A businessman who’s just entered the estate agency industry says he’s got the secret behind Purplebricks’ success - even though he describes the company as “a bit of a fraud” that isn’t disrupting how homes are sold anyway.
Matt Spence, new owner of Humberts, describes Purplebricks as “insipid” and “not really a disrupter at all” because it sticks to the concept of traditional estate agency with old-fashioned job titles like Local Property Experts, and an interest only in handling a customer from the moment they instruct the firm to the time their property is listed online.
However, he says Purplebricks is undeniably successful “because it’s made itself technically more relevant” especially for users of mobile telephones and tablets.
Spence - who acquired Humberts last month and yesterday explained to Estate Agent Today that he would be scrapping old-style branches and opening ‘Humberts Hubs’ to offer a far wider range of services - says the estate agency industry is as a whole too pre-occupied by Purplebricks.
“This seems to be the pre-occupation of far too many agents - how well Purplebricks is doing. They shouldn’t spend too much time on it” he says. But he does suggest they learn from that agency’s use of technology.
“Purplebricks knows what’s happening and has tapped into that. It knows how technology has changed things. There was a time when you went into Costa Coffee, paid cash for your coffee and had a loyalty card ticked by the assistant. Now you go in, pay by waving your credit card and tap your phone to get your loyalty points” he says.
Spence insists that Purplebricks doesn’t match even this scale of technological convenience for consumers, but has become popular quickly with many sellers “because there’s nothing better available.”
Spence’s business experience to date has majored on his Natural Retreats vacation property company, which he founded in 2006 and which now has 1,000 properties for holiday lettings on its books, across the UK and the US.
He says that the holiday cottage industry has adapted to new technology and its impact on contemporary consumer choice - but that estate agency has shown very few signs of adapting, even amongst online operators.
“In the holiday lettings business online bookings became a must because of Airbnb and Expedia - if your firm didn’t allow people to book online you were dead in the water, so all companies adapted” he says.
However he warns that while many of the individual involved in estate agency are hugely experienced, skilled and successful, the industry itself rests on its laurels.
Too much of the industry is run by “over-bearing middle-aged white males” - change must come, he says.
You can see more details of Spence’s plans for ‘Humbert Hubs’ on the story we broke yesterday - it's here.