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State of the property nation survey – what did we discover?

Our recent state of the property nation survey, which yielded nearly 350 responses from directors to junior negotiators, and many others besides, offers a fascinating insight into some of the biggest questions facing estate agency in 2021.

Here, we break down what we discovered to provide our readers with an insight into the most burning estate agency issues of our times.

The portal question


With portals back dominating the property news agenda like it’s 2015 all over again, we posed questions on Rightmove’s potential ongoing dominance, the likelihood of Boomin shaking up the industry and whether or not Facebook or another tech giant would be entering the market soon.

Just over 41% of those surveyed said Rightmove will still be the dominant portal by the end of the 2020s, while 34% said they wouldn’t and a further 24.5% were don’t knows.

On the question of Boomin shaking up the industry in a Purplebricks-esque manner, only 19% agreed that the newly launched portal will change the sector, while just over 30% said the Bruce brothers’ new venture will have little impact. Most (52%) said Boomin will battle OnTheMarket for the title of third biggest portal and no more than that.

Respondents were much more split on the question of a Facebook or Amazon entering the estate agency arena, with 39% saying one of the global tech giants will enter the market eventually, while 40% think the current portals will remain dominant. A further 22% said property being a very different industry to Big Tech will put these major corporations off.

Most respondents (45%) believe there will be a move towards the portal middleman being cut out, and the likes of Rightmove and Boomin listing properties directly, but not a complete crossover. Only 19% think a complete crossover is inevitable, while 37% argued that the portals need agents.

Intriguingly, a big majority of those responding believe that agents will one day act for buyers as well as sellers. More than 56% said this model works fine elsewhere in the world and would do fine in the UK too, while 27% argued the current model is too ingrained for any wholesale changes. A further 19% said such a change would create more problems than answers.

Trade body membership and regulation

Despite its recent troubles, our survey found that the majority of agents (45%) are members of Propertymark, while a not far off equal number (36%) don't belong to any trade body whatsoever. Just 6% of those surveyed are members of the Guild, which might in part be explained by the more selective process employed by that organisation.

Just over 11% are part of an alternative trade body, with responses including Relocation Agent Network (RAN), the Property Ombudsman, RICS, UKALA, SafeAgent, FIA, the Law Society of Scotland and NRLA.

Some of those commenting said they were part of both the Guild and Propertymark, or part of one of these and another trade body, while some commented they were members of both ARLA and NAEA, which could further point to the issues that Propertymark has in being seen as the umbrella organisation for these two distinct subsidiaries.

One of the biggest potential changes to the industry, if and when it is introduced, is the recommendations of the Regulation of Property Agents Working Group (RoPA). There was near parity between those who think it will improve things and those who believe it will make things more complicated (23% vs 21%), but the overwhelming majority (56%) think we won’t know until the recommendations have been implemented.

Reputation, offices and viewings

Estate agents often get a bad press, but it seems many in the industry also believe the profession needs to up its game, with only 24% believing that estate agency is a respected profession. Nearly 30% believe the industry needs professionalising and fast, while just over half (51%) think the industry is going the right way but needs more training, regulation and qualifications.

The pandemic has hailed a step-change in many parts of life, in particular when it comes to office work and the rise in remote working. Some 43% of those surveyed said there will be a move away from high street offices over the coming years, a viewpoint disagreed upon by 32% of those polled.

A further 29% are of the opinion the hybrid model – ostensibly mixing the best of the traditional and online models to create a fusion of the two – will thrive in the coming years.

Virtual viewings have received a massive boost since the onset of the pandemic and seem to have finally made the move over from luxury nice-to-have to necessity. Some 46% of participants agree that virtual viewings are the future and have proved very helpful in the last year and a bit. However, 36% still think they will return to their previous position of niche nice-to-have, and a further 22% said the quality of virtual viewings varies too much.

Who answered the survey?

The overwhelming majority of respondents belonged to a local independent firm (62%), closely followed by those working for a corporate (11%). Nearly 10% were self-employed – a fast-growing part of the sector – while just 5% were franchisees.

