The concept has split the industry and over the weekend EAT contacted several agency figures to gauge opinion.
Some expressed doubt over the legality while others felt it would damage an agency’s brand to be seen in such a blatant revenue-raising exercise; Michael Riley, founder of ViewRabbit, insisted in comments left on EAT the scheme would not fall foul of legislation and would deter time wasters.
There’s no consensus and some agents have spoken in favour of the idea. If you have an opinion please vote in our poll and leave a comment at the bottom of this story.
“It would be a mistake for estate agents to charge applicants for viewings in present circumstances” says Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and a former RICS residential chairman. “I have some sympathy for agents marketing large country houses who may have to travel long distances but unless charging becomes an industry standard for most, I can't see it taking off. For instance, agents in multiple listing arrangements who charge viewing fees will obviously miss out if others are accepting the risk.
“In any event, potential buyers are a little more 'thin on the ground' now that the stamp duty concession has begun to taper so agents will want to encourage viewings as much as possible. This might convince the client to retain their services for longer, or at least until a genuine buyer is found.”
“Yet another idea from tech people which will die. What applicant would pay to view a property when you can call the agent direct and they won’t charge?” asks Marc von Grundherr, director of Benham and Reeves, a London agency. "Yes it’s a good idea as it means people will definitely turn up if they’ve paid but I believe the uptake will be very low. Also isn’t it illegal to charge tenants now under the tenant fee ban - surely charging for a viewing breaks that rule???”
Marc Schneiderman is director of London agency Arlington Residential and comments: “Conceptually it is an interesting idea however I do not beileve it is practical across the whole marketplace. The middle to top end of the market in which my firm operates would not have any interest in charging buyers to view a property, nor (in my view) would buyers be prepared to pay for a viewing. We experience virtually no situations where buyers do not show up for a property viewing, in fact our experience is one of developing a rapport and relationship with those we deal with so the idea of a purchaser just not arriving to a viewing without informing us is not something we are faced with.”
Kristjan Byfield from London agency base property specialists and PropTech firm The Depositary adds: "I’m happy to be proven wrong but I’m not convinced. People have been trying to solve the ‘viewing problem’ for years. Mainly looking at ‘instant bookings’- but this is looking to eliminate time wasters for agents whilst guaranteeing the applicant a viewing.
"I don't know about you but alarm bells are already ringing...I feel a salty Google review or even a complaint to the manager/head office about how disgusting it is you refused to show them the sold (stc) property. I’m a fan of innovation, of tech and solutions that look to solve problems for agents and consumers alike. I’m just not sure this will."
Russell Quirk, founder of the Emoov online agency and of the Proper PR property public relations firm, is characteristically blunt. “This is the dumbest idea I’ve heard in a while - and I’ve come across some real humdingers. It’s the greatest sales avoidance attempt since Gerald Ratner showcased his company’s decanters in ‘that’ speech.
“Charging potential buyers to view will obviously deter many genuine purchasers from doing so and, in a potentially cooling market, is ridiculous. Tyre kickers are not a big issue in estate agency, that’s a myth. Do people not show up? Sure, but that’s simply the cost of going business for agents.”
Michael Bruce, founder and group chief executive of Boomin, says: "We welcome any form of innovation that helps agents be more successful and sellers get a better outcome. If agents can earn some income to contribute to their costs whilst relieving the pressure on the seller and ensuring they get the highest price, then that can on the face of it be positive.
"Agents will be keen to ensure that they control the process, don’t lose opportunities to convert and nothing impacts the creating of competition amongst buyers to secure the best price for the seller. Relationships are key so getting people in front of agents personally or digitally is paramount."
“I love the idea. A common challenge for agents and vendors alike, is assessing the seriousness of potential buyers when on viewings … The Covid pandemic has reduced the volume of so called ‘window shoppers’, this concept goes a little further to establishing whether or not a buyer is truly motivated. I’m Intrigued to see whether the new pay-per-view service will ultimately change the norm for our industry” explains Marlon Lloyd Malcolm, director of London’s Lurot Brand agency.
Jason Corbett, head of country sales at UK Sotheby’s International Realty, says: “I very much hope that it will work but sadly I can’t see it. A service that is currently free is going to meet with a lot of resistance from the public if it now becomes chargeable.
“If all agents agree to implement a charging system, then yes, it could be a good thing. However, it would limit the capacity to be the first viewer in and make a closing bid and this might have the effect of creating more sealed bids scenarios, a prospect that not many buyers would welcome, especially if paying £30 for the privilege”.
An alternative view:
Anthony Codling, founder of PropTech platform Twindig and a long-standing housing market analysts says: “It seems that the problem Viewrabbit has identified is a combination of no-shows and viewing cancellations, which is annoying for those affected. If this is a problem that needs addressing, an alternative approach would be to charge the person who cancels the arranged viewing or the person who fails to show up. So viewings remain free, but whichever party causes the viewing not to take place (agent, owner or buyer), by either no showing or cancelling at the last minute, pays a penalty to those affected. The no-show charge system is well understood and works for restaurant bookings so, if needed, could be applied to estate agency.”