Question: What is the worst kept secret in UK estate agency?

Answer: That things aren’t what they used to be?

Reply: That’s right, but don’t tell anyone and we will all be fine.

Am I the only one that is getting a little weary of this continual High Street versus Hybrid Model debate that seems to get avid readers of industry websites so exercised? I sincerely hope not, otherwise I think that the industry is indeed in big trouble. Whichever side of the debate you are on, could we at not at least all agree on the fact that the estate agency itself has changed over the last ten years in particular, and still continues to evolve?

What I truly don’t understand is why “change” per se is such a terrible thing, as if we were all to take our “Estate Agency Hats” off for a moment, wouldn’t it be true to say that almost everything else in our everyday lives has changed too over the past ten years? Particularly when it comes to technology and consumer behaviour – cue Smart TVs and Netflix (in particular) and exit Blockbuster; cue music downloading and exit CDs; cue Amazon (and alike) and exit high street shopping. I could of course go on and on, but I am sure that you get my general point by now. Shouldn’t the real question be – why should the sale of property in this country be any different and be immune to change?

Just what is the future I hear you ask? Well, I believe that just like every other retail environment that we can all think of, the real “battlegrounds” that differentiate competing companies will be:- a) Consumer choice, b) Pricing – but more importantly perhaps “ value” for the services that are offered, c)Customer Service & Product Knowledge, and d) Accessibility.

So to take each one of those areas listed above in turn:-

Consumer choice – Consumers are not one homogenous group, as they are all different with differing preferences and varying needs, so estate agents need to adapt by offering a wider menu of services. For example, some clients may require little interaction and a more DIY approach, and would prefer to seek lower fees as a result. Whereas, others both need and value your time and lengthy participation and more importantly perhaps, are prepared to pay for it. Why should both clients pay the same?

Pricing and Value – In my humble view, estate agents (whether large or small) should move towards listing the services that they offer using a menu format, which mirrors the way that we purchase many other goods and services at the present time. In simple terms, there should be several different service/price options that are flexible in nature. For example, should a client initially choose the basic fixed price option and then isn’t successful in finding a buyer – working with the agent, they then could move up to the next option and keep doing so until they are successful in selling their home. This way, they will feel that they have paid a fee that is proportionate to the service that they both wanted and received, and in theory at least feel a greater sense of value from their experience.

Customer Service & Product Knowledge – Negotiators not knowing anything about the properties that they are selling/letting is year upon year the most common general complaint against estate agents, and is probably the main area where as an industry we could/should improve…..and boy do we need to improve! There is simply no excuse for estate agency firms (large and small) to send their staff to show properties with absolutely no basic knowledge of what they are selling/letting.

Perhaps more importantly than what I think, the general public simply don’t understand why they are being expected to have any confidence in an industry where so often basic training and knowledge are so clearly absent. Would any of us put up with the same behaviour from staff in John Lewis?

Accessibility – This is an area where technology can and does improve the level of customer interaction- as we all access the internet differently and perhaps more fundamentally, the internet does not keep office hours. So step up Prop- Tech companies like Yomdel (live chat) and Callwell (customer lead control) for example – that primarily seek to more efficiently manage your company’s customer contact – particularly out of office hours.

In conclusion, it is time to stop fighting a somewhat narrow minded “phoney war” about High Street versus Hybrid, and just accept that we cannot hold back the tide of change – just work out how best we can embrace it and make it work for us.

The author of this article is Peter Nicholls – CEO of Ideology Consulting. For more information, go to www.ideologyconsulting.co.uk

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