A comprehensive report into the changing complexion of the High Street suggests that some 143 estate agents’ offices closed in the first half of 2019.
On the plus side, 43 opened leaving a net total of 100 fewer branches now than at the start of the year.
The number of agents’ closures put this category as the third largest declining retail use on the High Street in net terms - only fashion retailers and restaurants performed worse.
Countrywide and LSL have closed significant numbers of branches this year while a string of other agencies have announced they are either combining offices and adopting a ‘hub’ structure.
These have fewer-but-larger premises covering more extensive areas, or have instead announced they are using only freelance agents who are likely to be operating from home, mobile locations ‘on the road’, or unbranded serviced offices.
eXp UK, The Real Estate Cloud Brokerage is a US firm which is starting its UK operations under veteran online agency expert Adam Day; this will use freelance agents.
Another US agency, Keller Williams, operates from hubs rather than traditional branded offices, while London-focussed agencies such as Agent and Homes and Harding Green have also moved into hub accommodation rather than usual High Street offices.
Overall the first half of 2019 saw a net decline of 1,234 chain stores of all kinds on Britain’s top 500 High Streets, analysed by consultancy PwC and the Local Data Company; this is the largest decline since the companies’ annual study began in 2010.
Behind the net figure, there were 1,634 stores opened and 2,868 stores closed over the period.
In total, an average of 16 stores a day closed, as restructurings and the online migration of shopping and services continue to impact.
“There’s been no let-up in the changing ways that people shop and the cost pressures affecting high street operators. While retailers need to keep investing to make sure their stores and propositions are relevant to today’s consumers, it’s also critical that all stakeholders find ways to ease the burden on operators, keep investing in the high street, and encourage new and different types of operators to fill vacant space” says Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC.
But she warns: “As consumers continue to change the way they shop and spend their leisure time, the reality is that we may need fewer high streets in the future. This opens up opportunities to repurpose high street space for other uses, while the remaining space evolves to meet consumer demand for convenience, choice and experience.”