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How to ensure noisy neighbours remain just that!

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Estate Agency is no stranger to coming under the microscope from all quarters! The media fan the flames and the consumers jump on the bandwagon! I can’t say I entirely blame them! Estate Agency has been its own worst enemy for years, with its image of gelled hair, slick suited wide boy salesmen with a smug sense of their own self importance. I have spent my entire working life in residential estate agency and dare say worked with a few of the type described! But thankfully those days are behind us.

People are the one constant in this industry

Technology has clearly played a massive part in this with new innovations, especially in the last 10 years or so coming thick and fast and as a result the way we conduct agency in the UK has changed too – not just in terms of technology but because people and their expectations have changed and “people” are the one constant in this industry.

Research at the end of 2013 showed the average age of homebuyers was now almost 35. Again it is safe to assume the vast majority of this demographic are “tech savvy” yet it is fair to say that many in our industry have had to be dragged to the party kicking and screaming! They hardly adapted their business models from what has worked historically – forget optimised landing pages, responsive websites or the use of social media platforms, however few agents will look at you with a straight face and say the industry doesn’t need to do a better job!

One fundamental flaw in the online business model and it is a huge one

So where does this leave traditional high street agent’s? Are they about to go the way of the proverbial dodo? And be replaced en masse by online agents? The answer is a resounding no! Online agency has been on the property landscape for a lot longer than some would have you believe and let’s be honest they haven’t exactly been a game changer. Don’t get me wrong, we should not under estimate the challenge- some online agents are using technology very well and there is no doubt there is a niche in the market for them, which will grow if high street agents do not wake up and smell the coffee. However there is one fundamental flaw in the online business model and it is a huge one.

A home is simply not like any other commodity you can buy and sell over the internet.

Estate agency is about real people and the real journeys they take

A computer algorithm does not know if those kitchen work tops were fitted correctly, what is underneath that newly fitted carpet or that the third bedroom used to be a garage! It most likely doesn’t know the motivations of the seller, upcoming planning applications in the area that may affect future values and saleability and it certainly cannot negotiate or feel a client’s pain or anguish! Good high street agents have built up an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of their patch- the people and I am afraid you can’t simply just Google this wealth of knowledge.

Estate agency is about real people and the real journey’s they take when buying and selling a property. Each transaction has its own story. When negotiations become fraught or difficult- agents can be the much needed independent, cool head to prevent emotion taking over which can easily result in a deal collapsing.

It is not all about cost – it is about value

Low cost online agents will only ever highlight that by cutting the estate agency commission consumers will see a higher net sum from the transaction- but they fail to mention that savvy buyers may well attempt to seize the opportunity to discount their offer based on this knowledge and the sellers limited negotiation experience.

What irks me more than anything is most of these online/low cost agents don’t seem to realise or more probably care that they a cheapening the image of estate agency, making out anybody can sell a property, it is easy and attempting to devalue the excellent work many agents do.  In the USA and around Europe agents or realtors charge anything from 3% to 7% and are highly respected. It is not all about cost – it is about value and there is a significant difference between the two.

As dedicated property professionals we give our time so clients do not need to give more of their own than is necessary. We are compensated for this service as are millions of professional offering their expertise to clients in thousands of industries and I make no apology for valuing my worth – although it is at a lot lower fee than the online fraternity would like you to believe!

That is good agency in my book

Working with a high street agent exposes clients to far less personal liability, greater security and a saving of time which cannot be quantified financially. Last week we sold a property in less than 24 hours of instruction – it didn’t even reach the internet as we knew a buyer from our own database that would be a perfect fit, rang them, arranged to show them round the following day and received a full asking price offer! That is good agency in my book.

High street agents should be able to look at themselves in the mirror, ask tough questions of their own business model and methods and if we don’t like what we see take steps to rectify the issues. We still have time but the window of opportunity is closing.

Savvy agents will know it is about educating sceptical consumers and being able to demonstrate their value through exceptional personal service, adopting transparent, modern business practices and communicating the differences and benefits in a way that will influence decision makers. Do that and we can ensure that online agents remain nothing more than a minority noisy neighbour.

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