Sadly, it would seem that we live in a world where at present being small and on the high street is currently out of fashion. Why has this view (particularly amongst the young) percolated in more recent times? I would strongly suspect that it has much to do with the way our general shopping habits have changed over the last ten years in particular. Our interaction with globalised household brands such as Apple, Starbucks, Amazon etc is now so commonplace that a good many of us wouldn’t naturally think to look elsewhere when we make many of our household and technological purchases.
If, for arguments sake, we accept the premise that being successful in today’s retail environment is all about low cost and convenience – why do so many niche retailers, farmer’s markets, independent restaurants and cafes and even specialist shops around the country not only survive, but in many cases thrive? I believe that there is still a place on our local high street for expert knowledge, personal service, quality, and even authenticity when interested in purchasing particular goods or services.
Perhaps fortunately for small independent estate agents in particular, I believe that the buying and selling of property is one of those areas, that still (in the great majority of cases) works better with competent and knowledgeable human interaction. That is not to say that smaller agents shouldn’t in addition, embrace technological advancement, particularly where it improves the customer experience or makes a business more accessible (out of office hours for example). But technology is only part of the answer, as it is undeniable that consumer attitudes and expectations are changing – particularly amongst the young, who will of course be the sellers, buyers, landlords and tenants of the future.
Anyway I digress, as whilst on the one hand I feel true conviction in quoting Mark Twain “the news of my death has been greatly exaggerated” when commenting to others about the long term future of independent estate agency, even I cannot deny the simple truth – that there are currently just too many estate agents for the amount of business in the UK that is available.
You see the facts speak for themselves, in that the Land Registry figures regarding the number of properties sold have shown a downward trend for some years now, and yet the number of estate agency offices has proportionately increased over the same period. A lack of “barriers to entry” such as mandatory licensing or qualification, coupled with rising house prices and an easing of high street planning restrictions, has made the present situation a self-fulfilling prophecy. In truth you really do not have to be the world’s greatest economist to understand what will happen next.
However, I believe that there is still hope for many small independent estate agents, as due to a shorter chain of command, they should (in theory at least) be able to react to local market conditions more speedily than their larger corporate counterparts – that is of course if they are minded to.
For what it is worth, I believe that the key to their long term survival can be summed up in one word, and that is – RELEVANCE. If we accept the premise that independent estate agency, when working at its best, is largely a localised business – then it needs to work harder to stay not only relevant to the local property market, but more importantly to its locality and local community too. That way it can persist, connected to the needs of local people, and can tailor or diversify its range of services accordingly.
In other words, make the most of being local by getting personally more involved in the local community as a whole – that way, maybe your future potential clients will start to finally recognise that not all estate agents are the same – particularly when they next come to buy, sell or let their property in the months and years ahead.
The author of this article is Peter Nicholls CEO of ideology consulting. For more information, go to www.ideologyconsulting.co.uk .