A new report by the residential property team of a legal firm has found widespread criticism of online agents’ over their alleged failure to offer serious sales progression help to their customers.
The report is by Scott Garner, head of business development for Rix & Kay, a law firm with bases in Sussex and Kent.
For his investigation - which has culminated in what Rix & Kay calls “a thought leadership report” - Garner and members of the company’s property team have spoken with 16 agents who between them operate 127 offices across the south east.
All the interviewees were owners, partners or senior managers.
The purpose of each interview was to uncover common themes and challenges that traditional agents were facing, particularly given the rise of onliners challenging the traditional model.
The most significant issue of all concerned sales progression - or, more precisely, the belief that online agencies did little or nothing in this regard.
Here is an extract from the report:
“All the interviewees gave numerous examples of poor sales progression. Invariably, all the examples centred around not being able to speak directly with other agents in the chain to establish relevant facts or to resolve issues.
“Many of the people we spoke to accepted that there was little point pursuing an online agent to resolve an issue. This lack of communication also served to foster an environment of distrust between all the parties concerned including the buyers and the sellers.
“Other examples ranged from online agents simply giving the wrong advice, to failing to identify and deal with obvious issues from an early stage that meant the sale was always going to be in danger of collapsing from the start.
“One agent commented that it felt like online advisors were reading from a script and that it was a typical call centre operation.
“One agent said that they were always concerned if there was an online agent in a chain, not only because it was more likely to collapse but because it meant they had to do more work on behalf of other sellers, who weren’t even their clients. One agent remarked that it seemed as if this was a deliberate tactic employed by online agents.”
The report says amongst the traditional agents “there is still strong sentiment attached to the long tradition of estate agents charging clients upon sale completion, with a sense of moral conscience that is preventing them from moving away from their traditional model. However most recognise that something probably has to change.”
The report also identifies six other issues that emerged from the discussions with traditional agents - and they were by no means uncritical of the existing conventional business model for high street operators.
The other issues identified were:
Differentiation – “The public have little awareness of how critical sales progression support is and that, without it, any transaction is more likely to collapse. Traditional estate agents need to do far more to differentiate their services from alternative online providers or risk being selected based on cost alone.”
Alternative business models – “Rising costs mean traditional estate agents need to consider alternative business models if they want to remain profitable and sustainable.”
Better regulation – “Traditional estate agents are calling for better regulation to improve service quality and to improve the reputation and credibility of the industry. This is seen as fundamental to improving the home buying and selling process.”
Changing needs of clients – “Traditional estate agents need to adapt to the changing needs of clients driven by the advance of mobile technology and innovation.”
Embracing technology – “Traditional estate agents need to embrace new technology to improve their services. They can learn from alternative online providers in this regard.”
Lettings fee ban – “Traditional estate agents urgently need to consider the impact of any proposed lettings fee ban on the sustainability and profitability of their business.”
The 16 agencies taking part in the exercise with Rix & Kay were David Jordan, Freeman Forman, Hamptons International, Home & Castle Estate Agents, Ibbett Mosely, John Hoole Estate Agents, Lambert Foster, LeGrys Independent Estate Agents, Michael Brooker Estate Agents, Newberry Tully, Premier Lets and Sales, Rowland Gorringe, Sawyer & Co., Stanfords, Whitlock and Heaps, and Wood & Pilcher.
More details of the report and how to get hold of a full copy can be found here.