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Why 2021 is the year agents should move away from being technologists

Technology has advanced in leaps and bounds in recent years, undoubtedly improving many parts of the moving process for both estate agents and consumers.

However, as the number of PropTech products has ballooned, agents have started questioning whether some innovations are attempting to provide solutions to issues that didn't exist in the first place. They’re asking themselves, “Do I really need that shiny new thing?”

The phrase 'PropTech fatigue' has subsequently been coined, as agencies have found it increasingly difficult to navigate the noise around what can really move the needle when it comes to improving their day-to-day processes. Choice overload is a cognitive impairment, after all.

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According to global PropTech directory Unissu, there are almost 1,000 PropTech companies operating in the UK market and many of these firms have multiple products. That is simply too much choice for the typical agent to analyse and decipher in any meaningful way.

In the worst-case scenario, this could encourage some firms to put up the technology barriers and fail to embrace change, which would ultimately lead to consumers suffering from a poorer service.

With all these new tools at hand, many agents have found themselves in an unfamiliar 'technologist' role – when really, their time would be better spent focusing on their area of expertise: selling properties and helping people move home.

The impact of the pandemic has expedited the adoption of homeworking and virtual viewings, which has been a positive step forward when it comes to increasing efficiency and saving time.

That said, with a range of challenges on the horizon, 2021 should be the year in which agents no longer need to be technologists but instead use simple and effective solutions to improve their service.

Time is money, with agents busier than ever before

Due to the pandemic and its impact on demand for properties, accentuated by the stamp duty holiday, agents were busier than usual in the second half of 2020 and this increased workload has already spilled over into the new year.

With the stamp duty holiday deadline fast-approaching, analysis from Zoopla shows that there was an additional £62 billion worth of sales agreed in 2020 compared to 2019. The portal also forecast an additional 100,000 sales in the pipeline during the first few months of 2021 due to the stamp duty holiday.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, Rightmove reported that there were 613,000 sold subject to contract properties still awaiting legal completion, with 100,000 potentially set to miss the stamp duty holiday cut-off.

The rush to complete transactions means the demands on agents' already limited time are greater than usual, with homemovers keen for regular updates and progress reports. Therefore, when it comes to new technology, there simply isn’t spare time to dedicate to trialling different services, onboarding and training.

At the same time, agencies need processes in place to be able to automate tasks, communicate quickly and progress sales if they want to benefit from the extra commission currently on the table.

The focus should therefore be placed on an agency’s CRM and how this tool can help to provide a consistent level of customer service to an uncharacteristically high number of clients who, in many cases, require a greater level of service than ever before.

Having all the tools a modern agent needs in one place allows agents to balance client needs alongside the desire to use technology to its fullest potential.

Simplification is key in the ‘new normal’

Another key consideration for agents in 2021 is adapting to the 'new normal' and how this affects their daily routines and working practices.

Things will hopefully return to some semblance of normal in the coming months, but will (and should) agencies go back to how they were working pre-pandemic?

Although it is important for branches to fully reopen and offer a public-facing service, the appetite for homeworking is likely to remain long beyond the pandemic. What’s more, many agency chains are likely to continue reducing the volume of office space they use and adopting hub-style operations.

It's clear that consumers increasingly want a flexible service from their agent, with the opportunity to communicate and carry out parts of the moving process outside of traditional working hours.

What's more, the success of virtual viewings and appraisals means the appetite for these services will continue long after the pandemic has subsided. Agencies therefore need the infrastructure in place to be able to provide high-quality virtual appointments which can then seamlessly link up with their property listings and database.

The days of carrying out back-to-back in-person viewings on a daily basis may also be over, but the need to be able to take on instructions, manage listings and progress sales on the move, at home or in the office will only increase over the coming months.

As well as providing a service which meets the changing needs of consumers, agents will also need to prioritise staff happiness while maintaining productivity and efficiency. This is where utilising tech tools to their fullest extent becomes paramount; agents will be busier than ever before, but tech can and should be trusted to take over some of the heavy lifting, so agents don’t reach burnout.

The gradual adoption of tech in the UK property industry has been positive, but there is still more that can be done.

Embracing PropTech shouldn't be about sifting through endless products, it should be finding what works and having one system which covers everything, with the capacity to incorporate additional services and products as needed.

What it means to be an agent has changed since March 2020 and will continue to evolve throughout 2021. However, the role of a successful agent in 2021 is not a technologist. Rather, it is meeting consumers’ needs with simple, efficient processes and a flexible service.

*Anton Babkov is CEO of Rex

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