The end of 2018 was a bit of a rocky time for online estate agents. Yet only a few years ago some pundits were confidently predicting that 50% of all residential sales would be through online agents by 2020.
But those earlier predictions are not coming to pass and we're not seeing the meteoric rise of the online agent as originally predicted.
According to Twentyci, the total share of online estate agents actually fell back at the end of 2018 to 7.2% of all exchanges from an earlier peak of nearly 8%, with additional analysis suggesting that online agents are struggling to penetrate south of the Watford Gap.
But, even with the demise of Emoov at the end of 2018, it would be foolish to think that there will be no disruption in the agency world going forward.
You don’t have to look far to find other markets disrupted by the new kids on the block – local taxis feeling the impact of Uber and restaurant chains the impact of Deliveroo.
Even in agency itself it is not so many years since we existed in a world without Rightmove or Zoopla, a world where the high street shop window was the place where people found the properties they would go on to buy.
But here’s a sobering thought - even if Purplebricks does only have a portion of the 8% market share of online transactions, what it does have is one major advantage that every estate agency should be envious of – it’s a ‘household name’. A household name that claims to offer the same level of service of a traditional agency at a fraction of the total cost.
It occurs to me that when you are a household name it is much easier to launch new products and services. You only have to think of Virgin for an example of that – who would have guessed that Virgin Records could have launched a travel empire, but it did.
So, what does all this mean for the smaller, independent estate agent?
With only one product type – introducing the property transaction – surely agents must seek innovative ways to connect customer experiences and build loyalty.
How to do this? - by encouraging customers to come into branches to enable true relationships to build. It seems to me that the current agency model is just not designed to build any form of customer loyalty.
Now I don’t have the silver bullet for this conundrum, but if agents are to truly set themselves apart from the likes of Purplebricks (and indeed other corporate agencies) maybe they do need to become true ‘local property experts’.
It was this thinking that encouraged estate agent Ainsley Ball to embark on the Sava Diploma in Residential Surveying and Valuation.
The owner of a Lancashire based agency and with 15 years in property under his belt, Ainsley is convinced that he needs to add to his service base moving forwards.
Just doing more of the same thing is not an option, because if there is one certainty in these uncertain times, that is not what Purplebricks and the other online agents will be doing.
He was also attracted to the idea of having the ‘professional status’ that membership of RICS brings (the Sava Diploma leads to direct memberships of RICS as an Associate Member).
So, he embarked on the Sava Diploma in Residential Surveying and Valuation and would recommend the diploma to others.
He found the process straightforward and enjoyable but also challenging and thought-provoking.
“There have been many highlights throughout the process, meeting new people and making new friends, getting back into the classroom after a considerable amount of time and learning from experienced surveyors, but the feeling when my last assessment was signed off will take some beating,” he says.
Ainslie is newly-qualified and at the time of writing it is still unclear exactly how he is going to integrate the new skills and opportunities he has learnt into the existing business.
But at least he now has the opportunity to do so and can truly call himself a real ‘property expert’.
*Hilary Grayson is director of surveying services at Sava