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.
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?