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Paying For Viewings - will charging buyers really work?

A new service launched over the weekend, proposing to charge buyers £30 for a “guaranteed” viewing, has split opinions amongst estate agents.

The Times reported on Saturday that a service called ViewRabbit was being tested by a number of estate agents; they would charge prospective buyers or tenants £30 to guarantee a viewing of a property they were interested in, for sale or to let. After an agent signs up, the first 30 days’ income generated by the initiative goes to charity; thereafter all the revenue goes to ViewRabbit and the agent.

“The pay-to-view process automatically sorts serious movers from nosey neighbours, holidaymakers, wannabees and tyre kickers who rob serious movers of precious viewing slots” says ViewRabbit.

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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.

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Against: 

“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???”

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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.”

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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."

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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.”

For:

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."  

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“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. 

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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”.

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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.”

Poll: Will charging for viewings help the industry?

PLACE YOUR VOTE BELOW


  • Mike Riley

    Another poll could be.

    What as an industry can we offer buyers or tenants that would make them happy to pay a small fee for a viewing, improve the experience for sellers and ourselves?

    Then how can we communicate that to the market?

    ViewRabbit has started by focusing on guaranteed viewings that will not be cancelled by the agent when doing a deal. An issue that infuriates millions of people and is overlooked. We have no doubt ViewRabbit will be used by agents to sell a range of different viewing options, as they look to solve problems for consumers needs.

    Buyers and tenants come in all shapes and sizes, with different needs and motivations. As an industry, we tend to bundle them up and treat them as one.

    For full press releases and statements in the future, please visit the ViewRabbit website.

  • Chris Arnold

    That's the problem with transactional estate agency - there's no relationship with the community. It's just a potential buyer, someone that the agency hasn't taken the time to get to know. When there is a relationship, the dynamics change and the problem of no-shows disappears.

    Building relationships with the community takes time. So there's your option - waste it on no-shows and rejected appraisals, or build trust with people that know who you are rather than what you do.

  • Simon Bradbury

    Paying For Viewings - will charging buyers really work?
    No

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    YES - Came in to do a viewing on my day off on Saturday and a NO SHOW (out of area as usual os they are the one's that we'd charge)..... sick of total time wasters, let alone the environmental damage..

  • Murray Lee

    And what if 1 agent charges and another does not on a multi listing
    I know which agent i would go to...

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    ViewRabbit says: .“The pay-to-view process automatically sorts serious movers from nosey neighbours, holidaymakers, wannabees and tyre kickers ...”
    Just my 2p's worth, but every nosey neighbour or tyre kicker will, one day, be a potential seller, landlord, buyer or tenant. I'd rather meet them and start to buld a relationship so when it is their time to commence a property transaction, I am top of mind and their agent of choice.

    Matthew Payne

    Any agent worth their salt will be properly qualifying their apps before viewing anyway for a variety of reasons, not least of which will be to measure their motivation and ability to proceed with a purchase, albeit I agree, they should be wanting to talk to and spend time with as many of the right local people as they can, even if that means doing the occasional viewing that they know in advance is unlikely to lead to anything in the short term.

     
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    '£30 for a viewing - what a ridiculous idea, will leave a bad taste in viewer's mouth'

    'Six grand non-refundable reservation fee to buy a property via MMOA - bring it on!

    Same people.

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    • N W
    • 26 July 2021 09:41 AM

    It's not something that is practical in my view. However, no shows are infuriating and if anything have picked up within recent weeks.

    If someone doesn't turn up then we make a clear note on their file so we can see this if they book another appointment so we/colleagues are aware. If they do it a couple of times with no genuine reason, then after a chat, if it happens again, they are removed from our database or we just don't send them anything.

    They can learn the hard way when someone else buys the next suitable property before them and if they complain "sorry, no we didn't send it to you as you never turned up to viewing appointments so we didn't take you seriously anymore............ next..."!

  • Andrew Stanton CEO Proptech-PR    Proptech Real Estate Influencer

    Getting vendors to pay an upfront fee, rather than a no sale no fee, is a mad idea.

    Hang on - over 60,000 vendors a year now utilise Purplebricks who had this as their key strategy, which meant that as a listing agent, it was instructed on more properties than the top three estate agency brands in the UK, so clearly a significant chunk of vendors thought this was a good idea. Paying to get a definite slot to view a property, which is refunded if you buy, rather than be told sorry it is sold - is that madness.

    Also, if it caught on, would the argument then be that estate agents could 'charge' a lower fee to the vendor - if a % of the fee was generated by the viewer. What analogue agents have to understand is that we now very much live in a shared economy, where people increasingly pay for a service or the use of a physical asset.

    So the idea of 'paying' to get an exclusive time and day to view, knowing that they get to see a property, is very much in tune with the modern buyer. I know of many tenants in London, finding it impossible to rent as the properties are let before they even see them being advertised, could ViewRabbit even up the playing field, and also give the landlord a better pool of tenants to select from?

    Speaking personally, both as an ex agent of 30 plus years, and as a buyer, my most recent experience was when trying to get viewings, three agents never came back to me so I never got to view a property, on two viewings it took over three days to book a viewing, with myself doing all the chasing, £30 to have an immediate booked slot, that sounds like great value, instant service.

    Having to fight to get into a property is madness, yet happens countless times each day, is this in the vendor's best interest? The better the consumer UX, arguably the happier they are, and happy clients are easier to deal with.

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    Not a clue
    There will always be an agent who will offer a no fee to view service and sell that to the vendor as an instruction winner
    Influencer?
    Joker

     
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    I don't disagree Andrew, but why go through a third party like viewrabbit, surely the agent would be better off charging the prospective purchaser themselves. If people go through a third party how does the agent know the information they have been given is correct. Remember Suzy Lamplugh !! Giving a third party control of your diary is dangerous.

     
  • Kristjan Byfield

    Personally feel this would be better solved by a 'cancellation fee service' akin to a hotel or restaurant. You can book for free but must submit bank/card details to confirm it- cancel more than 24 hours before- no charge- cancel 4-24 hours before £25 cancel with less than 4 hours notice (or 'no show') £50.

  • Andrew Stanton CEO Proptech-PR    Proptech Real Estate Influencer

    Adrian - Purplebricks and now many agents utilise a digital diary system, which speeds up the ability to view, relinquishing an agents diary, is in my view a good thing, better than waiting 72 hours for an agent to maybe return your enquiry about wanting to view. Also the Viking King KB is right also - £50 for a no show, what is wrong with that too? As if member of team is in attendance they could be doing something worthwhile and their time wasted is a cost. The whole no sale no fee paradigm leads itself to an industry where everything is free until exchange, or a contract has been signed by a tenant.

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