UK Estate Agency: Things aren’t what they used to be?

Last week I wrote an article titled “What is the worst kept secret in UK estate agency?” which, judging by the high readership numbers, seemed to find some resonance amongst both fellow estate agents and those who work in and around the property sector generally. Primarily, I wrote the piece with a view to broadening the scope of debate about the changing face of estate agency – beyond the rather hackneyed old battleground of the “High Street v Hybrid” argument that seems to dominate the editorial pages of the trade press.

Firstly, it is only right and proper that I make it clear to you from the outset that I am no Prop tech guru fresh out of university with some life changing gizmo to sell to you – in fact quite the reverse I’m afraid. My lengthy career, up until relatively recently, has been very much rooted in traditional low tech independent residential agency. So I do not speak on the subject of change with anything other than professional interest and an open mind.

It has struck me for some months now, that for too long the “debate” over the future direction of estate agency in this country has been rather too myopic and self-obsessed in nature, as I believe that the changes that have taken place in estate agency should be seen within the broader context of wider changes that have taken place within society. Being honest, can anybody think of a good reason that allows estate agents as a group, or indeed estate agency as an industry, to exist in isolation without any recourse or relationship to what is happening in the real world? Yet, reading the comments and articles in the industry press over the last few months – you could be forgiven for thinking that we have some sort of self- declared immunity.

On a personal level, I have always found change to be both exciting and scary in equal measure – particularly when my career has at best looked a little less predictable. Major changes to our lives happen every day, and try as we might to resist them – they are simply for the most part unavoidable. On this point, just think of how different our lives would be if we were still stuck in a pre-internet age? We now have instant access to unlimited information, and all at just the touch of a button. Would we really now want to turn the clock back by reaching up to our bookshelf to grasp a copy of Encyclopedia Britannica (younger readers may want to google this reference) to locate the very same information?

There can be no doubt at all, that change has constantly been present in UK estate agency since the birth of the internet, but that in itself does not tell the whole story. Increased property taxes, more extensive competition, and changes in consumer attitudes have all impacted on a business that has worked largely from the same business model for over fifty years. Also, despite protestations to the contrary, neither High Street or hybrid agents have in my humble opinion got all the answers to the way the industry will operate in the future – but does that matter?

One thing is certain, and that is that we should all accept that estate agency will continue to naturally evolve in many ways over the next few years – with buyers, sellers, landlords and tenants having a wider choice of services and price points, that will (through the introduction of technology) be more accessible to the consumer. So is this bad news for the High Street? It could very well be if estate agents do not seek to move with the times and accommodate a younger generation of consumers, who simply will not put up with an industry that is seemingly out of touch, and continues to offer poor levels of service.

Lastly and back on a personal level, I would prefer to marvel at much of what is new and innovative, even if it might mean a future change in direction for an industry that I have been a part of for over thirty years. Whilst I might be in the minority for thinking in this way, surely the real question is whether we choose to adapt our businesses by planning ahead, or whether we metaphorically choose to live in a cave hoping that the 1990s will make a return sometime soon.

The author of this follow up article is Peter Nicholls CEO of ideology consulting. For more information, go to www.ideologyconsulting.co.uk

Peter Nicholls

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