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Property Natter: let's embrace change as an industry

Later on, the title of this piece should become clearer (at least I hope so). First, though, a few bits and pieces…

In my recent travels I managed to see Dataloft, who I’ve mentioned in a few of my previous Natters, in all its glory. Set up by Harriet Black six years ago, Dataloft describes itself as “one of the UK’s leading providers of independent property market analysis”.

Before founding Dataloft, Harriet worked for six years in Savills’ research department. As well as being experienced property analysts and data crunchers, Dataloft are also marketeers, copywriters, and designers, with infographics being one of their core products.

Inform, their award winning online subscription tool – offering instant access to comprehensive property market content and analysis as well as branded market reports – once again shows, in an innovative, user-friendly way, how property and technology can mix so seamlessly.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings me to the main point of my article. The industry is changing and change needs to be not only accepted, but embraced.

The majority of people do now search for properties online, online agents are increasing their market share (although this is still low and dominated by five or six major onliners) and the coverage of PropTech is growing.

An interesting story also came to light this week, with the announcement that Ed Mead – vocal critic of online agencies in the past and a leading advocate of Agents’ Mutual and OTM – is to leave London estate agency Douglas & Gordon to concentrate on Viewber, an outsourced viewing service designed to help both online and traditional agents.

Viewber, which matches estate agents with viewing agents and local property experts, enables agents to “extend beyond their existing geographical areas”.

Even more striking is this sentence in the About Us section of their website: “We think a large, but only partial, transition to the online model is inevitable”.

While Mead has talked about how much the industry has changed in the last ten or so years and the inevitability of estate agency adapting to meet the needs of the internet age, it’s still quite remarkable to see a high-profile and traditional estate agent making such a move. It shows, yet again, the slow but sure melding of property and technology.

As I’ve argued before, this doesn’t mean that online agents will be replacing traditional ones in a matter of years – just that technology and the internet will have an increasing influence on how most agents function.

Rob Wellstead is another one. Managing Director of Lenwell Property Services (a multi-branch lettings agency in Luton) since late 1990 and a consultant “helping lettings businesses improve their processes, people and profit”, he branched out and founded Callwell in 2013, a service that offers agents complete lead control and speedy responses to emails from interested parties.

In recent months Rob has managed to get some major property players on board, namely Bob Scarff (former Managing Director of Countrywide) and Mal McCallion, who helped launch Zoopla, PrimeLocation and raterAgent.

Website focus

Most important of all, from an online point of view, is your website – that’s where vendors and landlords can be pounced upon. With a website, the power is in your hands. You can decide how best to attract the people you need to help grow and enhance your business.

In this regard, why wouldn’t you choose to have a window of opportunity open 24/7? Why wouldn’t you want a way of drawing potential leads at all times? It’s a no-brainer, surely?

You can’t keep your office open 24/7, but your website can be – which makes it doubly important that your website not only looks the part and attracts attention, but also generates the leads you need.

A valuation tool is the best way of doing that, turning that traffic and interest into something concrete. It offers the very instant gratification that vendors and landlords are after. We live in an instant gratification world – fast food, superfast internet, 24/7 news, social media. Like Queen said, we want it all and we want it now.

We've been trying to change and galvanise the industry (and offer that instant gratification) with our ValPal tool, to enable agents to compete in the online space.

We’ve generated around 25,000 leads for our agent network in the last two months, while there are now thousands of agents using ValPal.

To put this into some sort of context, one of our clients, Balgores Property Group – which operates in Essex and Kent – saw one of its branches instruct 56 properties last month, a record for the agency.

ValPal has improved our valuations considerably and with that our instructions,” Martin Gibbon, Director of Balgores Property Group, said. “Working in conjunction with our new call centre hub, our valuations have gone up by 30% and instructions have gone up by 23% since the start of this year. This is down to a number of things: the ValPal tool, more offices being opened, our well-oiled marketing and the aforementioned call centre hub.”

Do you want the same? Challenge me to make it happen. I’m doing it now – we've got almost 2,500 branches across over 500 brands using ValPal. Let me do the same for you. A bold claim, yes – and might make me sound a bit like a candidate from The Apprentice – but allow me to show you how a lead-generating tool can do the business for your business too.

While similarities with Uber might be pushing things a tad (Uber are clearly not quite in our league yet!), we are trying to have a comparable impact. Black cabs have been around for a long while, and will still continue to be around for a long while yet, but Uber – recognising a gap in the market – has come up with an innovative, user-friendly, popular product and spread that far and wide.

Uber has now become as industry standard as black cabs. The aim of all new PropTech companies and products, including our ValPal tool, is to reach that same industry standard. The go-to for agents. A trusted, reliable, business-enhancing product.

My vision was that Estate Agent Today would become the industry standard online property publication, the way you now consume your news. You used to read it once a month in a printed mag, now it's every day, online, at your fingertips.

ValPal has already, or is certainly well on its way to being, something with a similar reputation.

You’ll want your agency to be industry standard too, and the best way to go about doing that is to embrace new technology as it comes about.

A few years ago no-one had heard of Uber, now it’s become a noun in its own right. Just goes to show how quickly things can change, and how quickly things that seemed scary, new and daring become the accepted norm.

Until next time…

*Nat Daniels is the Chief Executive Officer of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today

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