The main debate at this year’s FUTURE: PropTech conference - the industry’s leading technology forum, held yesterday in London - saw Rightmove chief Miles Shipside give his personal critique of traditional, online and various hybrid etate agency models.
Shipside was chairing the debate, which included many of the industry’s leading digital practitioners including Glenn Ackroyd of EweMove, Russell Quirk of eMoov, Adam Day of Hatched, Eyal Marlinger of Countrywide, prominent trainer Iain White, Trevor Mealham of the Independent Network of Estate Agents and Kristjan Byfield of Base Property.
Shipside - a rare attendee of such events - began by saying the fee-led model which has come to typify many online agencies has a risk, even for onliners: that is, there is likely to always be someone who will offer a service that's even cheaper. His view was that it was now apparent that more online and hybrid agents have started to ‘bolt on’ other services in order to monetise their offerings further.
In contrast to that Shipside spoke of traditional full-service agents, many of which were today extolling the same selling points they promoted in the 1980s - ‘proven track record’, ‘professional photography’, ‘free valuations’ and ‘accompanied viewings’ for example.
He told the event at CodeNode in the City that while it may be easier for agents to explain full service face-to-face - thus requiring offices and personal meetings - it may be a more difficult service to describe in marketing terms, compared to the ‘simple message’ of the price-led model espoused by many online and hybrid agencies.
Shipside concluded the debate by saying that before technology transforms the buying and selling process completely, it remains ‘quality of service’ that is to the fore - and that is the case whether it’s a hybrid agency like Purplebricks (with local property experts) or traditional high street agents with long-established physical branch offices and a local 'presence'.
Other strands of the discussion included a suggestion by eMoov’s Russell Quirk that because there is now so much property- and market-related information available online to consumers, valuations have in fact become ‘validations’ - an apparent expert confirming what the vendor has already worked out for themselves (or believe they have).
Quirk also said that Purplebricks demonstrated that high intensity marketing works; because that agency had raised around £52m in funding it was relatively easy for them to spend £1m on TV advertising and quickly create a recognisable brand.
Adam Day of Hatched said although his firm “generally offers a full service” vendors who pay up front for a more basic package know they’re paying for a “marketing service” of getting exposure for their home on Rightmove and Zoopla at the cost of £50 to £60 a month - which he believed sounded like a good deal to most vendors.
Kristjan Byfield of Base Property Specialists told delegates that the online model was effectively “a different market sector” which did not threaten his business or share - his firm’s unique selling point would continue to be going ‘above and beyond’ for clients.
Former Countrywide manager and now estate agency trainer Iain White added that regardless of the model, consumers would always make a judgement on the basis of what is offered, what is delivered and how well it is done.
“Some people go to Butlins, some people go to the Bahamas –it’s just the way it is” he said, before adding that in his opinion the recent proliferation of online agents had come about through what he called “disproportionate spending” which may see some investors and venture capitalists walking away from their online services if returns were unimpressive.
Rightmove’s Miles Shipside presented the audience with statistics suggesting that the market share of national online estate agents - those without a shop front - had risen from some 2.5 per cent in early 2014 to 5.0 per cent now.
The portal had also surveyed many thousands of homemovers - many of which were recent sellers - and discovered that no fewer than 31 per cent would be prepared to use an online agent, while five per cent already had.
(Reporting by Conor Shilling of Angels Media).