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Online reviews - They’re here to stay

Odds are that you use TripAdvisor when you book a restaurant or hotel; perhaps you scroll down Amazon before clicking ‘buy now’ to check what other readers thought of that book; and how about that Netflix series...how many stars did it get from other viewers? 

No matter how uncomfortable the thought may be to some, reviews are here to stay and they are coming to the estate agency industry any time now - just as they have come to almost every sector where individuals want guidance before they make a choice.

Many agents are comfortable with this, of course, but many are not: of those not, some may think online reviews are particularly vulnerable to fakery (possibly true) and others believe they cannot afford the time to address negative or complicated reviews properly. 

But two instances this week emphasised to me just how important reviews have become, even at their current fledgling status in the agency business.

The first instance was an investment report by City broker Peel Hunt, sent to its investor clients, concerning Purplebricks. Now leave to one side the fact that the agency uses Peel Hunt as a paid adviser on its investment strategy - this is routine in the City, and the flip side is that Peel Hunt has access to much more information because of its links to the firm. 

The key point is that on several occasions in the 34-page note to investors, the ratings received by Purplebricks on a review website were mentioned as a significant indicator of the firm’s success. For example, when talking about PB in Australia, Peel Hunt wrote:

... Led by an experienced self-sufficient management team, there is demonstrable momentum in the business. Average savings for customers to date are A$12k per transaction and with an ‘excellent’ Trustpilot rating we expect the growth to continue. The Australian business was launched a couple of years after the UK, however, by 2021 we forecast an operating profit of £22m.... 

and 

...One of the significant metrics is the Trustpilot rating of 9.5/10 (excellent), with 98% positive Australian reviews. This statistic highlights that Purplebricks has been received very well by consumers since its launch in 2016 and bodes well for future growth....

Then when talking about PB’s activities in the UK, Peel Hunt used its seemingly-successful reviews as more evidence that it was doing something right:

...We believe Purplebricks has an advantage over other agents with a leading national brand and an ‘excellent’ Trustpilot rating from customers....

Forget any feelings you may have for or against Purplebricks - the take-away here is that reviews are seen by hard-nosed investors as a key performance indicator. 

The second instance this week when I realised how important reviews were becoming was a seminar for property professionals addressed by online and high street agents, and attended by a mix of agents, suppliers and professional review company personnel.

It was considering a report on public confidence in estate agents commissioned by one of a growing number of review platforms, Feefo. It concluded that reviews were becoming more important for many, especially - of course - younger people. 

Some 56 per cent of those questioned said they at least read reviews before deciding which agent to use; that figure went up to 68 per cent of tenants considering renting a different property. 

“Very strikingly, 70 per cent of 25-to-34 year olds said they rely on reviews before they decide on an estate agent compared with 40 per cent of those aged 55 and above” concluded the research.  

“The figures indicate very directly how estate agents will need to make sure they fully adjust to this trend, which is bound to gather pace as the property market is entered by more young people completely accustomed to apprising themselves of online review content before making a decision” it continued.

It’s possibly unwise to scoff that a poll commissioned by a review company has come out in favour of reviews - of course it has. 

But instead, look at it this way. You may well be sceptical about online reviews right now for our own industry, yet you have probably used one or more yourself in recent days before committing to a decision or expenditure in a field in which you are not an expert.

Now that is exactly how the public feel about selling, buying, letting or renting homes - they are not experts so they look to see other peoples’ experiences. 

In other words, reviews are the 21st century word of mouth - we had all better become used to them and work to steer them in our favour.

*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting all things property @PropertyJourn

  • Chris Arnold

    The basis of a review is that it is an example of another experiencing the service/product. It gives no credibility to the knowledge that reviewer has of the product/service. I might find the Dell laptop XYX to be a great experience. Others more qualified might disagree. So, we then turn to the experience of those vendors that leave 4/5 star reviews. What do they know about estate agency. Nothing. What do they know about the value of their home. Very little if, as seems the case, many are enticed into believing it is worth far more than it is. Why, then, should we believe these reviews from vendors that have sold their homes through any agency. It is the blind leading the blind.
    The same might be said for investment advisers such as Peel Hunt. What do they know of the estate agency model, other than historical financial data? Or what they are fed by opportunist hybrid agencies more intent on enriching themselves than on providing a superior service?
    As Seth Godin puts it:
    "That's the warning sign..when the rationale/logic/story happens after you've decided what you want to do, not before. This relentless re-framing of the truth into something else causes us to not ask the right questions. It prevents us from understanding our options and from making smart choices
    We're in danger of developing a culture where con men, hucksters and others desperately seeking power and influence have decided they can profit from making the truth seem relative."

    Online reviews of estate agency may well be the future. I, for one, will resist them with all my might.

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