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‘Fake agents’ are crippling independents’ reputations and livelihoods

Think ‘fake agents’ are no threat to your business? Think again. The rise of online agents - dubbed by some as ‘fake agents’ - are costing every agent without exception.

For as long as agency has existed, people have been setting up businesses which seek to cut out or undermine traditional estate agents.

The majority have failed, but not without doing some damage to the industry on their way down. They all make the attack on incumbent businesses the main thrust of their marketing - ‘Nobody really needs an estate agent’ is always the underlying pitch.

Their existence is not a problem but their marketing is.

These quirky, flash-in-the-pan, and sometimes very well-funded ventures (easier.co.uk in the late 90s spent £13 million and easyProperty is rumoured to have spent £18 million) always attract great publicity on the back of the notorious public loving-to-hate estate agency message.

This fact only serves to underline how even those who consider themselves successful, wealthy and experienced business people can completely fail to understand what good agents really do, and get their fingers burnt or lose their shirts in the process.

So, I agree with the commentators who ask why people are wasting time worrying about the increasing number of 'listing agents' - companies calling themselves estate agents but who in reality offer nothing more than an upfront paid advertising service.

Their existence alone is no more a threat to the industry than private sellers used to be in the pre-internet days. There will always be a small portion of people who will choose not to use full service agency, and either try to sell privately, or pay for an advertising service - almost always something they regret afterwards.

But, the marketing by these so-called ‘fake agents’ and the consequences of it are an altogether different matter.

It is the most damaging phenomenon the industry has experienced in the 20 years I have been involved, and directly impacts every single remaining company in the business, especially independent agents.

Even if you believe that your business is so strong in its reputation for outstanding service that you will continue to win as many instructions, you will have local direct competitors who have been affected, who will have lowered their fees as a result, which in turn means further downward pressure on your fees.

Every single independent agent in the country, without exception, is experiencing harder conditions as a result of the marketing campaigns of online competitors.

There is no single independent agent who has the firepower, profile or resources to combat these high-profile and expensive advertising campaigns.

The existing corporate agents, rather than fighting the threat, are jumping on the bandwagon and launching their own (or purchasing) hybrid businesses. Savills, once the paragon of first class estate agency service, has twice invested in YOPA. I see this as almost a tacit admission of defeat (and I say this as someone who has both friends and family who work at Savills).

This is why a group of leading independent agents have joined forces to create an organisation that, with the support of all independents, will have the firepower, resources and teeth to fight back against this destructive marketing which is damaging an already-poor industry reputation further.

CIELA exists solely to promote the collective interests of independent estate and letting agents by forming a collective voice, correcting public perception and lobbying government on behalf of the group of businesses who make up more than 80% of the industry, and more than 95% of the brands.

Without it, and in the absence of any other organisation representing exclusively independent agents, the industry is powerless to defend itself against the effective marketing by the so-called 'fake agents'.

I believe the powerful and relentless marketing continuously drip feeding from these firms is destroying the industry and agents must unite, or face the inevitable further damage to their reputation.

*Charlie Wright is CEO of The Charter for Independent Estate and Letting Agents

**This article was amended on May 18 to remove several references to Purplebricks.

  • Simon Bradbury

    Thanks for your thought provoking and generally well written article.
    Respectfully though, I would disagree with much of what you have suggested - particularly your use of the words 'fake agents'.
    Whilst there are certainly elements of what these agents do that may concern us (relatively) more traditional businesses - they have certainly taught me a lot in terms of how to be more efficient and customer focused. Specifically 3 things ...
    1) Continually analyse your cost base and identify the actual costs to your business of each element of your services.
    This is how 'they' have been able to reduce unnecessary expenditure in certain aspects of their businesses.
    2) Focus on what the customer wants - not on what YOU think they want.
    Booking a valuation appointment on line directly with the estate agent is something that the likes of Purplebricks have offered for some time. A large number of prospective sellers now simply EXPECT to have this facility as they do when booking a restaurant, cinema or even with their doctor.
    3) Implementing tried and tested processes is CRITICAL to any business.
    In order to improve efficiency, having processes that are constantly reviewed and monitored will bring BIG benefits to any estate agent. The so called 'online/call centre/budget' agents can teach us a lot in this respect.

    Of course, the human interaction factor will always be the single most important element in the whole estate agency sector - and that is something that can be influenced by good management and effective training. This approach is not exclusive to the 'traditional' sector and the 3 lessons that I have outlined are not exclusive to the 'online' sector either.

    in fact I would contend that we are all now 'Hybrids' and we should embrace that as a fact and use it to our advantage. If 'fake agents' do exist they are not only to be found in the market sector that you have focused on.

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