Thursday, February 03, 2011

The changing face of house hunting

I've been busy the last couple of weeks with two different sets of clients over from the UK.

Both couples were charming and, after three days in the car together visiting far flung parts of the Charente (I leave no stone unturned in my searches), I got to know them all quite well....conversation naturally meanders across many topics although rugby did seem to be a common denominator.

Yesterday I had a long conversation about the opportunities available to househunters in these fast changing times.  It was a lively debate and we all agreed that the customer is king and that it's the buyer who will drive through the changes.

Then I read this article in the Telegraph, written by Graham Norwood, one of my fellow nominees for the Primelocation blog award.  I heartily recommend that you read the whole article but, for me, this bit stands out:

Could apps give me more information than I could get in person from the small town’s seven local estate agencies? Yes.

Take the Rightmove app. It displays all the homes on its website within a chosen radius of where I stand.

Its interactive maps allow me to walk up a street and literally look at the house whose details are in front of me on my mobile screen – I do not need to register with any estate agent first and I can spot if the pictures of the property exclude the dodgy-looking shop next door.

Of course, there are literally hundreds of new property related apps that give you more information on a house and its neighbourhood than you could possibly need.

The three of us, in deepest rural France, decided that the Rightmove stance of not allowing private sales would have to be broken at some stage.  If you stop your car in a neighbourhood you want total information of what's for sale not partial.  So whether it's Rightmove relaxing its stance, a competitor coming in or a simple aggregating site we decided that there will, one day, be a single online source of all property listings.

We couldn't really understand the rush from single agents to produce apps showing their listings (other than PR or a short term ego boost) but decided that there would perhaps be opportunities for niche agents to do so.

All of us agreed that there's still a role for the estate agent and it was flattering that my clients described it as the service I was offering them. 

Doing initial legwork and then using my professional background and local expertise to help in the decision making process (which goes beyond the individual property to issues such as selecting the right location, advising on local restaurants, doctors, schooling etc)  and in buying their favourite house at the lowest price possible.

The internet has changed the way we live and can say where it's taking us but I'm 100% sure that the guy with the money will have a bigger say in our destiny than the person with something to sell.

Who knows.  I've had real fun over the last couple of weeks though - sometimes this is the most enjoyable job in the world....


Sam Mooney said...

My experience with real estate and estate agents is limited to Canada and France.

In Canada is was as a buyer and as a seller. In France initially as a buyer and then as an agent commerciale. The reason that I started selling property in France was because French agents were so bad at it - and so were a lot of the Brits at the time, just doing what the French did or working for French agencies and acting basically as translators.

I offered the same services you offer, but as part of the package, not as an extra service. North Americans got it right away.

Over the years I met a few - very few agents in the Aude who worked the way I did and we worked together.

We still do. I manage the web site and have initial contact with potential buyers - usually by email but sometimes on the phone as well.

We make sure we understand what people are looking for. We're client driven, no clients, no income.

I agree that the future includes estate agents. The ones who are successful will be the ones who take the time to learn what their clients want and who deliver it. Mobile apps or no mobile apps.

Steve said...

An app as you describe will only work if the agents are prepared to put out the information on to the web, from what I have seen so far here in France, the agents seem reluctant to share detailed information about property:

1. Vague details on location
2. Situation details very sketchy
3. Only the absolute minimum detail about the interior of the house and it's land.

They want you to go in to the office and to get you to visit the house and then get you to sign to say you visited the property with them so they have you captured should you wish to buy the place.

That all said, in some cases and I've experienced this myself if you tell people too much then they don't visit the property... they have only visited it on the internet... and that isn't enough.

Looking at it from a buyer and a sellers point of view... more information has to be good, but put out too much and selling might get harder than we think.

graham downie said...

Hi guys, thanks for the responses.

I'm not sure that agents will be able to control the information flow Steve.

Oh for a crystal ball eh....Sam's right though it always boils down to listening to what the clients want then delivering it.