The online challenge: Why high street must wake up to the fact that vendors’ habits have changed

Paul Smith’s opinion piece in EYE this week focused on the easyProperty and Guild merger.

In it, he criticised the deal and advised Guild agents not to “devalue” their brand.

However, I believe that this is looking at the opportunity as a problem.

Similarly to the Guild and with considerable cross-over, we have a client profile that is drawn from the type of agencies that may well be second or even third generation. They are agents who are ethical, professional and well known in their locality for expertise and knowledge.

As pointed out in Smith’s commentary, 78% of vendors are primarily motivated by achieving a higher price when they sell, so they would use this type of agent profile for sure.

Unfortunately, behind the statistics is the reality of what’s happening.

Having researched vendor habits with our clients, the solution became clear and is the reason that we launched an online affiliate brand for our clients, Openview Online, two months ago.

The point is that vendor habits have changed.

The culture of searching online for property mainly via Zoopla and Rightmove, waiting for property alerts and then researching on Google, now extends to not wishing to engage with the agent at all.

Visiting the branch to be sold financial services, whilst getting a parking ticket, for no additional perceived gain, when you can just book an appraisal online, is simply not on the agenda of hugely time-stressed digitally-savvy vendors.

They can see the eye-watering multi-million pound advertising and marketing campaigns of the online agents that tell them they are the same as traditional agents but much much cheaper. (Or around the same price in the north, but much more cool.)

Simply put, vendors are first footing online agency and this means that the traditional agent doesn’t even get the chance to talk to sellers about “increased price”, “service levels”, “issues with sale” and all the other great stuff that makes traditional service so much more cost-effective.

This situation is only likely to get worse.

Our goal was not to create a cheap alternative to the high street, but an offering that took advantage of all the millions of spend in raising awareness of online and then filled in the last brick in the wall.

We are all naturally afraid of something new, but if we can try that with the security of a safety net, then we’ll give it a go.

By using the online affiliate brand to match the offering of the big onlines, our clients can then add the assurance of the locally trusted, professional property expert, to provide that security.

We did try the Countrywide model originally but as this was so deeply ingrained into the brand it did tend to tarnish the whole model.

By keeping it as an affiliate that is really just an education platform to gain the opportunity to speak with vendors, 80% did go with the full fat service as eventual price was the key driver. However, 20% engaged with the online system, to start with anyway.

So, in summary, I believe that managed correctly, the Guild and easyProperty may be showing us how the relationship is likely to work, certainly in the current market (those of us who have been around for 30 years in property know it won’t stay this way) and certainly for the next few years.


  • Peter Grant heads up software supplier VTUK

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  1. Headache

    Yawn yawn,can we make it a prerequisite that only people under the age of 20 contribute articles of what the future of Estate Agency will look like.

    1. mrharvey

      I’m 26, and my ability to predict the future is anything to go by, you really don’t want to hear what a teenager has to say. Trust me, they don’t know and they don’t care… yet…

  2. Woodentop

    The culture of searching online for property mainly via Zoopla and Rightmove, waiting for property alerts and then researching on Google, now extends to not wishing to engage with the agent at all.


    Do you have fairies at the bottom of your garden! Try convincing any agent that is open to business that customers do not wish to engage. All that IT has done is make the “search” from the armchair. I have never ever had a client say I will buy without asking questions. You also seem to ignore those that still do not wish to engage with the internet and frankly what Estate Agency is about. You are looking for a short cut?


    Our goal was not to create a cheap alternative to the high street,  ……… Yes it was.  …….. but an offering that took advantage of all the millions of spend in raising awareness of online and then filled in the last brick in the wall. Adding to the death by a  thousand cuts!

  3. Property Paddy

    Anyone still got a travel agent in their high street? If so how many 1 or more?Most of us have travelled abroad using a travel agent to book the flights and hotel.

    Once you’ve done it that way you might want the same experience but for less money so you look at airbnb or icelolly, you go on line to book the cheapest flight and away you go.

    With estate agency we look to reduce our costs to provide either higher profits or a lower fee but the bottom line service remains the same.

    On line look to break down the service in to smaller chunks, listing, selling & sales progression.

    Listing: as cheap a headline price as possible to grab market share, selling: Depends on Rightmove and zoopla and sales progression? What sales progression. 100 sales to one person? No probably 200 !

    If however your experience booking your holiday online didn’t go the way you wanted or you felt the savings just weren’t worth the hassle you may very well return to the travel agent. The same applies to estate agency the short term, yes we will lose ground to the likes of PB and I suspect 10% will totally satisfied and will return to them for sure.

    Our market and our future is the other 90% because we all know booking a holiday is relatively simple and stress free compared to moving home.

    1. mrharvey

      I’d Like this comment more than once if I could.

      1. agent orange

        I liked yours for you instead!

  4. Estate_Agent_Memes

    I can’t get my head around that these “new style” call centre agents advertise the fact that they put the vendors and buyers in touch with each other!!!???

    Any PROPER estate agent knows you keep them apart at all costs until exchange of contracts has happened!! Vendors taking directly to buyers is going to push all of the call centre agent’s cancellation rates through the roof!!


    1. Typhoon

      How right you are. And RM and Zoopla are allowing this to happen to the “real estate agency industry” day by day by allowing these ‘vendor /buyer interfacers” to use their services. Zoopla said recently they will never treatt directly with private sellers. Well they already are through these on line propositions. Shocking.

