Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The changing face of estate agency

The revolution is gathering pace.

Today's Independent has an excellent article headed "Online property search: the diy sellers", you can read it in full here.

In it the journalist says:

Customers are becoming increasingly autonomous, finding properties on the internet for themselves and seeking professional advice as and when they need it. With the vast majority of properties now advertised online, and tools that allow buyers to look at flats and houses from street level such as Google Street View, buyers don't need an estate agent in the same way they used to.

This strikes a chord with the way my business has changed since I set it up in 2003.
In the beginning my clients would have no knowledge of what properties were available and simply trusted me to show them a suitable cross selection. Some clients still act in this way.

However, there are a growing number who have spent ages scouring the internet and have a good feel for what is on the market - they may well even have found houses that look promising on paper. They are looking for someone who can "project manage" their purchase:

  • add to their existing list of properties (by using local contacts, private sales, back street agents)

  • do an initial sifting to weed out unsuitable prospects

  • guide them through the buying process, offering independent advice and acting purely for them not the agent or vendor

  • help in negotiating the lowest possible price

  • act as a signpost towards other professional advisors (notaires, surveyors, lawyers, currency brokers, architects, builders, artisans, mortgage advisors)

The French market is going through the same fundamental change as the UK. Nightly television is full of adverts for private sale websites and for property portals. The number of traditional agents is diminishing (I was shocked to see that in the UK one in four agents have closed over the last two years).

I'm not saying that traditional agents are dead men walking, nor am I saying that they don't have a place in the market. Clearly they do and changes like this don't happen overnight. If I were selling my house I would still use local agents and would expect them to advise me on how to "dress" my house to the best effect and how to get the highest possible price for it.

What I am saying though is that customer needs and actions are changing fast. Buyers will need traditional agents less and less.

Sellers on the other hand will be looking to their agents to help them differentiate and stand out from the crowd.....if the agent fails to deliver this then more and more sellers will go it alone and Sarah Beeney may well be proved right when she says:

"The internet has removed the need for estate agents and that in the future it is likely that estate agents will be the preserve of complicated or "out of the ordinary" sales".


Steve said...

But... does the internet give you the same level of details on properties in France, as you generally see in UK?

graham downie said...

Nowhere near Steve and it's still a long way off being perfect in the UK.

There's also the "x factor" of buying in France (different system, laws, language, currency etc) to take into account.

It's all crystal ball gazing but the one thing we can say with certainty is that the successful businesses will be those who can marry the fact that this is a "people" business with the use of technology.