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By James Dearsley

Co-Founder, Unissu


PropTech Today: Agents’ Boards - are they protected from technology?

Steve, his name was. Steve, the board man.

A rather frightening man, if truth be told.

When I started at Foxtons, he used to drive up to the corner of my Battersea office in his what can only be described as a ‘Ute’.


It was blue and slightly rusty, with about 50 estate agency boards sticking out the back all secured into a home made wooden storage unit.

He would stride into the office. A mountain of a man, large file under one arm, filled with board orders.

In those days, it was all hand written board orders. We would meet at the photocopier - me in a suit, him in work overalls - held away from public view as was the Foxtons way at the time, and hand over the board orders.

A handful of paper that gave him his instructions. Woe betide you if they were wrong or you sent him to the wrong address.

Boards were always an integral part of my early agency life. Over twenty years on, they are still an integral part of agency life, I might add.

It wasn’t only Steve, but each Wednesday we used to get into my director’s car - a man quite different to Steve, as you might imagine. Including Giles, my director at the time, four of us sat in his Audi RS6 (a car I still aspire to today because of the ‘board runs’) surveying the local area for new boards that had gone up.

These were all noted and then sent centrally to send ‘prospecting’ letters to owners/landlords to try to get instructions. Sometimes, on extra special properties, hand written notes were popped through the letter boxes.

It all stemmed from the boards. The boards marketed the property better than anything else. I might suggest they still do. Boards are quite possibly the protagonist of the portal.

As much as the traffic generated by expensive radio and TV campaigns, I suspect a new board going up in the neighbourhood drives web traffic too.

Yet boards seem to be the only thing protected from a technological age. In 20 years nothing has changed.

OK, I lie. I have seen some using QR codes on them. The little black and white square boxes to lead people to the property details using a QR reader - a bit of a pain.

I have seen people try to use the boards to fire off an augmented reality application to essentially do the same thing as the QR code. Indeed, I tried this myself in the early days of my PropTech journey.

I wanted to disrupt what seems to be disruptable. The estate agency board.

No agency website, portal or otherwise seems to be able to improve what is quite simply, as Steve once told me, “a stick with a bit of a plastic stuck to it that I bang into a wall. I have the simplest job in the world, but people don’t really like how it appears”.

Why do I raise this as a topic today? In a PropTech column? It's because of this article from last week on Camden council winning ‘draconian powers’ for controlling boards.

There was a statement at the end:

At the end of last year, Christopher May, director of free-to-list portal Residential People, urged agents to forget about spending money on boards and instead put the cash into digital strategies.

"For Sale and To Let boards may be good for brand awareness, but unlike online marketing, boards less likely to generate leads beyond the local area,” explains May.

Obviously, I disagree with Christopher, as did 82% of people taking the poll at the bottom of the story. He misses the point, in my view. He should love boards. They supply his ‘free-to-list’ portal with traffic to find out what is behind the door - sadly not the estate agent’s website, I might suspect.

PropTech Today: Agents’ Boards - are they protected from technology?

Maybe that is the issue here. Perhaps we should run another poll.

What percentage of people see a board and then visit the agents’ site versus Rightmove or Zoopla? Therefore, do they really help with YOUR local marketing or the portals? Lets get your thoughts (poll at the bottom of the story).

Do they go to your website or a portal?

If the answer is the latter, maybe you are just fuelling the fire for the portal and perhaps that is your way to start fighting back.

Anyhow. I diverge. My point is purely there are a few areas of estate agency that will not be disrupted by a layer of technology. I might suggest, unless some of you can say otherwise in the comments below, that boards are likely one of only a handful that will be protected.

So come on...tell me...can boards be disrupted or are they a classic case of a perfect fit for purpose?

*James Dearsley is a leading PropTech influencer and commentator, and is co-founder of PropTech platform Unissu. You can follow James on Twitter here.

Poll: Do boards help with your local marketing or marketing the portals?


  • Chris Arnold

    Let's look at this from the perspective of consumers. Consumers that's are inundated with thousands of messages every day - that they didn't choose to see. Advertising billboards are a blight on the landscape and estate agency boards fall into that category.
    A large number continue to be placed illegally and in terms of brand awareness, they do little since consumers are more sophisticated and have more options than they did in the past.
    They remain, however effective some claim them to be, another nail in the coffin of estate agency public perception.


    A nail in a coffin !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! - I wish you had been working in my area. Boards are the best marketing there is.
    Looking at RM does not make a buyer more sophisticated whatsoever. Boards do more to increase brand awareness than anything else.
    When I was in the business I constantly had vendors marketing with me as I had more sold boards up than anyone else.
    Cost of board - pennies - cost of RM - scandalous

  • charlotte Jeffrey- campbell

    Boards are key to estate agency - a clear logo and stand out branding is the age old key to market share visibility. Plus we also know that most people move close to where they are now. So yes boards are timeless but not all agents get it right. Every property should have a board up if selling but I wonder what percentage don’t??

  • icon

    We have had no boards in certain areas of nottingham for some time. It makes no difference it really doesnt. Ironically it has made our physical office more important as it acts as the physical reminder of your existance. It does however seem to make life harder for one man (or woman) operations opertaing out of the spare bedroom. Which in my view is a good thing.
    Do we really want people walking street looking for boards. Lets face it half the time the board is for the nosey neighbours. In my view the banning of boards countrywide should be the norm.
    Where we will still have boards how many are left up annoying people, they alwayus seem to me the state agent equilvalent of dogs weeing up lamposts marking their territory. Its dinosaur estate agency and the sooner its a thing of the past the better. Multi agency boards nailed on a property makes me shudder...


    A neighbour who may mention to a friend that there is a house for sale in their street
    As for territory - yes all day long it is a dog eat dog business - crush the opposition

  • James Dearsley

    Really interesting perspectives here. Also interesting to see the poll which is still in favour of the Agents websites - I stand to be corrected (but I am not sure I believe it myself)


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