Agents' boards get a lot of stick. Many see them as stains on the landscape, some see them as useless in today’s digital age, and others are just frustrated that they stay up for so long.
They’ve received a barrage of bad press recently; it seems that it’s not just local residents who are bored of seeing boards.
Certain councils have banned the use of signs completely, and one local authority has threatened agents that there’ll be “no more gentle reminders” when it comes to displaying boards for longer than they should.
Boards are clearly causing some problems – but should they be banned completely?
Let’s first look at their use: as an advertising and marketing tool. It’s worth remembering that boards are not just advertising the agent, but the property itself.
Boards are fantastic for showing there’s movement in the market, and letting the public see with two eyes which properties are currently available.
They’re also an extremely inexpensive marketing tool, especially when compared to newspaper and magazine advertising or subscriptions to the top property portals.
Banning boards or restricting marketing tools will always affect the client negatively, and may even translate into fees shooting up, as an agent would need to put more energy and time into marketing the property in another way.
Many will combat this argument, stating that boards are simply not a sign of the times.
In the UK, around 80% of house hunters now use the web to start their property search, and according to Hitwise, around 1% of all internet traffic in the UK is property-related.
The statistics certainly show that we are an online nation, but the internet can also lead people into making the wrong assumptions about a property, and subsequently deciding not to enquire.
Photos can sometimes be deceiving, and consumers must remember that of course descriptions are going to be more poetic than prosaic, while stating the facts – as ultimately it’s another marketing tool to help sell the property.
Boards provide clear visibility and clear calls to action to passers-by, stating this property is available, this is what it looks like, and this is the street it’s located on.
In my experience, I’ve found that the majority of people don’t tend to move very far. In fact, a lot of our clients tell us they didn’t actually have any plans to move, but ended up doing so opportunistically because they’ve spotted a board in their local area and impulsively enquired.
These type of clients aren’t scrawling through the online property portals each week, they’re simply faced with opportunities as they’re going about their daily life. An advertising tool that’s purely local, therefore, is going to be much more effective for these type of clients.
I believe boards serve a purpose, but they are also a problem because they’re left up for longer than they should be.
By law, boards have to be removed no more than 14 days after the advertised property has been let or sold, and there are Regulation 7 orders in place in many conservation areas that restrict residential for sale and for let boards completely.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to see boards still standing months after a property has been sold or let.
In fact, some agents have even admitted that their “policy is to leave them up as long as possible” - which is giving all estate agents a bad name.
Boards arguably have negative connotations just by being connected to the estate agent industry.
There are usually big Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat boards up outside properties during the election, but these do not seem to cause an issue.
Getting rid of boards won’t remove the stigma attached to estate agents though – it’s only estate agents who can do that, by abiding by the law and the council’s rules and regulations in regards to boards, and by offering a quality service.
At Portico, we know that boards are useful for our clients, but we also know that they can be profoundly ugly.
That’s why we decided to make our boards a little more discreet and stylish – and we’ve had a great reaction from clients so far.
While our boards don’t broadcast many details, we think they represent traditional board advertising and our digital age – as interested passers-by have to Google us to find our number and enquire into the property.
Boards are an extremely powerful marketing tool, and many people still drive around areas they like hoping to spot boards outside properties.
Banning boards would make property harder to sell, and potentially cause agent fees to increase – neither of which would be warmly welcomed.
It would also inhibit an unstable market, and now more than ever, it’s imperative that there’s clear signs (on the street) to show that the market has momentum.
*Robert Nichols is Managing Director of London estate agency Portico