One of the burning questions in the property market is whether the new ‘online’ models are a passing fancy, or a fundamental disruptor to an industry which has seen little major change in the last 10 years. Marcus Whewell, CEO of The Guild of Professional Estate Agents, discusses what impact they will have on the estate agency industry.
Whisper it quietly, but my provocation is that this is only a sideshow; the future battle for the hearts and minds of estate agency will be over the customer experience, not technology or cost. The former is only a means to an end, and the latter is what marketers resort to when they have no significant points of differentiation.
Agents are paid to sell houses / let properties, not to market them; in truth, many people now believe that the major portals can deliver the latter just fine on their own.
There is, in general, a broad lack of understanding of what agents really do. Add to this a fragmented market which often publishes inconsistent and confusing data, plus a shortage of residential stock, and it is no surprise that vendors and landlords expect more for less. But employing a so-called professional (however technically advanced) to fail to sell your property is not a sustainable or compelling proposition.
So the real revolution may not be ‘online’ (almost every so-called agent is already in this space), but great marketing and consistent delivery of high levels of service. Because real differentiators are hard to find, agents have almost halved their (percentage) commission rates in the last decade, yet the biggest opportunity of all may be right in front of us.
Great service is not just convenient opening hours and polite and timely communications (although there is also work to do here); true professionals provide local, timely and appropriate advice throughout the transactions process to help secure a better result than would have been achieved otherwise. This can’t be aggregated and distilled, but needs local expertise and commitment. However, harness this to useful and clever technology (such as 24/7 online booking of appointments), and we may have a change of gear.
Some agencies seem to have taken this to heart, and are attempting to transform themselves by adopting a large retailer approach. Unfortunately, supermarkets have never proven to be good estate agents.
The smart money will focus on customer engagement, positive relationships, and consistent achievement; the other end of the service scale (minimum fees, irregular contact, and constant disappointment) will become the graveyard for the resistant, stubborn, sickly and obsolescent.