  5. P-Daddy

    PropertyPaddy has nailed it, 50% of the sale process is the contract; dealing with solicitors and mortgagees and then of course holding the chain together! The market will evolve and there will be the survival of the fittest. Rest assured, when the internet generation can’t press a like or dislike button to get things to happen, they will realise the value of a real agent. Yes, there will be a lot that sell using an online service once, but will they second time around. I feel they will look at a hybrid where certain costs are stripped out and viewings can be booked online as well as by talking to a human. We are a people based business, the properties don’t ring us!  Everyone needs the re assurance that the property they are buying is as good as they think it is!!! They also need to be told what the process involves; to this day it staggers me that buyers don’t understand the fundamentals….how many have had a panic at exchange that the contracts are signed, but there are no cleared deposit funds in place or what it takes to transfer large sums of money in these post money laundering reg times!

  6. The Property Jungle

    I read the comments with ever increasing concern for the future of the industry if it is left in the hands of ostriches.

    What Peter is saying is not opinion. It’s fact, backed by evidence.

    The absolute, unequivocal reality is that there is nothing in the life experience of millennials that predisposes them to consume a service by going to an office, or picking up the phone. The reality is that in respect of most purchases in their lives they can look it up and order it, or otherwise engage with the service provider by simply reaching for a device. 

    Smart and successful marketers throughout history have realised that they have to put themselves where the eyeballs are. They know they have to deliver service in the way their customers want to receive it.

    So common sense says that if a company can deliver the interactions that customers want entirely in the way the customer wants there will be customers who will engage with them that way. Are these interactions the same as you would get if they came into the high street office? Certainly not. Are they good enough for what the customer wants (not what the agent thinks they want)? Probably yes.

    Peter is absolutely on the money when he says “vendors are first footing online agency and this means that the traditional agent doesn’t even get the chance to talk to sellers about “increased price”, “service levels”, “issues with sale” and all the other great stuff that makes traditional service so much more cost-effective.”

    Ignore it at your peril. Millennials aren’t pizza eating, Red Bull swigging layabouts in student digs. Many of them are in their mid to late thirties, second and third time movers, managers and even business owners, fluent in technology, experienced in consuming service this way and the companies that service them the way they want to be serviced will get their business.

    Wind the clock on 10 years and they will represent 75%+ of all your customers.

    The defence that onliners are rubbish post sale will only last a while. What will the naysayers say when through research, investment and innovation the onliners improve their processes and solve this perceived weakness? You can take it to the bank that they are working on continuous process improvement and elimination of competitive weaknesses.

    Unlike what we all have to read here these forward-thinking companies don’t moan about it. They mend it.

    All Peter is simply saying is that there is no point at all having all the often repeated justifications of why “the old way is better” and why onliners are a bit rubbish post sale, if no one is listening.

    We all have to pay attention to the evidence, modernise and deliver what the customer wants. Or someone else will.

    More power to your pen Peter. 

    1. propertyopinion119

      What a spot on analysis! You’re right on so many levels. All we read here are people saying why online is bad (they may be right in some circumstances) – but what they forget ois that their opinion (and moaning) doesn’t matter, the clients opinion does. 
      Their perception of what they need is different to what we think they might want and the sooner we (as great high street agents) get our heads round that the better – especially the serial “moaners” on PIE.
      ps – This is shown when the founder of Hatched steps aside and the article this morning has a response saying “did it make a profit?” rather than, well done and good luck going forward, to a man who set up a successful business!!! 

      1. AgentV

        So it did make a profit then if you say it was successful! I was just interested to know. 

        Are we not entitled to ask a question to something we want to know the answer to? 

        1. AgentV


          Did you leave your congratulations for Adam? 

  7. Beano

    Property Paddy, I have used travel agents up until my last two big holidays. I now use a ‘hybrid’ travel agent; no shop, just a lady who works as an agent from home packaging everything for me. All of it has been on the phone and it works for me as I hate with a passion going into town, parking, shopping, waiting etc etc.

    I am neither young nor old, but I too can see where we are headed. I am aware that we need to look at it from the other side, not ours. When you have been doing something well for a long time, something that has served your clients well and looked after you and your family, its tough to think that its got to change drastically, or that it may even be slowly slipping away.

    But alas slowly but surely it is, and no amount of denial will change that. Travel agents is a good example, banking has also seen more than 40% branch closures in less than 25 years. This could take 10 or 20 years, but between now and then the closures will happen and the survivors will be ‘not the strongest, but those with the greatest ability to adapt’ (Darwin)

    1. AgentV

      The system we use is totally all about adaptation……but without trying to compromise on customer service. In actual fact, since introduction, it has improved our customer service …. I believe substantially!!!

    2. Property Paddy

      Thats why I said our market and our future is the other 90%.
      You’re right in what you say as is The Property Jungle. Agents are adapting, they are re-learning how to offer their services. Some are offering split /hybrid services, some are moving towards a bespoke, tailored service with fees to match, some are moving away from hgh street to online only.
      Each agent will ultimately decide what works best for them and their market. Not with standing the bottom line, making an actual profit.
      At the moment PB are taking bug chuncks out of the high street model but have failed to make any real profits. Their £1b valuation is highly speculative, particuarly with the phenominally low volumes of new stock coming to market.
      The millennials search and connect online before they pick up the phone, that said the systems in place with RM & Z work efficiently to allow this to happen.
      The future is on line for selling & listing, newspapers are already dead in the water as far as generating listings is concerned. So lets go back to what we do best, analys our strengths, exploit our competitors weaknesses.
      PB is the new market leader, but only for as long as they have a revenue to keep them there, be it fees earned or investors money, but one day soon the investors will start looking for a return and if they dont see a real dividend then what will all us detractors say? I told you so? The truth is yes we can save money by not employing a professional. But hasn’t that always been the way?


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