Cast your mind back to the summer of 2018 when the nation was gripped by World Cup fever. Chants of “It’s coming home” seemed to ring out from every street corner. It was a time for hope, a chance to believe, and the introduction of the Virtual Referee for the first time at a World Cup.
Critics of this technical advancement claimed that it would kill off the footballing debate. The classic post-match arguments around a player being offside, the ball crossing the line or should it have been a penalty was seemingly becoming a more binary decision.
In reality, technology drove the debate and in amongst all those heated conversations, for me, a brilliant statement went relatively unnoticed. One unrememberable pundit said, “If football was being invented today, we would be hard pushed to ignore this and other technical solutions.”
I thought at the time, you could replace “football” with any other pursuit be it sporting or commercial, to help challenge any long-standing or existing way of doing something. So with a subtle tweak, the statement becomes, “If Estate Agency was being invented today, would we ignore the technology solutions available to us?”
It helps to start by considering parts of the estate agency process when it comes to canvassing, appraising, listing and marketing a property.
Back in the mid-eighties when I first started in estate agency, and whilst few like to admit it, touting was a big thing. Door knocking and delivering compliment slips with “please contact me” handwritten or occasionally photocopied was a daily activity along with leaflet and letter drops.
We actually had a paper copy of the Electoral Roll that we would work our way through to get a seller’s name. If you wanted historic information on what had been marketed in the area, we had boxes of old property papers too! We would register on other agents mailing lists and even employed someone to count for sale and sold boards in the area.
There were a lot of paper-based systems, which, were typically labour intensive, but in all fairness, worked and got results.
When it came to appraisals and take-ons, I still have my trusted Rabone Fibrone 33ft tape measure although I did also have a sonic measure as well. I have yet to find a suitable replacement for the tried and tested clipboard.
As vendor packs, we had advertising filled map-folders, which we would insert an example of our property details, a copy of our newspaper advert, possibly a marketing leaflet and the obligatory financial services advertising. As we were pre-digital photography, we had a black and white Polaroid camera for “Stop Press” property details which would actually produce a better quality picture in the local property paper than its colour counterpart. Colour photographs were on a 24-hour turn around collected and delivered by a company called Print Concern (glossy photographs for window cards and adverts. Mat-dot for photocopying).
There was great excitement in the company when two colour photocopies were leased and based in the two main regional offices. You would have to phone up and book a slot on the copier, drive to the office where you could only print a maximum of 10 copies of each property. The tactic being that the seller would get a nice colour copy, one would be “kept for the file” and only if you were a local applicant with a property that we would want, would you ever receive colour details!
Adverts for the local paper would be submitted every week which included a physical photograph and some copy-text. Our adverts were collected each week with the pictures from the previous week being dropped off at the same time. Oh, the panic if you wanted to advertise the same property two weeks running!
One of the great joys of estate agency is the amount of time that can be spent out of the office doing appointments. I used to love it when there were three or four appraisals and a couple of viewings and I would be out of the office for six hours.
The challenge was the amount of Post It notes stuck to my desk phone, day book and files when I returned. Inevitably the phone would be ringing when I walked back into the office and “what’s his names law” states that it will somebody who left a message earlier and who now thinks I have been back for ages and have not returned their call!
This is only the tip of a traditional estate agency iceberg based on my memories of how it used to be. I daresay for some, this represents their office today and so back to the original question, “If Estate Agency was being invented today, would we ignore the technology solutions available to us?”
Looking at canvassing and prospecting, a product like Agent Canvassing will identify the full address of all the property on the market in your area and automatically generate canvassing letters that can also be posted by the system. It will track new instructions, price reductions, multi-agency listings, sold and withdrawn properties and generates a letter or series of letters accordingly. Automated, targeted canvassing made simple freeing up time to spend with clients. No files or A-Z folders needed. It is very hard to think why you would not go for this kind of technology.
When it comes to tools for appraisals and instruction, the market is awash with software and phone app solutions that measure rooms, draw floor plans, provide 3-D tours and even change the colour of the walls! There really is no excuse for not producing superb quality property details. Most of the office management software (Jupix, ReapIT et al) will interface with a company like Ravensworth producing property brochures at the push of a button.
Pretty much every estate agent has a website and some sort of presence on at least one major property portal. Websites are nothing new, however, some of the functionality that can now be incorporated into them can certainly generate business and improve efficiency.
Tools that provide online appraisals, appointment booking, property auctions and property management are all designed to automate routine or boring tasks, reduce administrative overheads and ultimately help estate agents provide the best service to their clients.
The largest overhead for most estate agencies is the cost of staff. Generating more revenue has typically meant employing more people. The service offered by Viewber now means you can multiply your “boots on the ground” when you are busy and switch it back off when you are not.
What the various systems, platforms and software do on a continuing basis is to generate huge amounts of data. This information can be aggregated alongside Land Registry data to produce in-depth marketing reports and analysis. Companies like Dataloft offers a solution that allows estate agents to take this information and brand it for their own purposes. It is an easy way of positioning yourself as the informed agent of choice.
For today’s estate agent, there is no shortage of technology solutions to cover every aspect of the property process. Like football, the game remains fundamentally the same. It is just that there are some new tools that can help everybody enjoy the traditional aspects of the industry more.