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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

Agency explains why it's scrapping the traditional High Street office

A small estate agency is spelling out why it has taken the unusual step of scrapping its established High Street office yet has not adopted a purely online-only model. 

Nick Beach, owner of Hull-based Vogue Estate Agents, says until January this year his firm occupied traditional-style High Street premises. However, this began to appear bad for his firm’s bottom line. 

“We reviewed our operation and looked into the number of people who physically came to our shop to buy. The answer was pretty revealing – just one person had bought this way in the past few months. The majority of our customers identified properties of interest online and then met us at the property for a viewing rather than coming to the agency” says Beach.

But he says rather than become online-only, and recognising that “buyers still like to meet those who are responsible for the sale” he has moved into what he calls a “flexible workspace” which he uses for face-to-face discussions.

Although this is the experience of only one single-branch agency, it comes at a time when large established corporates including Countrywide, Connells and Savills are also exploring alternative models for mainstream housing market activities.

“The move away from the High Street to a more flexible workspace has enabled us to save money and work smarter. We’re saving around £15,000 per year and we are re-investing this saving into the business - increasing our marketing and generally raising awareness of the brand” says Beach.

“Because our overheads are lower we can operate with a much more streamlined portfolio of properties, giving each buyer and seller the level of care and attention that they should expect when dealing with such a big lifestyle decision” he says.

  • Simon Shinerock

    High street offices are not in and of themselves a significant extra cost, in some areas they are no more expensive than an office. However, being on show makes you feel obliged to be there all the time, otherwise the shop looks deserted. However if you look at a Foxtons office, all you see is a receptionist in what looks like a swish coffee bar and the hint of an empty call centre. With some areas banning boards and newspapers and leaflets losing effectiveness, a visible local office is becoming more important as a means of connecting with the local community, they just have to be looked at differently than before.

  • Mark Treagust

    I agree with Simon in that cost is not necessarily the issue here - if the money is spent wisely a decent office can have many benefits that enhance a business and it's growth.

    I have recently done the complete opposite with my company. I started a local non-high street, full service agency just over 3 years ago and built the company naturally offering a transparent fee structure along with a decent team offering good service, and quickly became the leading agent in my town without the 'need' for a high street premises. As the team grew, we moved from my home office to a non high street office, which was a converted farm building on a mini trading estate 1 mile out of town, which worked exactly the same as a standard agency, just without the window, so buyers and sellers could visit us when they liked without an appointment etc. The issue in my town was the availability of high street premises so when one become available it felt like the right thing to do... not to enable us to sell our clients homes more effectively, but to create a permanent base for the business, market our brand, create a nice environment for the staff to work in, and of course attract more sellers. We have taken the opportunity to start from scratch and create an office that not only assists with marketing our clients homes, but promotes the area in which we operate, our commitment to this area, whilst at the same time being almost a show piece for our brand demonstrating quality and attention to detail.

    I still firmly believe that a picture in a window doesn't sell a house these days, but since opening the high street office in April, I have advertised the company on and offline, and to date, the buzz surrounding the new office has generated more market appraisal leads/general enquiries than any of the other forms of advertising.

    I note with interest that Vogue are with OntheMarket and Zoopla. Does this mean that they will no longer be able to list with OTM (as now non high street), and may have to go back to Rightmove to ensure that their clients receive sufficient exposure to reach buyers, especially now with no high street premises therefore possibly incurring extra costs?

  • Terence Dicks

    The only valid reason to have a high street presence is to advertise your company, to give it a form of solidity and respectability. I know that properties are rarely sold this way, but it does still happen. It also gives buyers and sellers comfort knowing where they can find you should they need to. Our office is like a drop-in centre some days, with landlords, vendors and investors all having coffee with us, which gains us business from referrals because we are friends also. It enables them to know us (and us to know them) better. Purely online agents will never achieve this, and this is why they will never have a large market share. Rightmove are now trialling a virtual tour platform, so the "customer never need to leave their home". They still do not get what selling property is about. Buyers want to actually see the property they are thinking of purchasing, to get a feel for the property and the area it sits in. I applaud Mark for taking up a high street premises, as it will surely assist him in making a further success of his business. I wish you well Mark.

  • Mark Treagust

    Thanks Terence. Agree with all of the above. We all know that you can't sell them if you haven't got them!

  • Jon James

    My one office company has maintained a high street presense for 40 or so years and the foot flow is as busy as ever. Its a great environment for my team to work from and gives buyers and sellers a point of contact. Our job remains a person to person contact job. You will never replace viewing a property online with a physical visit and to my view not replace the customer experience at the front end of sitting with a helpful agent, who can properly help you find a property. I say front end as there are so many other reasons for face to face contact. From vendor meetings, potential new customers to experience you personally, surveyors, sale progression, problems on survery and on top of that letting, which is very hands on and a prominent office remains vital. In our town one of the online franchises that has been going for a few years has just loudly trumpeted the opening of their new office after previously spouting that they were unnessessary. These are supposedly changing times but my experience is that we are still doing the same job with better tools and thats a benefit to the public. The internet is a glorified newspaper and will not replace skilled staff in good offices, regardless of what name is over the door. Good luck everyone whatever route you choose, just dont feel like you have to rip everything apart.

  • icon

    Saving 15k a year ..... or £1,250 a month.

    So the chap that has walked past your office last few years thinking of moving now will forget about you. Thats 2k lost. The chap that wanted to buy that property with a property to sell another 2k lost.

    The fact other agents over the year will use this against you say lose circa 10 instruction another 20k lost.

    The fact your sellers will not call you out as they feel comfortable with a high street presence another 10. Another 20k

    So just looking at the quick figures you may save 15k but just lost 44k

    Stepping over pennies to pick up pounds.

    Either not a very bright owner or he actually has not stock and is a poorly run business, either way he should not run a business.

    *I do not know the average commission in Hull but guessing at 2k increase or decrease as you see fit

  • icon

    We opened our first office 4 weeks ago, and successfully sold a £1.3m (1.5%) property to a walk in buyer and the property hadn't even hit the market yet! - This might be lucky but the buyer would not have found the gem otherwise.
    We are getting a steady foot flow through the door and have taken on more listings. The office enables us to work smarter not harder: we do not have to deliver keys, we can ask vendors to come in and proof-read their brochure, sign off documents rather than posting it and waiting.

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