Does the low cost of budget agents come at a very high price?

We are witnessing the sad decline in regional newspapers which, for many decades, had been our main source of property advertising and, for the media groups, a large part of their annual income.

Times, of course, have changed and much of the way we do business now is through the internet and dedicated websites or social media, such as the incredibly successful FLINK software.

So the Trinity Mirror campaign luring us back to traditional print advertising for our homes for sale or rent is really too little, too late.

They are never going to compete with the fast-moving world of tech, which makes it highly unlikely that people will return to paper and ink as a way of looking for homes to live in.

I take no comfort in this, having come from the newspaper world myself as a photographer, but we have to take a big reality check and understand that modern technology and the way we use it will eventually make the printed newspaper redundant.

When I first started, the big challenge for most journalists was how to turn over their typewriter ribbon. This is unheard of these days – when many new homebuyers haven’t ever seen or even heard of typewriter ribbon!

My message for newspapers is that it’s a brave attempt – but it simply won’t work. Trinity Mirror is trying to push water up a hill.

Catalogue of complaints against online agents

Having laid out my case for the internet, there’s also a hidden danger we must protect against, however fast tech moves on.

We must always remember we are in the people business, and when people want to buy or sell a home, they will always feel more comfortable and confident dealing with another human being rather than making several clicks on a computer.

It’s no wonder complaints against the budget agents are becoming more frequent online when you bear in mind their alleged inability to sell, according to a recent study by GetAgent.co.uk

Once they’ve taken their clients’ money, many are not interested in hand-holding them through the difficult times and won’t even answer the phone.

We must also guard against any budget agent becoming overly dominant in the online market place, pushing everyone else out of business in the process. Though how any of them can be making any money is beyond me, given the amount it now costs to advertise for leads through Google, another downside of our ever-changing market place.

I’ve previously written about our own experiences of budget internet agents holding up chains because they don’t have the time or the skills to deal with the problems that arise.

A home, whether buying for the first time, moving up the ladder, or selling, is very personal to that individual and their family. They will have started their life in one property, raised their family in another and downsized to retire – it’s not about bricks and mortar but a home is as loved as the family memories it holds.

So while the low-cost estate agencies may seem appealing, the reality is they lack the people skills needed. I believe that poor performing agents are more likely to end up working for a budget agent.

The low cost comes at a huge price. People will always want that personal touch and it won’t be there, especially when things go wrong, and we all know in our industry that buying and selling is never as easy as a click on a mouse or a finger swipe on a tablet.

Time to sort out this ground rents mess

The Conservatives have pledged that if they are returned to power they will crack down on escalating ground rents on leasehold properties.

It’s about time too. This unfair practice, which burdens so many property buyers with extra costs they can ill afford, is a ticking time bomb for our own industry.

We have already heard of lenders not giving mortgages on such properties, effectively making them worthless.

Why would anyone in their right mind want to buy a leasehold home from a developer – especially as the lease is often sold to a landlord – if they’re going to have to pay thousands of pounds a year in future in ground rent?

Currently there are no controls over this and we have seen many developers coming under fire, and even conveyancing solicitors being threatened with legal action for not making buyers aware of the problem in hand. It’s extremely bad for their reputations.

It is now time to bring in proper ground rent controls in order to stop this issue which, until recently, has slipped under the radar but is becoming a major threat to our industry.

Whichever political party is in power needs to make this a major priority in their housing strategy and I will push to meet with the housing minister and Treasury officials to ensure this remains on the top of their agenda and keep their feet to the fire on their pledge.

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One Comment

  1. Malcolm Barnard

    Mr Smith, in respect of your comment about Trinity Mirror “They are never going to compete with the fast-moving world of tech, which makes it highly unlikely that people will return to paper and ink as a way of looking for homes to live in”.

    I would politely suggest that you misunderstand the Trinity Mirror campaign. The thrust of the campaign is about putting an Agents brand front and centre when readers of our titles are browsing our property supplements. Thus helping those brands to get that valuation when people choose to enter the market.

    Getting that valuation call is as much about offline advertising as it is about online marketing.

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