As we know, the world’s moving very fast and how we communicate now is drastically different to even 10 years ago. In all likelihood, it will be significantly different again in a decade from now.
This has a knock-on effect for agents, of course, as how you communicate with sellers, buyers, landlords, tenants, solicitors, property managers and collaborators is likely to evolve throughout the 2020s.
This could range from an increased usage of WhatsApp – a cross-platform, and more importantly free, messaging service – to the implementation of a live chat facility and an ever-greater focus on social media.
In the case of WhatsApp, it’s estimated that more than half a billion people worldwide use the end-to-end encrypted service, while the average user checks the service more than 23 times per day. But in the property world it still seems little used. Surely that will change in the coming years?
It offers security, instant messaging, an evidence trail and the ability to create group chats, while it’s also used by people from all across the generations and is as popular with people in their early twenties as it is with people in their late fifties.
This, and live chat facilities offering instant responses and engagement on an agent’s website (embraced by some agents, but far from all), are surely two modern communication methods that all agents should be considering?
At The ValPal Network, we have a variation of the live chat facility with our ChatPal chatbot which targets sellers, buyers and landlords using predesigned scripts to cover any given scenario and helps to convert vendor and landlord traffic into leads for the agent to follow up with. You can find out more about ChatPal, one of our additional services, in this nifty little online brochure.
Trouble for Rightmove (?) and big claims from Purplebricks
Two stories on Estate Agent Today this week have caused quite a stir with our readers. Firstly, our exclusive story on Tuesday about multiple agents from the Federation of Independent Agents potentially quitting Rightmove due to frustrations over seemingly never-ending price hikes, which led to a very interesting debate below the line about the merits and non-merits of a brand which has dominated the property landscape for nearly two decades now.
Could Rightmove really be facing an existential threat? The launch of agent-owned OnTheMarket in 2015 actually boosted Rightmove and hurt Zoopla, but it has faced an increasing backlash in recent years over the fees it charges and the services it offers for these costs.
In a previous Natter discussing the parallels between Rightmove and Just Eat, I looked at an example where an agency had been successful in standing up to the portal, with a threat to quit working wonders. Antony Richards of the family-run, single-branch lettings business Antony Richards Property Services refused to pay a higher fee to Rightmove and gave notice to quit the portal.
Subsequently, he was offered – and accepted – a subscription fee at a reduced cost. There does seem to be a rising spirit of rebellion against the portals from agents, a desire to generate leads in alternative ways and effectively break the status quo. The creation of the FIA is maybe a sign of agents feeling bolder and less reliant on the likes of Rightmove.
In a recent video interview with Chris Watkin, Choices boss Simon Shinerock discussed how Rightmove has failed miserably to see agents’ point of view and argued agents should be suspicious of the portal.
Of course, Rightmove is still huge and vital for many agents, and is highly unlikely to be disappearing anytime soon. It’s still utterly ingrained in the property industry, but despite its size and might it shouldn’t fall into complacency and may benefit from some bridge-building with those agents who feel disillusioned with what it currently offers.
Separately, everyone’s favourite Marmite agency (and I expect most in the industry veer towards the hate option) was in the news this week with more bold claims. In a statement about its sponsorship of Team GB at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (undoubtedly a big coup for the firm given its recent travails), Purplebricks claimed it sells three times more homes than the next biggest agent.
In the past, the hybrid agent has been reluctant to say how many, or what proportion, of its listed properties it has actually been successful in selling. Financial consultancy Jefferies also questioned a claim made in early 2018 that the firm sold more than three quarters of homes listed with it.
Instead, Jefferies said Purplebricks' sales success rate was just over 51% - a figure disputed by the agency in the strongest possible terms.
When we asked Purplebricks for clarification on all of these points, there was no response. Are its claims the truth, a case of cleverly-worded PR or an outright lie? I’ll leave you to make up your minds!
Both of these stories have made for great reading and debate, though – who says the news slows down in the run-up to Christmas?
