Our regular guest blogger and Property Expert Ed Mead kindly shares his views on the future of Estate Agency and online. As usual it is a great read and as forthright as you would expect. Over to Ed…

“You can buy Neurofen from Boots for £2.50 a packet, or you can buy own brand Ibuprofen for 38p. Is this is a reasonable analogy for selling your home – apart from the fact it’ll give you a headache, probably not.

Main issue is that as of this moment no one is quite sure of the veracity of some of the sales ratio and service claims coming from some new hybrid/online agents. High street agent metrics are more of a matter of record and recent figures coming from third parties would seem to indicate that the new breed’s real figures are about the same as the high street – which is interesting of itself, but for another time.

But that’s not really the point, the public are increasingly realising they have a choice, and if estate agents want to compete they’re going to have to offer a choice as well if they want to get through the door – which is what it’s all about.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last eight months travelling round the country meeting all sorts of agents, big, small, corporate, online, hybrid etc. and you’d be surprised by who’s considering doing what. Lots of well-known names ARE responding and have been looking at new platforms but the vast majority, it seems, are still sitting on the sidelines anonymously denigrating those trying new things.

Deservedly winning the award for the biggest punt, and also on the receiving end of by far the most abuse, has been Countrywide – who unusually have taken a medium term view and have made no apology for learning from Purplebricks and seeking to go one better.

From what I can see their solution gives the public the right choice of old and new.

Essentially the public, by dint of tens of £millions of advertising spend, now know there is an alternative. Most recognise that paying upfront for self-service is not what they want but will countenance something that’s cheap and has a hand holding up-sell from an established local agent if the need arises – as it often does.

I’ve been an agent for a very long time so am aware of the arguments about the high street having a database of buyers and local agents are really the best to assess value etc., but the public doesn’t seem to care. Automated Valuation Models are still crude but win interaction and when getting your foot in the door is the goal, if you aren’t offering a cheap alternative then you may well not even be in the game.

Countrywide were given some stick for ‘cannibalising their own brand” by offering their starter platform alongside their standard  – but they, amongst others, have found that their appraisal numbers are up and that once through the door the vast majority tend to opt for the full service model. Those that don’t have availed themselves of the locally based full service option when they find they can’t handle things and are happy to pay, something that the new generation of onliners perhaps still struggle with.

The ability to offer this tiered approach is what the public wants and if it is proved to be the winning model then those at Countrywide who took the first steps could be seen as visionaries leap frogging the interim tech currently touted as next generation.

If this does prove to be the case then independent agents have a dilemma as the investment necessary to play this game is costly to search out. Luckily though help is at hand and white label off the shelf offerings are available to plug the gap – to my mind agents would do well to investigate.”

 

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