This article was originally written for City AM in response to an article it published attacking letting agents. See more here.
A quick search online in to the most hated and distrusted professions in the UK and, shock horror, estate agents feature heavily!
In fact, so ingrained in to the British psyche is the dislike of our profession that it appears whenever a journalist is struggling to find something to write about - giving us a good kicking appears one of the easiest pieces of clickbait - because everyone hates those lazy/greedy/lying agents, right?
As if that wasn’t enough, there is seemingly nothing a politician loves more than blaming agents for housing woes - anything to detract from the failings of the last 17 housing ministers (in just 20 years too)!
The irony of this (with journalists and politicians not faring much better than agents in many of these polls) is not lost on any of us.
Now it’s ok - you can put your violins away! I didn’t chose to be an estate agent because I wanted to be universally liked and respected. I am also not going to write this and pretend that our entire profession is a shining beacon of excellence - there is no hiding the fact that there are still agents across the UK that deserve the appalling reputation they have…it just shouldn’t be applied to the rest of us!
I became an agent back in 2002 and promptly started my own agency in 2004, primarily because I (and my co-founder) thought the industry could be so much more, so much better than it was.
Thankfully, we were far from alone. Over the course of the last 15 years I have had the immense pleasure and honour to meet agents and entrepreneurs from across the UK looking to transform our profession for the better.
From single office operations like ours to some of the titans of our industry - I have seen the very best our industry has transform the way they work and delight clients and consumers alike from dawn to dusk.
In fact, the best are so good I genuinely believe them to be the best in the world and here are a just a few reasons why:
Sale: 70% OFF!
UK estate agents are really expensive I hear you shriek. I don’t blame you for believing this - every online agent has made this their marketing mantra for the last 5+ years.
In fact, extensive research undertaken by Estate Agent Today published in May last year confirmed that UK agents are one of, if not the, lowest priced in the world.
UK agents typically charge 1.2-1.8% (inc. VAT) but elsewhere you can expect to pay anywhere from 2.07% to a whopping 10% with 4-5% being commonplace. Yep, UK agents are around 70% cheaper than our international cohorts. You can read the research for yourself here.
As a profession we are all too often accused of being old-fashioned and out-dated in today’s increasingly digital landscape but UK agents are global pioneers - and at an ever-increasing pace.
In fact, there are two global hubs for PropTech at the moment - the US and the UK, driving the vast majority of evolution and innovation in this space.
Just 10 years ago, tech played a tiny role in the consumer journey with an agency. However, now you can readily: obtain an instant online valuation, book a valuation/viewing, take a virtual tour around a property, make on offer online, secure a mortgage online, process a tenancy application without a piece of paper in sight, track the progress of a sale/purchase on your mobile, report and monitor a maintenance issue via a website or free app, split household bills, help save a deposit, secure an array of insurances, the list goes on…and it’s all available to you via your friendly, innovative estate agent.
Most of the global real estate markets are watching the UK agency scene with fascination and are keen to learn and evolve from the pioneering moves we are making both as a profession ourselves and powered by our amazing PropTech scene.
Above and beyond
In a challenging market with growing competition and shrinking fee earnings, not to mention operating by and large on a ‘no sale, no fee’ basis, you would be forgiven for thinking that agents are often trying to deliver the ‘bare minimum’ - but the stories I hear paint a very different picture.
There was the North London agent, Paramount, that would regularly check in on an elderly tenant going to get their shopping, making sure they weren’t lonely and even replacing their oven free of charge. Or the Spanish tenants they placed that spoke virtually no English so a Spanish-speaking member of staff helped them set up bank accounts and get settled.
Then there’s the Surrey agency Sacha Scott who were approached by a family desperate to secure a garden property to move to with a very ill child.
After crunching the numbers, the agent identified they were about £40k short, so set about an epic fundraising campaign to make this dream come true. The last time I checked, they were donating 25% of their fees to help a local school replace their swimming pool.
There was the lettings manager Jon at the Knight Frank branch in Chiswick who, when faced with a property still full of the vacating owner’s contents placing the imminent tenancy at risk, rented a local storage unit and, together with a colleague, moved all items there to make sure everything went ahead as planned.
These are just some that standout stories, but I have received literally hundreds of amazing stories and testimonials of agents rescuing people when removal firms let them down, elderly family members being checked up on, properties being rescued from fire, people being driven 70 miles to an airport so they didn’t miss a flight, a cat being adopted to keep a sale together, bracing snow storms to get contracts signed, house-sitting nervous pets during viewings, a 794-mile round trip to correct a sales board…do we still sound lazy, greedy and self-serving?
Awards and reviews bring transparency and constant improvement. There are three major industry awards for UK estate and letting agents every year- The ESTAS, The Negotiator Awards and the Best Estate Agent Guide.
All three are run and adjudicated differently, ensuring that different aspects of what makes an ‘award winning agent’ is represented and this, in turn, gives the consumers the ability to pick agents safe in the knowledge that they are working with some of the very best the UK has to offer.
Combine this information with the rise of online reviews (now commonplace in almost every sector) and clients and consumers alike can undertake a lot of research before deciding which agents to contact.
The result of this competition, both to win awards and glowing customer testimonials alike has definitely benefitted consumers as agents strive to deliver the very best property service on offer in the UK.
This has not only led to agents adopting great service offerings other agents already offer, but also thinking outside the box and developing unique service and digital offerings to ensure they stand head and shoulders above their local market all to the benefit of the consumer.
Variety is the spice of life
There are now more estate and letting agency branches and businesses in the UK than ever before and a myriad of service models and pricing structures.
From the latest FSBO (For Sale by Owner) digital offerings, where you pay very little but effectively act as your own agent, through to the premier full-service agents, who take care of everything you need (and some of the stuff you didn’t realise you needed), charging around 3% for a sale or around 20% for a let and manage service.
What this means is consumers have more choice than ever before, empowering people to fulfil their property journey in whichever manner best suits their wants, needs, timelines and budgets.
If consumers take the time to properly research the agency offerings available to them, then they will discover not only a huge array of service offerings to choose from but can also ensure that they secure the services of an agent that they can trust and enjoy working with.
For landlords, who might use an agent for decades to come, this decision could be your third biggest commitment after marriage and children, so it’s important you choose right!
However, despite what the media and political landscape would often have you think, the UK has some amazing agents that deliver a truly world-beating service.
*Kristjan Byfield is company director and co-founder of base property specialists and co-founder of PropTech compliance startup The Depositary.