The 2010s were a good decade for disrupters. Early on, Airbnb and Uber shook up the holiday lettings/hospitality and traditional black cab/minicabs industries respectively, while just a few years later Tinder transformed the dating world forever.
Just Eat, Deliveroo and latterly UberEats radically shook up the way we order and think about takeaways, while Facebook, Twitter and Instagram spent the last decade mounting a serious challenge to traditional media.
The likes of Amazon, ASOS, Boohoo, Missguided and PrettyLittleThing brought a considerable challenge to high street retailers, while travel agents became almost obsolete as people used various websites to book holidays online instead. WhatsApp, meanwhile, grew and grew to make the humble text message almost redundant (the app giant, now owned by Facebook, recently hit the two billion users milestone).
In the middle of the decade, two online-only banks were founded – targeted at tech-savvy millennials – which started to pose a challenge to the traditional high street bank. Starling (founded in 2014) and Monzo (founded in 2015) are entirely app-based and, some of the younger members of staff tell me, very user-friendly and easy to sign up to.
Other challenger banks, which offer things such as free transactions abroad, 24/7 in-app support, bill splitting, real-time spending notifications and monthly spending reports, have included Revolut and Curve.
Where am I going with all this? Well, property hasn’t been immune from disruption in recent decades. In the Noughties Rightmove and Zoopla radically transformed the property landscape as we know it, making sure things were never the same again.
The property disrupters of the 2010s is a cause for greater debate; OnTheMarket, while now a solid third portal which has established itself reasonably well, has been far from a total triumph and has arguably left Rightmove and Zoopla stronger than they ever were; Purpblebricks, meanwhile, has certainly shaken up the market, but the low market share of the hybrid/online model means it hasn’t been as transformative as it might have hoped, despite plenty of hype and strong brand awareness.
But what about the decade to come? Will the Twenties of this century roar and help to make our property lives that much easier?
I checked in with Emma Vigus, managing director of sales progression and communications tool Mio, to get her thoughts on the property disrupters of the 2020s.
“The biggest disruptors will be consumers who will be increasingly vocal about their dissatisfaction with the transaction process,” she said. “They will drive demand for a better understanding of the property they are purchasing, greater efficiency and clear, frequent communication.”
“Technology can be developed faster and cheaper than the early 2000s, so rather than one or two businesses, driving innovation, we will see multiple companies from start-ups to established players spinning up solutions. Many will fail but the winners will have a robust commercial understanding of the sectors they are targeting. They will also need to be well-funded and patient. Change won’t happen overnight, and businesses targeting consumers will need deep pockets.”
Will apps play more of a role in the buying and selling process as younger generations enter the property market? “We’re expecting them to play a much larger role as future generations move onto the housing ladder, but the app marketplace is competitive with the average smartphone user installing over 80 apps but only using 30,” Emma continued.
“Over 55% of UK owner occupiers are over 55 and app usage amongst this age range is 33% lower than for 18-24-year olds. However, Gen Y and Z, whilst more likely to give an app a go, will be more discerning about the apps they fully engage with. They’ve grown up with great technology and they’ll be quick to spot an app that doesn’t deliver and less likely to invest time in making it work for them.”
I ask if disruption is also required to bring the property market fully into the 21st century and improve the flaws of the current system such as fall-throughs?
“Property transactions fall through for lots of reasons, including unforeseen human frailties. Nobody can control those so we need to focus attention on risks that can be mitigated. Looking at fall-throughs specifically, something as radical as ‘disruption’ isn’t needed. We just need to use the great tools at our disposal to do the things we are already doing, better.
Would something like daily smartphone notifications help to keep buyers and sellers happier and more informed during the sales process?
“Consumers are used to getting daily status updates on everything from their Amazon delivery to their bank balance. It’s perfectly reasonable that they expect the same level of communication about the most important purchase they will ever make. That demand will only grow as we see an increasing number of Gen Y’s and Gen Z’s moving onto the housing ladder.”
Some very interesting points raised there, and it will be fascinating to see which companies, tools and ideas really shake up our industry across the next decade – whether it be a rise of the hubs model, a growth in AI or a move towards digital mortgages and less face-to-face interaction.
There will always be the argument about whether disrupters change things for the better or worse, but it’s also the case that to keep moving forward – and to improve and enhance existing processes – a kick up the backside from new kids on the block every so often is absolutely necessary.
The death knell for local advertising?
Following on from my last Natter on the possible death of local property advertising, which generated some interesting debate below the line, I received comment from a few more agents keen to offer their input.
One of those was Steve Betts, founder of Barnsley-based estate agency NestledIn.
Do you still place ads in the local press? Or is it all about social media, your own website and the portals these days?
Since we opened in March 2019, we have not paid for any local press advertising. I don’t believe the general public uses the local papers to find properties now, I think the first place they look is the main portals. What our own websites, and particularly social media, allow us to do, is inform the client about us. They allow us to show what makes us different to the other agent up the road.
Do you think local newspaper advertising is a dying trend?
They have been struggling for the last ten years, I really can’t see them growing anytime soon. I think there will always be a niche market for the consumer who prefers something on paper. However, I don’t think that will be property-related.
Is there a cost-saving from not using local property ads?
Absolutely! In my area, the average page in the property guide is approximately £500. A page a week over a month is £2,000! During a time where agents are struggling with the increasing costs from Rightmove and Zoopla, it’s a no-brainer saving money on local property ads. In our case, we have used the savings to spend more on social advertising. Not only is the ROI trackable, but we are now starting to really feel the benefits of a sustained spend and increased brand awareness.
Times change and so do people’s attitudes
I also spoke with Jack Soars, group marketing manager at independent Midlands agency Centrick, which has been operating for 15 years with offices in Birmingham, Solihull, Nottingham and London.
“In days gone by, the property section of your local newspaper would be full of local agents showing off their latest instructions with colourful displays of their prowess, alongside their ‘family values’ and ‘local presence’."
"And in the pre-internet age, it worked. But times have changed and those sections are now decidedly on the thinner side,” he says.
“Centrick used to advertise in several local newspapers across the Midlands but as of 2020, this has been entirely cut from our marketing budget. The decision was not taken lightly as it had always been there. But with rising costs of newspaper advertising and diminishing returns a decision had to be made. We tirelessly measure our ROI across all sectors and newspaper print just wasn’t providing enough.”
He says that to advertise fortnightly with a double page spread in one local paper was costing Centrick over £9,000 per year. But the instructions that came from people reading the paper only totalled three in two years.
“To put this into comparison, a social media campaign Centrick ran over three months in the latter half of 2019, provided over 300 leads and 20 instructions – all for roughly 10% of the cost of the newspaper advertising,” Soars adds.
“Times change and so do people’s attitudes. Google is the modern high street, where you can find anything you want, research it, get other people’s opinions and experiences and buy it, all from the comfort of your sofa with a cup of tea.”
Great commentary from all involved – thanks, everyone.
Before I go, a quick shout out to the new Estate Agent Today column from Big Phil Spencer himself. A great coup for the Today sites to get him on board, and we’re delighted to have Mr Property joining our ranks for a monthly advice and tips article. Keep your eye out for it on the first Monday of every month.
My fans tell me it won’t be as good as the Natter, of course, but still well worth a read!
And also a nod to Graham Norwood, the esteemed editor of Estate Agent Today, for this excellent little video – as part of Viewber’s new #MyPropertyStories campaign - on his career in property, work/life balance and a behind the scenes look at where he writes the articles we all read on EAT.
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.