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 that 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 hackneyed old battleground of the “High Street verses Hybrid” argument that seems to dominate the editorial pages of both industry press and websites alike.
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, as my long career up until quite recently has been very much rooted in traditional high street agency. So I do not speak on the subject of change with anything other than professional interest and an open mind.
It strikes me that for too long now the internal debate over the future direction of estate agency in this country has been too narrow, and needs to be seen within the broader context of the wider changes that have occurred within society over the past ten or so years. 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 are some sort of “special case”.
On a personal level, I have always found change in general terms to be both exciting and scary in equal measure – particularly when it appears that our future looks more uncertain, or for the moment at least we cannot seek things quite as clearly as we once did. But having said that, just think of how different our lives would be if we still were stuck in a pre-internet age? As we now have instant access to information on any subject that you can think of, and all at just the touch of a button. So now would we really relish the need to reach up and grasp our leather bound set of the 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. 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 look and feel in the future.
However, I believe that 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, that will (through the introduction of technology) be easier to access. Is this bad news for the High Street? Well it could well be if agents do not seek to move with the times and accommodate a younger generation of consumers who will not put up with poor levels of service and will simply choose to go elsewhere.
Lastly, I would prefer to marvel at much of what is new and innovative, even if it might have as yet uncertain consequences for me at some later date. But surely, the real test for the estate agency business as a whole, is whether we adapt professionally to change and innovation by planning ahead and evolving naturally with the business or metaphorically “live in a cave” hoping that the 1990’s make a return (now there’s a thought).