It’s all very easy, talking and evangelising about the use of technology in the property market, but, now that I’m selling my own flat, I’ve discovered that it’s something entirely different to be a consumer, trying to make practical use of the myriad PropTech solutions on offer.
I am often discussing the very latest in business models, software, and technology, but now seems like a good time for me to put my money where my mouth is.
I find myself in a position to test my own hypothesis that technology-enabled changes in real estate will save money, time and hassle when trying to sell a property. It would be remiss of me to not practice what I preach.
Allow me to set the scene. My wife and I have a two-bedroom garden flat in Chiswick. We’ve had it for a good while; it’s where we got engaged.
But then we made that age-old (perhaps old-age?) decision of moving away from London in order to start our family. The decision we landed on was that fresh air and open fields would better help us raise and educate the kids.
So, this place means a lot to us but it’s time to say goodbye. We could do with the money.
Running your own business is pretty costly and it’d be nice to go out a couple of nights a week. There’s only so many times you can pay for dinner by washing dishes before the restaurant staff start to recognise you. Especially at my height.
So, here I am with a flat to sell and choice of methods for doing so. I was in a similar situation a few months ago, when my mother-in-law expressed that she wanted to sell her home of 55 years, in Uxbridge.
Sadly and, in my opinion, unreasonably, she wasn’t particularly keen on me exploiting this opportunity to test-out my professional theories.
She wanted to work with a local agent, one she could walk to and have a chat with. She wanted to use a traditional conveyancer (who ended up being, I have to say, a very good one) and felt more comfortable doing things the way they’ve been done since 1963, when she and her husband bought the house she was looking to sell.
So that was an opportunity missed, perhaps cruelly thwarted, to practice what I preach. Not a good time to start testing businesses models: online vs. hybrid vs. high street.
This time, however, it’s my flat - our flat. So now the time has come for all of this to be thoroughly tested. I’m fascinated to see how it all goes, and I will be sure to share with you all of the good bits and the bad bits along the way. An isolated study it may be, but one which I hope will add some colour to this column.
It is one thing advising businesses on their digital transformation, it is quite another to be the consumer putting them to the test.
Online versus hybrid versus traditional; which do I chose?
The first consideration needs to be which business model I should use to sell our flat.
It is very easy to use the high street. Both my wife and I worked for Foxtons after all, so have all the contacts we could dream of.
And we’ve put them to good use over the last nine years to find tenants for this place and we’ve rarely been disappointed. We have an existing relationship with them. They know us, they know the property. They are ‘our’ estate agent.
Then there is the small, very niche agency, a little further down the road. They’re always fighting for the instruction but just can’t get in there quickly enough.
Over time, however, they have won me over with their tenacity and by doing the basics correctly. They treat me like a human being. I now know the guy who runs the operation; he is always very respectful, he knows my situation and always calls when he says he will. He is an example of how estate agents should be.
However, there is a nagging doubt. Our property is most likely going to sell for £650,000 (I might take a little lower but don’t tell anyone), which means a Foxtons fee is most likely to be in the region of over £16,000 - they never every negotiate remember - and the local agent is still likely to be near the £10,000.
Obviously, this is a huge question mark for me, but if they are able to get me a better price then I see the upswing. Can they get me more money for the sale? I should hope so. It’s the best way to justify this tried and trusted method...
But, with the new business models of online or hybrid agents, there is the potential for a considerable saving. A family holiday or two’s difference.
And, you get such a saving with no discernable difference in the level of service (sharp intake of breath please; deliberately provocative there). Trust me, Mrs. D and the boys need a holiday after what I put them through.
I do, at least, need to compare and contrast.
I have decided to open up the valuations to those I see worthwhile and you will not be surprised to hear that I will be speaking to, what I consider to be, the three top companies: Purplebricks, Yopa, and Emoov.
I also want to try out a few others given their position and slight nuance of process; Tepilo (fascinated by their positioning of Sarah Beeny - how much focus to they put on her, does she add much value?) and HouseSimple (they seem to buck the trend of the valuation - it doesn’t seem to happen on the day for some reason but in a follow up. Surely that can’t work?)
I have taken a deep dive into their business models and have gone through the process of requesting face-to-face valuations. I don’t believe a consumer in this current market should go on an automatic valuation generated by a machine. They will still (or should still) require a meeting with the people who will be selling their pride and joy.
After all, don’t we all want to trust those who we are working with on such an important deal? In the future, we may feel more comfortable with automating the entire process but, for now, I still believe the human to be a vital part of any property transaction.
I want to know how these people represent a model that is so transformative. Do they genuinely sound like someone who will actually help me and fight for me? Will they really hold my hand through the process and give me the security I so vitally crave?
Expect this column to discuss my technology-enabled process in coming weeks. Most likely, I will have to withhold the names of exact suppliers for now, but I will summarise the whole process at the end to give you an idea of those that I decided to work with.
Maybe this will help you advise your clients? Ultimately, businesses that support consumers in one of the most important decisions of their lives and those that also support agents, are critical.
Do I really feel that technology is helping me as a consumer, or is it actually getting in the way? I’m about to find out.