To say I had a lot of reaction to last week's column about selling my flat would be an understatement. I've never had such a great response. My phone’s been non-stop pinging with tweets (@jamesdearsley, by the way), emails and calls.
Thank you all for your input. It’s all been, more or less, positive and inquisitive about the age-old journey I’ve set off on.
Ultimately, it’s my belief that, if you want to understand an industry, innovation or movement thoroughly enough to talk to others about it as much as I do, you have to experience it first-hand. Otherwise, it simply isn’t fair to pass judgement or opinion on what is good and what is bad.
As one friendly acquaintance put it: “I suspect various online agencies have flagged anyone with the surname Dearsley for the Rolls Royce treatment!”
So, let me clear one thing up, I have been working one week behind all of my actions reported here so hopefully these sorts of bias are being eliminated. Very sadly, I haven’t yet noticed any pangs of recognition on name alone - which just goes to show what five years of trying to help the industry gets you, doesn’t it!
The importance of valuations - do they differ between models?
To catch up...I have a flat to sell. As a consumer, regardless of whether I decide to take the traditional or modern approach, I still feel that I want to see someone and have a face-to-face valuation.
For the foreseeable future, trust is still needed. An interaction with a person will still be preferred while the consumer begins to trust in more innovative and automated ways of valuing properties.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) will, without doubt, soon be able to give as accurate a property valuation as a human being can. Today, however, this is somewhat limited to playing a support role.
Why? Because people expect a person to value their property, not an algorithm. Due to the fact the most people so rarely buy and sell property, I think there’ll be a lengthy transition period before AI takes over valuations completely,
Valuers are key to your organisation. It was a job that I used to relish; get on with the owner or landlord, price it realistically (or maybe a little toppy sometimes) and bag the instruction. A good day’s work.
However, not all valuations and valuers are equal - something which has being proven with this flat of mine. Let's break it down because the instruction, yes the instruction, really starts with the initial experience of the company.
Pre-valuation: a missed opportunity
For me, not necessarily everyone, the consumer experience before someone actually comes around to value my home is almost as important as the actual valuation itself.
It gives me an insight into the smoothness of the systems and processes at play. It gives me an insight into how the agent deals with potential buyers and ultimately how much they care, even if some of it is all about automating correspondence.
In my experience, there was a clear difference here. The two traditional agents I invited over - purely because I had worked for one and the other was on the same road as our property (in a well-known community so they would know the market intimately) - did it very informally.
I called, they booked in a time slot and came around. There wasn’t really any more to it than that. No SMS confirmation, no email confirmation - caveat being that they already know me and already know the property. It was straightforward, it was easy and it was immediate - once I had found their phone numbers.
For the online and hybrid teams - let’s call them ‘onbrids’ for now - it was a mixed bag. I really appreciated being able to control the valuation bookings on some of the websites. It made it incredibly easy and straightforward for me. I could pick the exact date and time. It was seamless.
Before booking a valuation, two of the ‘onbrids’ didn’t let me book immediately and wanted someone to call me to confirm a time. This, for me, was the wrong approach. I have limited time to receive calls. I am always in meetings during the day, and wanted the convenience of dictating when I wanted to handle matters. It all felt a bit backwards.
OK. I understand that you don’t want timewasters filling out your diary, I get that, trust me. But I would suggest a decent follow-up procedure, presented under the guise of better qualification, making them feel special, would put pay to understanding who is motivated and who isn’t.
Having said that, ultimately, I managed to get all my valuations in back-to-back in one afternoon. There was going to be that awkward moment where I would be saying goodbye to one and welcoming another on the doorstep. Some might even know each other. I’ve been there before, and it was always a quasi-funny moment you wanted to avoid for the sake of the prospective client more than anything else.
What was interesting, however, was the approach of all the onbrids after booking the valuation. Some have their automation paths set up beautifully; with an SMS, from what appeared to be a personal number, the valuer introduced themselves and confirmed the time. Then an email came through doing the same. Short, succinct, professional and impressive in its simplicity. These started my immediate appreciation for what is a small but important step.
Others, on the other hand, really don’t get the automation process right, sending email after email during the week, pressuring me to set a date while I was trying to align all of my valuations in one day.
From one onbrid, I must have received ten emails; emails I simply didn’t want to receive.
