Countrywide is to offer vendors and buyers a choice of using an online service, a traditional high street branch or a mix of the two in a pilot project involving three brands.
Spencers in the Leicestershire and Rutland area, Austin & Wyatt in Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire, and Frank Innes across the East Midlands are the chosen brands.
"Customers ... will be able to select the level of advice and support that best meets their individual needs, in what will be a leap forward for the industry" says a statement from Countrywide, released this morning.
It says most customers are expected to continue to draw heavily on the expertise provided by traditional local teams but "the new online service will allow others to take greater control over their own sale for a fixed price."
The trial will involve experiments with upfront pricing - no details have yet been released.
Countrywide says that even those customers who choose online will be able to "switch to a full level of support, without losing a single penny" suggesting that the online fee can be set against the higher cost traditional service if that is used later in the same transaction.
The statement also claims this extension of Countrywide's services has been facilitated by "the most comprehensive training programme the company has ever created."
The group says even online customers will receive an in-person valuation, setting its service apart from many online-only offers. “Thereafter the online service is available for customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, allowing sellers to manage viewings and availability, see how well their property is performing online, and receive, negotiate, accept or reject offers. It will also give buyers the opportunity to book viewings, leave property feedback, make and negotiate offers."
The initiative "recognises that people’s needs and expectations when selling and buying a home are changing" according to Alison Platt, group chief executive.
Platt says the move builds on the roll-out of tablet technology called Launchpad, which enables agents to capture client details, monitor compliance and allows the creation of key documents from contracts to brochures and floor plans as well as portal uploads.
Since taking command of Countrywide in September 2014 Platt has started a transformation of the group, which remains Britain's largest estate and letting agency. It sold £19 billion worth of property in 2015 alone. She has engineered a restructuring of the group around four main business units - Retail, London, B2B and Financial Services.