Today’s graduates only understand the internet and the concept of going into a shop to buy a house is archaic.
Only one in two Countrywide viewings are accompanied it has been claimed, while Countrywide itself has said it predicts a hybrid agency model.
These were some of the thoughts expressed at yesterday’s RICS residential conference.
Rob Ellice of online agents easyProperty, said a Countrywide insider told him that “only every other Countrywide viewing is accompanied”.
On the topic of viewings, Ellice said, “There’s some funky things we’re now able to do. Rolling out virtual reality tours of property. But they’re now so good, the ability to now see what a property is like without going there is phenomenal.”
The debate headlined by easyProperty, Countrywide and Allsop ,was the main event at yesterday’s RICS residential conference.
The question put to the panel by Peter Bolton King, RICS grandee, was ‘Estate agencies: what does the future hold?’.
Ellice was asked to reflect on easyProperty’s journey to date from its lettings origin to the current state of full service for both residential and commercial property with 3,000 listings for sale.
Ellice specifically highlighted that “50-60% of landlords now transact for themselves” and that they’re a market “the industry doesn’t tap into very well”.
On easyProperty’s move into sales he said that customers “needed more hand-holding” which required “human elements” to the service. Sounding almost hopeful, he added that there was “no full tech play right now, but it will come in the future.”
When asked to explain the reasoning behind Countrywide’s new online pilot, Graham Bell, the London MD of Countrywide, said after looking at “parallels in travel and retail” they wanted to “make sure we’re not asleep at the wheel”.
Bell said they spoke to customers resulted in Countrywide launching a pilot “flexi product” in three of their businesses which gives their customers “control of their own transaction”.
He added: “We didn’t want to just bury our heads in the sand. It’s too early to say whether that’s a success. It’s not purely online. The future is probably a hybrid model.”
Andy Jones of Allsop Letting and Management started with a market statistic: “9,300 agency businesses in the UK in 2000 with 64 transactions per branch” and added that there had “been a more than 70% reduction in transaction volumes.”
With his own stats Ellice said that their research showed: “Only 3% of people find a home from walking through the door of a high street branch.
He posed the questions: “Do you need to be face-to-face? Do you need to be within five miles of a property or landlord? Do you ever see them?”
Adding that “online agent is not a particularly good term”, Ellice said: “People coming out of university don’t understand anything other than the internet. They don’t talk to people face to face. Everyone is communicating via a screen. The concept of going into a shop to buy a house is archaic.”
In a direct attack on traditional agents Ellice said “It used to be the case that you got to know your candidates so you could match them to a property. Now the software systems that do the automatic matching have made negotiators lazy.”
He summed it up with “It’s an order taking process, rather than being proactive (in matching applicants to homes).”
Jones chimed in to agree saying that in his recent experience buying a property “you register with agents and you never get a call back. You end up chasing the agents. It is strange how the local high street agents aren’t better at what they’re doing.”
As a glimpse of a probable future where the role of agents could change he highlighted that the property world should take a cue from it being typical for people to use “Google as a doctor” and then validate your own diagnosis by getting a “rubber stamp from your GP.”
Bell supplemented the view that the role of agents will change by saying, “Anyone who thinks the physical distribution of agency will be the same is kidding themselves. But retail still have high street branches.”
After the debate EYE spoke to the panellists where there was some discussion where agency could go the way of banks, where local branches act as referral points to specialist staff that aren’t necessarily branch based.
Bell supported the role of physical branches by explains that “not many people walk into a branch because they see a property they want to buy. 63% of buyers don’t buy the property they came in for. The value agents provide for the buyer and vendor is using the local database, understanding the needs and motivations of the people in front of you.”
Elaborating on the relevance of physical branches he said: “Most of the customers come to us because of an element of convenience. We can do the viewings.”
He added that with their new flexi product, “We wondered whether we need to do the viewings. Will everyone be comfortable doing their own viewings?”