Quite a few years ago, I spoke at a conference for auctioneers. It was a traditional affair. Rural location. Nice hotel. A very expected demographic obviously in attendance.
However, what was interesting was the attitude in the room to the adoption of new technologies. At the time, there was debate over physical auctions versus online auctions. Which was better for both the customer and the industry? What were the risks? Was it open to fraudulent activity? Which was better value for all involved?
Does this sound familiar?
Unlike traditional agency, however, the online auction process clearly had the upper-hand even back then. It was a clear proposition and some clever people had got in early and built proprietary technology that was starting to really drive that side of the industry - unlike some of the online agents today with surprisingly little, or no technology whatsoever...
Therefore, I read with interest, this week, about a solution launching here in the UK called Offr. It has its origins in the world of auctioneering with one of the founders, Robert Hoban, originally heading up Allsop in Ireland. Another director is Philip Farrell, a veteran auctioneer.
Ostensibly, Offr is a range of online and digital tools that will save buyers (and therefore vendors) a huge amount of time in terms of submitting offers and then transaction time to SSTC. At least in Ireland.
In Dublin, transaction times are around 5 months, 7 months in more rural areas. Offr is looking to reduce it to just 3 months.
According to one report: “The software will connect estate agents to banks and solicitors to ensure that all the documentation required for a property’s sale, including title deeds, are ready before it goes on the market.”
“Sitting on estate agents’ websites, Offr will store bidders’ identities and proofs of funds in advance of the acceptance of any offers, in an effort to improve the transparency of the sales process.”
“Prospective buyers can use their smartphone to book a viewing, make an offer, pay a deposit, connect to a solicitor and sign contracts. Bidders will also be instantly notified of any new offers on the properties they are pursuing. Sellers can also track the progress of a sale on their mobile device or laptop, with alerts about new offers, upcoming viewings and updates on legal documentation.”
This is all well and good. I completely see the value proposition. As it launches here in the UK, it claims to be able to reduce fall through rates by 50%, a claim of which I am more sceptical.
This is also mirrored by the Founder of View My Chain: “The claim that this would reduce fall-through rates by 50% is an interesting one as it doesn't appear that the product can access any data around the key causes of a fall-through such as chain length, sales progression and mortgage applications”, stated Sohail Rashid.
Having been a huge advocate of the word ‘interesting’ in my time, masking my true feelings, I think I know his.
I also dispute the claim made that it “will drive more traffic and buyer engagement to agents’ sites.” While it is a white-labelled widget that can sit on an agent’s site, it is simply not going to drive traffic in your direction with perhaps one exception.
“You want to submit an offer?” I used to say. “Let's go back to the office and fill in some paperwork and we can put it forward”.
This would take time, the passion would ebb, the emotion decrease and sometimes offers would be withdrawn by the time we got back to the office. This may just mean, in this ‘always on’ society, that speed-to-offer will be increased upon a viewing being complete.
This might mean that the friction between intention and action is taken care of. Hopefully.
There is, however, one more sticking point that will take a while to overcome, in my opinion.
Buyers and sellers are lazy until the point where they have no choice but to take action. The possibility of them loading up all documentation and being organised ahead of time is somewhat wishful thinking.
Yes, there are some who are uber-organised, but the bulk will realise house buying and selling is a somewhat drawn out process and will not see the importance of firstly putting this documentation together initially and secondly, this sort of PropTech firm.
“To speed up the house buying and selling process, it’s essential to bring information about potential buyers into the offer process earlier and, among many things, weed out the tyre kickers,” says Phil Farrell.
He is right, and it will filter out those serious and those not, but this will take time and work on the agents' behalf to ensure that their buyers and sellers understand the benefits.
This isn’t the panacea of PropTech solutions, but it is certainly hitting on some of the points I’ve been trying to make over the past few weeks. Let the technology help the paperwork side of things while you concentrate on managing the people involved in the deal and the deal making. That’s what you are really good at.
We will see more of these solutions in due course and, certainly, lessons from auctioneers should be viewed positively. They know what they are doing when it comes to smooth transactions and improving efficiency.
Definitely one to watch but only as potential customers realise the importance of being organised and so they start seeing the benefits of this sort of approach. This isn’t a quick win.