From a photo of a house in a newspaper property guide to captivating drone images and immersive 3D visual walkthroughs … the world of estate agency has taken many steps up the ladder of innovation and development when it comes to buying and selling houses in recent years.
But what is the industry’s likely next move?
If recent reports are to be believed, the sector is heading for a stronger than ever focus on online sales and marketing.
Indeed, according to research by accountancy firm Moore Stephens, thousands of traditional high street agents are feeling squeezed by the growth of online firms*.
In a 24-7 society, with its accompanying advances in digital and social media, it’s perhaps not surprising that an increased use of innovative tools and technologies might give online agencies an edge.
Indeed, at Redbrik we know just how important a role digital transformation has played in boosting the housing and property sector, particularly when it comes to marketing.
Back in 2015 we introduced 3D Walkthrough as part of our comprehensive and bespoke marketing package. The online experience lets home movers explore a property and see it from every angle, enabling people to get a completely unique sense for the place with a ‘dollhouse’ view.
It is the most realistic and immersive way to experience a property online and we were the first estate agents in the North of England to offer this cutting-edge technology to our clients.
The feedback from vendors and landlords has been phenomenal – and one of the main reasons for that it is because it allows them to market their property without having to physically be in the building and/or disturbing tenants.
But equally in our smartphone-savvy society, it means interested buyers can view the property from the comfort of their own home, and at whatever time of day – or night – they like.
Nevertheless, there continues to be plenty of demand out there for the services of a traditional high street agent. Our 3D walkthrough and virtual reality technology is an important piece of kit – but scores of people walk through the doors of our Millhouses office every Saturday morning IRL (In Real Life).
Moreover, many of these visitors are young professionals and therefore the type of clientele others might assume would be more inclined to browse online.
However, research by consumer organisation Which? among 2,000 home movers has found 55% found their new home using traditional methods – such as looking in an estate agent’s window, reading the local paper or spotting a For Sale board – as opposed to 45% who found their home via a “modern” method. **
In fact, 60% of first time buyers, despite their younger age group, searched for their home using traditional methods rather than via portals or apps.
A model that is local caters to that demand for a high quality, one-to-one service because the estate agency that is, quite literally, on the ground in your area is likely to have sales managers looking after approximately 50 properties each. An online firm employee, however, could have anywhere up to 250 – and cover an area up to 50 miles apart, thereby lacking the local knowledge their high street rivals offer.
And while a housing market report recently found the ‘significant shift’ towards online agents was boosting their market share, that share was still just 5%.***
The proactive and forward-looking agency is focused on the long-term view. By getting every client the very best deal the firm builds up a reputation of reliability and trust.
Using an online firm may save the seller some money with a low-cost, fixed fee – but at what real price?
A local agent’s experience and track record can help them achieve the best price for your property. The online agencies’ up-front fees can prove to be the short-sighted choice – if you’ve paid them, where’s the incentive for the agency to sell the property?
At Redbrik we like to create a bespoke structure to set things up for each individual client – a commission, for example, of a percentage of the asking price but then a higher percentage of any amount achieved above that. It’s a tailored approach which means a good return for both the firm and the vendor – a win/win.
That personal touch and personalising ways of working remains important in estate agency, as does Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Because traditional high street agencies are not just under threat from the impact of online firms, but also larger, high-profile names.
Far from a face-less big brand, at Redbrik we support a number of local and regional sporting and community organisations. It’s our way of playing an active role and demonstrating our roots are very much in our city business region, whether that is sponsoring a stand at Sheffield United or putting our name to the Redbrik Chesterfield Half Marathon.
The larger corporate firms are too likely to become detached. Meanwhile very small agencies cannot compete in a contemporary culture that expects prompt advice, information and updates. A handful of staff are not sufficient to answer phones, respond to tweets, visit properties, update websites, deal with customers and vendors face-to-face…
All of which means the future of estate agency is not likely to be a total switch to online, but nor is the high street model a 100% permanent structure.
As with so much in life it’s all about a healthy balance – modern methods and approaches complemented by and built on the foundations of good old-fashioned face-to-face customer service.
Where next in the world of estate agents? The continued growth of the hybrid model or, in other words – the best of both worlds.