We’re already more than halfway through 2017 and, against all the odds, it’s pushing 2016 close in terms of eventfulness and topsy-turviness. A snap general election, a shock hung parliament, the ongoing fallout from Brexit, a series of heatwaves, the whole country seemingly being gripped by Love Island fever, the nostalgia wave that has seen Blind Date and Crystal Maze back on our screens, and the live car crash that is Donald Trump’s presidency are just some of the things that have been keeping us all on our toes – and hooked to the news – so far this year.
From a property perspective, it’s been a very busy and eventful six and a half months, too. Here, I take a look at some of the biggest talking points and moments.
The rise of the hybrids
That might sound like the title of a dystopian sci-fi novel, but it’s been interesting to note just how much traction the hybrid approach has gained in recent months. It seems to be the new norm, with a number of traditional agents now offering online models – including high-profile Countrywide brands such as Bairstow Eves – and Purplebricks continuing to grow at a rapid rate.
Whatever you think of Purplebricks – and it’s easy to see why it's a very Marmite operation, dividing opinion even more than the portals and Foxtons – it has achieved a level of nationwide brand recognition that cannot be ignored. Its purple boards are visible on high streets, its TV adverts are cutting through and it seems to appear regularly wherever you look at the moment.
Arguments could be made about whether it’s actually a hybrid, with local property experts rather than fixed offices, and there are legitimate questions to be asked about its business model and its long-term sustainability, but I think even the most ardent critic of Purplebricks would recognise that it’s having a significant impact on the property industry and throwing down a challenge to the old order.
For some, this means fighting fire with fire – Savills, for example, has invested heavily in YOPA, the online agency with the Village People-inspired ads - while the recent announcement of the merger between GPEA (parent company of the Guild and Fine & Country) and easyProperty certainly caused a few ripples in the industry. For others, a more defensive, cautious approach has been taken.
Online agents only command a small market share, but hybrids do look to be the future. That said, the definition of a hybrid is currently a bit loose. To be a hybrid, would you have to offer traditional and online services in equal measure?
At the moment, it seems to mean online agents who say they are proper estate agents because they have local experts, or traditional agents who offer a limited online service as a side order, to test the waters. In time, perhaps, the definition will be clearer. But it’s noticeable how the influence of the hybrid approach is rising.
As we’ve seen with other industries, those who don’t adapt, evolve and keep up with the times tend to fade away and die. That’s not to say traditional agents are dead in the water, far from it, just that a 21st century approach – as many already take – is needed to compete in a fast-moving, transitory world.
The new way of selling a home?
Social media has now become an integral part of our daily lives – so much so, it’s hard to imagine a world without it. Whether it’s Snapchat, Facebook or LinkedIn, the prevalence of smartphones, tablets and superfast broadband means we are sharing more of ourselves online than ever before.
Increasingly, we watch TV, shop, bank, date and order food online, at the tap of a button. For many young people, it’s online news sites – not newspapers – where they get their news. And it is property portals they head to first to browse for properties to buy and rent.
While selling homes via social media is still very much in its infancy, Housesimple.com did try and become the first to sell a home via Facebook Live a few weeks ago. This follows other attempts in the past by frustrated vendors, who have turned to social media platforms to try and get their home sold.
With Housesimple’s Facebook Live trial, a real time, interactive tour of the home was carried out by the seller, with would-be buyers able to make private bids via Facebook messaging. Again, people will have their own views on the safety, security and viability of selling a home in this manner – and there’s been no confirmation as yet of whether the seller received an offer as a result of the viewing – but is there not a chance this could be a sign of things to come?
Video and VR viewings haven’t really taken off in a big way, hampered by the inability to recreate a real viewing experience, but for busy, time-poor people, or those always on the move, selling or buying a home via social media could have appeal.
One to keep an eye on, although my hunch suggests this method of selling won’t be catching on for a number of years yet, if at all.
The continuing PropTech boom
You’re probably tired of me banging on about PropTech, but its influence continues to grow. Whether it’s new companies and services bringing innovative products to the market, major conferences attracting attendees from all over the world, blogs and articles dissecting and analysing the latest property technology news, or specific websites that take a Ronseal approach to PropTech by calling themselves Property Technology, its growth has been rapid and impressive.
Speaking of Property Technology, they do excellent work when it comes to combining blog and video content to discuss the latest news and trends in the PropTech industry. You can see many examples here.
The robustness of the property market
It’s been said many times before, but the property world has shown its resilience and toughness in an uncertain world. Despite three years of referendums, elections, shock results and political and economic uncertainty, the property industry has brushed all this off and largely taken a business as normal approach. Following the trend of recent years, 2017 has witnessed some seismic political moments – the triggering of Article 50, the calling of a snap general election, the Conservatives losing their majority and the start of Brexit negotiations – but despite this a good old “keep calm and carry on” model has been employed by our industry, storms have been weathered and, compared to elsewhere, strong and stable would be a fairly accurate description of where we currently are.
The importance of valuation tools
2017 has been a great year so far for ValPal, highlighting once again the need for agents to have a valuation tool on their website, converting website traffic into vendor and landlord leads.
If you want to capture the details of landlords and vendors visiting your site, ValPal is the tool for you. We’re always adding new features and add-ons to improve our packages, and always looking to innovate to stay ahead of our competitors. As ever, we appreciate the need to adapt, evolve and grow.
This year has been a busy one for ValPal, with a rebrand in January to The ValPal Network and added sales verticals (including TRUSTist, a Live Chat feature and training webinars with Craig Vile, Director of ValPal, and Sales Doctor). We've also introduced our unique Out of Area leads programme and the ValPal Booster Pack (there to supercharge your ValPal), to give our agents more than ever.
What's more, we've increased the number of agents and branches using ValPal and have managed to get major players of the industry (including Countrywide brands and all but one of the LSL brands) on board. We hope for more of the same for the remaining months of the year.
As for the rest of 2017? After recent years, only a fool would make any concrete predictions about anything. It will, though, be fascinating to see how things pan out. "Expect the unexpected" would certainly be a good mantra to follow.
That’s that from me this week…Until next time.
*Nat Daniels is the Chief Executive Officer of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today