When they first came onto the scene, online-only estate and lettings agents were predicted to swiftly spell the end for traditional high street agents.
Mirroring the cheaper, digital approach that has proved so successful for the likes of Amazon and contributed to the demise of bricks and mortar retailers, a similar situation was expected to play out in the property industry.
However, it seems that the past few months have brought nothing but bad news for these online agents. Since the end of last year, two of the sector’s biggest players have entered into administration, and it has been revealed that online agents are still failing to exceed 5% market share, despite the millions spent on marketing and advertising.
This would suggest that the more traditional model offers consumers a desired level of service that online agents are struggling to replicate, bucking the trend seen in other industries in which physical entities are being squeezed out by their digital counterparts.
While this is undoubtedly great news for high street agents, they can’t afford to rest on their laurels just yet.
According to The Property Ombudsman, demands for its services are on the rise, with the number of complaints they received in 2017-18 increasing by 3%, and awards to consumers reaching £1.36 million, an increase of 11%.
According to its annual report, two of the top causes of complaints for both sales and lettings were poor communication and record keeping.
From tenancy agreements and contracts, to terms and conditions and sales particulars forms, few businesses have as many crucial documents to complete on such a regular basis as estate and lettings agents.
With negotiators and property managers spending more time out in the field attending valuations, viewings and property inspections, than in the office, they are often required to take essential paperwork out with them. This must be completed by hand, before it is then returned to the office to be processed and filed away.
Relying on outdated paper-based processes as mentioned above, places an unnecessary administrative burden on staff, which can negatively affect the service offered to customers and clients and put businesses at risk of compliance issues.
Here we explore how the implementation of digital solutions to replace all physical documents can be a great way to eliminate these issues, offering a host of benefits both to agents and their customers…
Prevent important documents getting lost or damaged
One of the biggest risks of relying on paper for any business is the distinct possibility that crucial documents will be accidentally lost or irreparably damaged. This risk becomes even greater for those sectors in which workers are not based in an office environment, as is often the case for estate and lettings agents.
It’s easy for valuation forms or contracts signed away from the office, for example, to be misplaced before there has been time to transport them back to the office to be filed away safely.
Missing or incomplete paperwork could potentially damage an agent’s relationship with customers and clients, or leave them vulnerable to serious legal issues.
In this instance, app-based solutions that allow documents to be completed and signed using just a mobile or tablet, and automatically saved to a central cloud-based platform, eliminate this risk entirely.
Always have access to files in the field
When reliant on paper-based systems, transporting the appropriate documents for every appointment can be cumbersome for negotiators and property managers.
It can also be difficult to ensure that they always have the correct paperwork to hand, and if any essential documents are forgotten then valuable time is wasted returning to the office to collect them.
With all documents being completed digitally and saved to the cloud, staff no longer have to carry large amounts of paperwork around.
Any relevant historic files and blank documents can be accessed instantly from anywhere, enabling agents to ensure they have detailed knowledge ahead of each appointment and helping them to provide a better level of service.
Reduce operational costs
Relying on paper-based processes can end up costing a surprisingly large amount, with one study suggesting that it can cost even a small business as much as £14,616 each year.
Not only is the paper itself expensive, but businesses must also factor in the costs of running and maintaining a printer, and the valuable space taken up by bulky filing cabinets.
The larger an agency grows, or the more branches it opens, the higher this cost becomes, yet it is one of the easiest business costs to reduce significantly without cutting corners on customer service or impacting on employee satisfaction levels.
While implementing digital solutions does incur some up-front costs, it greatly decreases ongoing operational costs, by minimising or even eliminating the need for paper, printers and physical storage.
Paper-based processes can be extremely time-consuming. Not only must all documents be completed by hand, they must then be returned to the office, where any essential information can be manually inputted into a computer database and the paper documents filed away in bulky storage units.
With cloud-based digital solutions, all documents can be completed and filed without the need for the staff to physically return to the office, which improves productivity as it gives them more time to attend a greater number of jobs.
It also means that any documents completed away from the office can be accessed instantly by other members of staff, allowing them to begin actioning the next steps much more quickly and efficiently, which improves business agility.
While it may seem as though high street agents might have successfully seen off the threat of their online competition, they should still be considering the ways in which tactfully implementing digital technology can help them to improve their own level of service, in order to ensure they remain the agents of choice in the future.
*Colin Yates is chief support officer at WorkMobile, an award-winning mobile data capture solution