I wasn’t entirely sure whether I should feel bemused or rather mildly amused by Investment Bank – Jefferies, organising a seminar at the Savoy hotel in London last week, titled (rather condescendingly) “The Home Truths Seminar”. I personally have no problem with investment analysts passing comment/ judgement on public companies within the sector, as that is clearly their job – but organising a seminar that was conducted “under Chatham House Rules” for anonymous invitees, seems to me to be at best, bizarre, if not even a little self-indulgent.
It then gets even more odd, when you consider who (amongst others we are told) they invited along as key note speakers, to impart much anticipated “insight” into the future shape of the property industry. Most notably;
Russell Quirk – MD of emoov (and unashamed serial self- publicist).
Mark Goddard – Head of Property Services at Zoopla.
Sam Tyrer – Head of Retail Services at Countrywide.
Well, quite apart from the fact that all three of the above (for very differing reasons) clearly have their own fixed agenda to push – the notion that the future of the industry will be determined by a room full of anonymous organisational heads is frankly, quite misguided. More so, when you consider that the one person who might have been better placed to positively contribute to the discussion was Bob Scarff (Ex MD of Countrywide) – who was apparently invited to the event by Jefferies, and then allegedly “barred from entry” at the request of one of the other speakers! Most strange indeed.
Also, I think that it would be remiss of me not to point out that Jefferies Investment Bank itself has its own commercial agenda – which is to gain recognition within the sector itself, so that it is well placed to take advantage of future M & A activity. What’s more, I have a sneaking suspicion that it was City Fund Manager Neil Woodford’s financial backing of “Purple Bricks”, as well as Charles Dunstone’s (Carphone Warehouse) reported £13m investment in “House simple” that may have whetted their appetite for involvement in UK estate agency – but that is only supposition on my part.
All of this aside, there can be little doubt that we are presently working against a backdrop of change within the industry – which makes the future outlook for high street estate agency both uncertain and insecure. However, please do not be fooled into thinking that City analysts, hybrid agents, or even corporate groups have all the answers, because quite simply – they haven’t. The headlines they generate in the trade press might well be omnipresent, but I have a very strong sense that almost all sides of the debate are rather making up their future business models as they go along right now.
More importantly, you may or may not have noticed that many experienced and quietly influential figures within the estate agency sector have been much more reticent about expressing their views openly on the subject of change within the industry. I suspect that this is because, like me, they know that predicting the future evolution of any market sector is a complex process – littered with unintended consequences and unforeseeable outcomes. Furthermore, history teaches us that it is only when the music stops (metaphorically), that it is safe to pass informed judgement on what has occurred – as anything else up to that point is only at best, partisan and speculative in nature.
Well, the “mood music” in this particular soap opera is most definitely still playing (for the moment at least), and although the omens of change are clearly present, it is too early to say which business model or models, will come out on top – or indeed which style of operation (corporate or independent) will be best placed to seize the initiative. But to state the obvious, this is something that only the UK consumer will ultimately decide. So, please take heed of David Bowie’s momentous words (as above), as they are as true for estate agency in this country today, as they were for him when he uttered them all those years ago.
The author of this article is Peter Nicholls, CEO of Ideology Consulting. For further information, please go to www.ideologyconsulting.co.uk .