It is so important, and this is me speaking as a marketing person, to make sure you only send people that which they want to receive. Contextualised communication is critical to successful marketing. Understand your sales and marketing funnel. Identify where a possible client is in that funnel and then contextual the correspondence to make it relevant to their needs. Otherwise you are simply wasting their time and pi$$ing them off.
Anyway, all the onbrids confirmed by email and SMS both 24hrs before valuation and 48hrs before valuation - I would suggest just one of those is needed myself - and I had calls from 50% of them.
The correspondence that really made the difference for me were those from the actual valuers themselves. An introduction, a little bit of information before they came round, an icebreaker. All excellent and really left an impression. I knew who I would be instructing pretty much before any value had been put on my property. I already had the rapport, I already sensed the passion. That was important to me.
The valuation. Yes, do take your shoes off please...
Oh, the valuation; the staple of estate agency. Before I go on, a lesson:
A valuation is just that. What it isn’t is sending someone around to take the photos and draw up a floorplan so that ‘head office can then put it through their their algorithms and give me a valuation in 48hrs’ which is frankly a waste of everybody’s time. What a joke.
An algorithm, can and should be used in some cases (as should the Rightmove and Zoopla comparables that I was sent by some after the valuation) in support, but not relied upon. A physical valuation, during a face-to-face meeting, is a must. I lost all faith in that organisation immediately.
All agents, onbrids and traditionals valued the property at: £650,000 - one actually valued at £700,000 but then, to his credit, called back a day later and said that, on closer inspection, £650,000 was better.
Half of them took their shoes off when they came in (a strangely polite thing to do and absolutely not insisted upon, but a nice touch when I reflect) but what was interesting were the attitudes while on the valuation.
I felt the onbrids already knew the value (with the exception of one obviously) and the walkthrough was quick, rapidly firing through their repertoire of chit-chat.
Traditionals spent longer, maybe because they hadn’t done the prequalification (I didn’t mention that in most cases a lot of info was filled-in during the online booking of the val), but they were more pressing on key areas that influenced the marketing of the flat - it was quite apparent that they needed this information because, ultimately, they would be showing it.
It was also obvious, with the onbrids, who had been a traditional agent beforehand. They told me straight-off that high street was their route into the newer models and that that was a solid reason to trust their opinions. High street knowledge with new systems was a strong motivation to consider working with them, especially when working with them would be saving me at least £12,000.
My only other strange experience was around conveyancing...
If I want to use my own conveyancer I get charged £360 for the privilege of doing so. I’m sorry, that is just out and out ridiculous. Half of the onbrids felt they had to mention this; why oh why?
What a stupid and manipulative notion to say I had to use their conveyancers. “We get referral fees and so our loss is obviously passed on if you want to use your own”.
Whether I knew about this referral business, and thank heavens for the fact it will all be becoming a lot clearer in the future, being this transparent is just nuts.
Penalising me, even before instruction, about a fundamental choice I have, is just plain crazy and outright wrong.
Onbrids, you’ve got sort this flaw. It is the wrong message - regardless of what point in the conversation you chose to mention it to your client.
Follow-up and instruction
Jumping off my soap box for a minute, other than that, the onbrids seemed more keen on the listing than the high street. That’s obvious, you may say, but they seemed so much more motivated to chase my business.
I was clear on my timeframe - gathering valuations, and then going away, back in four days with a decision - and most called me exactly when requested - including a very keen onbrid who had diarised a call the moment I finished the last val that day (I didn’t think for one minute he would call but call he did).
Moving to the instruction, while I will not share with you for the moment who I instructed, I did decide on an onbrid. As someone in the tech space, I couldn’t not try it out as a consumer. Plus, from my experience so far, there was no reason not to try it.
The traditionals didn’t give me the justification to go with them, initially. There was no financial incentive to stick with what I know and have trusted for all these years.
Time for a change. As a consumer I was challenged to think differently. I was wowed by seamless systems and processes.
But, systems and processes are only one side of the story; selling your pride and joy is about more than that. Let’s see if systems can beat communities - something I feel your local high street agent has (or should have) in abundance (if they are good at their job).
I will know if I’ve made the right decision very shortly, and will take action if required.
Next week, I will be discussing my experiences during the first week of working with the onbrid, how the onboarding has gone, and discuss the various systems they use. Keep a look out for that!
*James Dearsley is a partner in PropTech Consult, digital transformation specialists for the real estate sector.