The year kicked off with a number of major mergers/takeovers, the most high-profile of which was Connells’ purchase of flagging rival Countrywide and The Property Franchise Group taking on the well-known Hunters brand.
As well as this, Foxtons bought rival agency Douglas & Gordon in early March and we’ve seen many other agencies be highly acquisitive.
This has dried up a little bit in recent months, as life has slowly returned to normal and the economy has got back on more of an even footing, but it was certainly one of the major trends of the first half of this year.
And, as furlough winds down, winter approaches and there remains the possibility that certain sectors of the economy could be closed down again if Covid infections, hospitalisations and deaths spike again, we could see more agencies batten down the hatches and snap up their rivals to increase their strength in times of crisis.
The long-awaited launch of Boomin – the new venture from the high-profile but undeniably divisive Bruce brothers of Purplebricks fame – finally arrived in April, after many months of fevered speculation.
It has certainly split opinion since, with some arguing that it is exactly what the industry needs while others question the motives of those behind it and how useful another new portal – which on the surface doesn’t look that different to the existing big three – really is.
The jury is still out, but the Boomin name certainly continues to generate news and commentary wherever it goes, if not quite to the same extent as Purplebricks.
Back with a bang?
Talking of Purplebricks, after a period in which it was uncharacteristically quiet, it has been back in the news plenty in recent months, with some typically bold claims and a seemingly renewed confidence.
Chief executive Vic Darvey, who has been leading the organisation since January 2019 and was previously managing director of MoneySuperMarket for five years (so a man who knows how to organise a good PR and marketing campaign), has been leading this charge in the national and trade press – as the famously Marmite brand continues to enjoy good brand awareness outside of the industry.
Its success within it remains a topic of hot debate, including among EAT readers, but it certainly makes for fascinating copy.
The best of agency…
The first half of 2021 has shown us the best of agency – with more fantastic charity initiatives than ever, despite the challenges of Covid and lockdowns.
Our latest bumper Agents Do Charity piece was the latest to showcase the amazing, inspiring work of agents up and down the country, while a news article earlier this week about a hero estate agent bravely saving a woman from drowning definitely swelled the heart.
Hats off to Austin Mellor, at just 25, for his amazing bravery and quick-thinking.
The pandemic has certainly shown the best of our industry – a supportive, collaborative, generous one. If you would ever like to feature in our weekly Agents Do Charity column, you can get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do the rest.
…And the worst
Unfortunately, two major news stories – which reached both the national and trade press in a really big way – have also showed off the worst of agency.
First, there was the story of the ‘thug’ agent who harassed Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty in a London park, subsequently losing his job and being charged with common assault.
Next, there was an incident with a Savills estate agent immediately after the World Cup final, when a truly shocking racist tweet was posted from his account. He claims he was hacked but has been suspended from his role while the investigation is underway, and has been arrested by Greater Manchester Police regarding the tweets.
The public and industry interest in these stories was huge, as shown by the fact they are comfortably the highest read stories on EAT of the past few months.
While these are two isolated incidents, they shine a terrible light on the industry and reinforce the stereotype that all estate agents are good-for-nothings. As we know, that couldn’t be further from the truth, but as always horrible news stories like this are always going to gain more traction than the thousands of good deeds done by agents throughout the year.
We just have to hope there are no other major incidents involving agents anytime soon, so the profession can start to heal its reputation again.
Aside from the Savills and Whitty stories, the other biggest topic of debate this summer has been whether agents should ever charge for viewings.
The launch of ViewRabbit, which charges £30 to view a property, has split the industry and caused a huge backlash. From the comments, polls and feedback I’ve seen, there are many more against the idea than for it – but the concept does have some supporters, particularly among those operating at the higher end of the market, it would seem.
The controversy is unlikely to go away and will continue to be a major talking point as ViewRabbit – the brainchild of former agent Michael Riley - seeks investment and tries to win support from a sceptical industry.
Friday October 22 is set to be a landmark date in the diary for agents as the ESTAS returns as an in-person event. Having taken place virtually last year, for obvious reasons, it is set to be one of the first large-scale property events to happen anywhere since the pandemic started in late March 2020.
It will be strange, but also joyful and wonderful, to be in a room with so many people again – a first chance to properly network and catch-up with the excellent folk who help the market to tick year in and year out.
There seems an increasing chance the event will go ahead as planned, with all restrictions currently eased and the vaccine doing a sterling job in preventing cases and deaths. The situation may have changed again by October, but it seems more likely than ever that in-person property events will be back with a bang soon. Time to dust off the tux!
Hopefully the above offers a good review of the first half of 2021, which has been as eventful as any I can remember for many a year. And I’m sure there will continue to be major breaking news stories for the rest of it, which you can keep up to speed with on EAT and the rest of the Today sites.
That’s that from me…until next time.
*Nat Daniels is CEO of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.