us look at different ways that we can do things: when we can hire staff, what effect does that staff have on the bottom line, etc. It’s definitely saved us money because we can now look at our budgets in a more in-depth way. We can see where we need to make savings, if we renegotiate with one of our suppliers, we can pump that straight into a scenario and we know straight away what the result is going to be. FUTRLI takes looking at our budget to the next level. It’s helped us an incredible amount to keep our cash flow under control and monitoring where we are. We are very, very impressed with what we do on FUTRLI.

How has FUTRLI helped you expand your business?

Growth has been good – lettings has been growing incredibly well over the last few years. We’re the market leader in one of our offices. We’ve got more competitive and there are a lot of things going on in the industry like online agents. We always think that using technology and keeping one step ahead is always the way forward in what we do. Moving to Xero and the products that integrate with it, like FUTRLI, is the way forward in making sure we’re as up to date in our financial position as possible.

Do you use any other Xero Add Ons to streamline your day?

The only other add on that we have is Zapier, which automates a lot of our processes. Many of our invoices are automated so our staff can add information to our internal system and then they will then draw up invoices and whatever else automatically. And you avoid the bottleneck so we know our data is accurate.

We switched our lettings processes to an online platform as well, which is a new one called Payprop – it’s unique in the fact that when you log into it you are actually logged into the bank. Their software is linked to NatWest so when tenants pay their rent in, it automatically reconciles it and does all the calculations, then it sends the money straight out to the landlord that same day. It’s a very powerful product. For our backend lettings admin, it’s taken a job that takes a few hours and condensed it to minutes.

How are you using FUTRLI day to day?

The original Laing Bennett office in Lyminge

We’ve got our end of year meeting next week where we review the financial year and look forward and I’ll be using data from FUTRLI. It’s certainly something we’re looking to push out to our team, as we’re very transparent with our target data, not limited to financial data. We need to know how many viewings are booked in, properties we need to take on each month and all of that data is available for everyone, so everyone’s heading in the same direction. We haven’t approached that with more complex data just yet.

Looking at the actual data compared to a scenario is the top feature for us. At any point I can see how we’re doing in the month compared to how we should be doing and now we’re getting in the habit.

In estate agency, we only get paid if the property sells so we have to get our crystal ball out and look at when contracts will exchange, so we use scenario planning. For this reason, FUTRLI is a very powerful tool for us.

We also use FUTRLI to split everything between the three departments – two sales, one lettings – so everything is split three ways for income, costs, etc. This allows us to split them up very quickly and see where the income, the profit, the expenses are happening across those three departments. It’s one file with tracking, but it all comes through via the tracking codes.

We’ve just gone through a recruitment round, so it was nice to be able to create a new scenario for when we had two candidates that we liked: one with experience and one without. It was nice to build the scenarios about salaries etc how that could work. It definitely helped inform our decision – it wasn’t the main deciding point but it helped. We could see if we went with the experienced person we could see if we could afford them and what that would do over a period of time. It’s brilliant.

Do you have any advice for business owners?

Get on Xero as quickly as possible! The functionality is amazing, but the cost is even more of a draw! We were paying for Sage instant accounts and we had Sage payroll. Back then they weren’t web-based so I could only use them on one computer and the updates were astronomical. Xero has enhanced our business and saved me money at the same time, therefore allowing us to spend more money on other products that can help run the business and make sure we’re healthy.

Where Xero ends, FUTRLI starts. FUTRLI is providing the ability to look at your Xero data in a far more informative way. You can do cancellations, non-financial data that you can bring in – which again makes your Xero data work harder for you, therefore make better decisions as a business person.

I’d feel a bit lost without it I think. It would be like having to make a decision in the dark about certain things.

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