It’s interesting to read of plans to debate which business plan really is best for the customer, online or traditional estate agency.
I have long held the view that traditional estate agents, at least in the majority of cases, quickly became online agents, too.
We have enthusiastically embraced the technology that delivers to us multiple portals on which to display properties, although most of us realise that Rightmove and Zoopla are the ones that really do the business.
Those that call themselves 'online' estate agents want to differentiate themselves from those of us they regard as traditional. They think we are dinosaurs stuck in a bygone age, where we have stonemasons in to chisel the property details out of slabs of stone, subsequently illustrated by cave painters before cementing to the office wall.
Of course the opposite is true. We are no luddites just because we carry on as we have always done – we have also enthusiastically embraced the technologies they claim as their own for far longer than they have been making their claim.
In fact if anything, rather than look down on us they should be thanking us for thoroughly testing the technology they now want to adopt as exclusively theirs.
Except, of course, that we have beaten them to it and realised there’s rather more to playing the game than getting a few A Level IT students to upload property details to some jazzy website.
What they like to call traditional estate agents, those of us who have a business model that lets us afford High Street branches where we can actually talk to the people who are essential to our business, are pioneers who long ago realised that keeping the office door open is far more effective than relying on people to make the right moves with their mouse.
True, you need an effective website these days to act as a mouse trap for those wandering the great internet chasm but you also need a way for people to talk to you in proper human, face-to-face conversation so that they can feel comfortable about their relationship with you.
Those who like to call themselves online estate agents should really differentiate their service by calling themselves incomplete estate agents, the ones who offer half a service, frequently fail to give personal contact in a highly personal business unless it’s a paid-for extra, and don’t like to risk proving their ability by adopting a business model that sees the public paying nothing upfront in the way of agency fees but only a success fee on sale or letting completion.
I’m not saying that an online presence doesn’t have its place because, of course, it does. But it needs support from more than a slick IT department. It needs local knowledge, the ability to value a property other than by skimming real agents’ websites, or looking on Zoopla.
This is a service industry in every sense of the word and to provide a service we need to be a physical presence instead of out there in the ether.
So what is best for the customer? It’s an estate agent who sells houses, gives good value for money, conducts viewings, negotiates the deal, and steers it to a speedy conclusion, something increasingly difficult when dealing with internet-only agents who get their fee whether or not the deal goes through and who frequently price all these activities, if they offer them at all, as extras.
*Colin Shairp is director of Fine and Country Southern Hampshire