Forgive the footballing headline – perhaps inevitable now that Euro 2016 has started – but several decisions and statements across the industry in recent weeks have made me realise just how clever Purplebricks has been in its business model and its marketing.
It’s at least a goal up on its online rivals - whether it's deserved or not.
Now I’m not blind to the fact that it has yet to turn a profit, nor to the shortcomings that many traditional agents report that Purplebricks’ representatives show on the ground.
But even so, I would contend that this agency in its short life has set the mood music for recent changes across the agency industry as a whole.
The element that has been most influential has been its use of ‘Local Property Experts’.
Firstly, having LPEs has meant that from inception Purplebricks could, with justification, call itself a hybrid agency rather than an online one. This means that while it has made a lot of marketing play of its budget fees, it has simultaneously avoided some of the negative connotations that ‘online’ conjures up amongst the some members of the public.
Secondly by hammering home the term Local Property Experts – itself easily understandable to the layperson – Purplebricks has created a kind of generic term which has been used by other players too.
For example, some media coverage of Savills’ investment in YOPA and Countrywide’s hybrid experiment with three local brands have used the very term ‘local property expert’ - or at least wording like that – as a way of explaining to the public that this is not quite an ‘online only’ exercise, and that ‘traditional’ expertise is part of the offer.
Thirdly, even some online agencies that have previously very proudly described themselves as ‘online’ are now occasionally slipping in the term ‘hybrid’ when talking about themselves – and they do this because there is now a version of their original business model involving real people, not just keyboards.
And fourthly, you rarely hear now of ‘online-only’ agencies popping up where sellers stick dodgy images on a website with no professional guidance for a token £50. Instead, new entrants trying their hand at market disruption tend to emphasise some link with ‘physical’ agents and as a result have fees in the hundreds rather than the tens of pounds.
My guess is that this trend has been created, in no small part, by Purplebricks’ high profile marketing of this model.
Now this praise for Purplebricks is of course unfair to those who have been doing this for some time – EweMove, for example, even Tepilo, and some smaller physical agencies have offered a part-online, part-traditional services to customers. These players have been using local property experts long before Purplebricks came to our attention.
But even so, Michael and Kenny Bruce – Purplebricks’ founders – have been in the right place at the right time to make a difference to the wider industry.
I certainly believe that their demonstration that you can combine ‘real’ estate agency knowledge with much more use of digital technology has been why Savills and Countrywide have entered the field – and why there will be more to come.
So even if it turns out that Purplebricks continues not to make money (and we’ll know the latest state of play in a few days when it reports to the City) this agency has nonetheless made an impact – and a lasting one – on the industry as a whole.
It’s forced others to adopt a similar model: someone, somehow, will probably make it work.
*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting all things property @PropertyJourn