*A late addition to this, just before going to press, was Friday's EAT article which asked the simple question: "Portals: How much does YOUR branch pay?". We received a fantastic reaction from our readership, with 23 comments and counting any many emails getting in touch to tell us how much they pay for their Rightmove, Zoopla and OTM packages. Keep your eyes peeled for more on this on EAT in the coming weeks!
The world of hush hush home sales
As agents, it’s always best to know your competition and be aware of the alternative ways of selling – in particular off-market sales – to understand all parts of the sector.
While the average homeowner relies on an estate agent to buy or sell a property, there is another world out there for those who prefer to buy or sell their properties privately. These properties never have a ‘For Sale’ sign outside, nor have they been listed with any agents.
Equally, there are never any details or photographs online, nor do buyers tend to visit the property until the sale has been completed.
James Turner, director at York-based company formation specialists Turner Little, told me: “Private buyers of this calibre tend to be ultra-high net worth individuals who purchase properties through a company structure, which can make it almost impossible to ascertain their identities.”
“If a buyer wants to purchase through a company, there are a few options. The first is to buy through an offshore company and the second is to utilise a revocable or living trust. The end goal is often about both a degree of anonymity and asset protection.”
Whilst many buyers want to keep their identities private to ensure it doesn’t impact price negotiations, others want to ensure that the purchase doesn’t negatively impact their larger business presence. For most, though, it’s about safety and security.
“The benefits of off-market selling used to be limited to the super-rich, but the reality is, it can be leveraged by anyone,” Turner added.
Are key sharing apps the future?
Sharebox, the global key sharing app, recently launched a new and innovative product at London’s HOST 2019, held at the London Business Design Centre a few weeks ago.
Its white label system was showcased at the event, which allows Sharebox’s clients to white label their Sharebox cabinets and allow them to completely integrate with their own applications.
Clients will be able to brand the body of the cabinet and add their logo to be displayed on the Sharebox touch screen, including their own customer support messages and phone number.
By controlling all communications internally, Sharebox’s customers can maintain a single voice to their own customers.
From a property perspective, Sharebox’s white label programme is aimed at property managers, holiday rental operators and real estate managers, offering customers a secure and simplified service to make sure there is a safe and efficient handover of keys.
Founded in 2016, Sharebox’s cabinets, which are entirely managed by an app, are placed at central locations and provide anyone who needs to share keys – for example Airbnb hosts, property managers and letting agents - with a large network of trusted key exchange locations across London. Key owners can stash keys in a secure, conveniently-located cabinet which guests can then access through the Sharebox app.
The app notifies the owner when the cabinet has been opened so, in terms of tracking keys, owners are reassured by knowing exactly where keys are and who has taken them.
Arne Eivind Arnesen, CEO and co-founder of Sharebox, says the app is already used by over 100,000 customers and has helped to simplify every aspect of the key exchange process.
“Sharebox removes the issues and confusion that people have with lock boxes and users are simply guided by the Sharebox app,” he says.
It certainly seems like something which could be embraced by the private rented sector as the world becomes more digital, remote and app-led.
Rawlings Roadshow nearly at an end
The Rawlings Roadshow 2019, which kicked off in Warrington at the start of September, is now nearing the end of its 17-date UK tour. It’s swept the length and breadth of the country, from Newport and Falkirk to Watford and Nottingham.
Next week the roadshow rolls on to Northampton, before stopping off in Fareham at the end of November and coming to its conclusion in the charming seaside town of Torquay on Thursday December 5 (with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Krakatoa erupting and herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically all on offer out of hotel windows!).
The annual roadshow, fronted by renowned agency trainer Richard Rawlings, has sought to take a message of hope and opportunity to proactive agents, despite the Tenant Fees Act, Brexit uncertainty and the influx of low commission agents.
The ValPal Network has sponsored the various shows and our very own Craig Vile, director of TVPN, has presented at a number of the events.
“Richard gives agents the confidence to increase their fees, sometimes doubling them and winning more business at the same time,” Craig said. “He provides facts and insights that prove that with a change of mental attitude this can and should be done. I question anyone that leaves his workshop without being motivated into action.”
You can find out more and buy tickets for the remaining events on the Roadshow’s website.
Until next time…
*Nat Daniels is the Chief Executive Officer of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.