Other participants included retired agents, property developers, hybrid agents, agency support professionals, property sourcers, suppliers, surveyors, solicitor estate agents and industry advisers.

The majority of those responding to the survey were part of a single-branch independent (46%), followed by 20% who were part of or owned an agency with under five branches. Some 13% of those responding were part of an agency with more than five branches and just 9% were part of a firm with more than 100 branches. Others were part of Keller Williams-style hub offices or worked purely from home.

The vast majority of agents now offer both lettings and sales (77%), with only 16% doing just sales and an even lower 6% doing just lettings.

Most of the responses (36%) to the survey came from directors, followed by agency owners, branch managers, CEOs, negotiators and then admin staff.

Other people contributing included property managers, heads of sales, marketing professionals, sales associates, managing directors, supplier owners, property trainers, consultants and lettings managers.

We also received a great response to our call for additional commentary on the estate agency sector. A selection of the responses can be seen below.

-There will always be, quite rightly new ideas & gimmicks in Agency to try & gain an advantage but the old priorities will never change. An efficient friendly approach, informed proactive knowledgeable staff, competitive fees and effective use of technology as a tool but not as the answer. Saying all that, enforceable regulation is still needed & always has been. Politicians of all colours seem incapable of grasping that nettle.

-Estate Agencies would benefit greatly from working together instead of trying to cut each other’s throats. Meaningful decisions could be taken for the benefit of all.

-Company culture and development will play a huge part in the decisions of where people will want to work and which business will would be more likely to thrive. Embracing change through constant innovation is fundamental.

-The buying process needs to be revisited. Too easy to walk away from a purchase without financial implication. System flawed.

-It's difficult to predict where the portals will end up. All of these firm's portals, PropYech, CRM's and others appear to be competing for the same space. We intend to tread a path that gives our valuers the best tools possible to win business.

-Buyer representation is the most under-utilised additional revenue stream for agents

-If more had supported the Say No to Rightmove we could have shifted the sands. From my info, they are "crawling back" with offers to "ex" agents to return so, along with all the ££s we cost them, they have taken some notice. Also all the new challenger portals may have some effect IF they get their acts together.

-I worry that ROPA will result in job losses and a general dumbing down of the industry. Seems unnecessary to have even more red tape to suffer.

-Q's 7 and 8 relate to our Industry - more needs to be done by all stakeholders to improve the perception of us. ROPA although adding extra work etc will help the public to see us as professional and skilled with their asset and not just Sales people. But more press is needed to show the public just how many agents go above and beyond, you only have to see google reviews for most to see this but only negativity is shared in the mainstream. Also, all stakeholders need to take more of an active role in guiding the gov with proposed changes. On the flip side of this the gov need to listen to the agents more about what the industry and home moving process is really like to ensure future changes in legislation etc work for all parties and not just the campaign groups who shout the loudest - it's a shame they shout louder about our industry than we do!

- M&A activity will continue as the current "mom and pop" estate agency models are archaic and it is inevitable that we will end up with fewer but larger operators.

  • Andrew Stanton PROPTECH-PR A Consultancy for Proptech Founders

    There are 50,000 in the UK property industry and associated supporting businesses in the supply chain, 350 replies is well, 0.007 of the sample group, so I am not saying it has no value, but I would not feel comfortable that it really tells us anything meaningful. I spend my whole life looking at analytics and figures buy not knowing what the other 99. 993% think would worry me a little.

    Here are a few thoughts from me and my co-director who Zara who has four legs and a tail and chases squirrels a lot. Most agents had their doors locked for a third of the year in 2020, yet completions remained at the usual level. Amazon an e-commerce platform saw its profits go skyward, many high street businesses are no more. All real estate companies are digital companies, those who realise this will thrive. UX is all you need to focus on if you are in the people business of agency, change your viewpoint, imagine you are the client and build a business that delights and speeds their needs, and base it on 2030 thinking not 1980 thinking. And spend more time with your dog walking in the countryside and less time looking out of plate glass windows.


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