Bricks vs. clicks: what's the best way to sell a home?

Les Pickford

Freelance writer and former Editor of the RICS Construction Journal (RICS)

A growing number of websites allow people to sell their own properties online. I asked traditional high street estate agent James Scott-Lee FRICS and online estate agent Sarah Beeny about the impact on the property market and the threat to the traditional sales approach.

Sarah Beeny and James Scott-Lee FRICS

How are online estate agents affecting the market?

James Scott-Lee FRICS, Chairman of The Chancellors Group of Estate Agents:
Very little. It’s not just about saying “Here’s a house, would you like to buy it?” It’s about “What should we ask for this house? How should we market it? What’s the pricing strategy? What’s the marketing strategy? Who will we select to buy it?” It’s about negotiating the deal and ensuring it gets through to a successful completion.

Sarah Beeny, Founder of Tepilo online estate agents:
Most buyers browse properties online (Rightmove claimed its highest ever monthly viewing figures in January 2015: 100 million visits) so internet-savvy sellers realise they need their home on the main portals, not in shop windows. By using a trusted online estate agent they can quickly, easily and cheaply advertise their home themselves.

What are the advantages of the high street approach?

JS-L: We advise clients what they might ask for their property, and then find somebody who offers an acceptable price and meets their requirements for a successful transaction in the right timescale. We hold a client’s hand from the moment they decide to sell to when the deal completes.

What are the advantages of the online approach?

SB: The internet is open 24/7 so when selling your home online, you can do things at a time that suits you, e.g. book in viewings in the evening rather than having to wait until a high street agent opens. There can also be huge cost savings, e.g. around £5,750 on a £350,000 home.

What are the disadvantages of the high street approach?

JS-L: I cannot think of any, we do what the online agents do and so much more. We are sometimes accused of being expensive but, it has yet to be shown that on average, that the online agents produce a better net selling price. Our customers clearly consider this is what we achieve for them as otherwise they would choose a cheaper service. The cheapest is not necessarily value for money. Also most agents get paid on completion not up front as many online agents require.

What are the disadvantages of the online approach?

SB: We do understand that some people like the reassurance of a dealing with ‘real person’ so we offer a 24-hour call centre and live chat facility. Ultimately, selling your own property online is an alternative to using a traditional high street agent.

How big is the online agent threat to high street agents?

JS-L: Small. They’re just not affecting us. Their profile is much bigger in comparison with their market share. What they do, we do but our internet exposure of our client’s properties is much greater as we use the big portals plus we have our own sites. They do sell some properties but I would question as a seller if this method achieves the best net price, i.e. price less costs. Plus, of course, we provide local experts to assist throughout the transaction.

SB: A good comparison is travel agents. Years ago, you’d trawl the high street collecting holiday brochures, read them at home and then return to the travel agent to queue to book your holiday. These days, there are still a few travel agents on the high street, mainly offering specialist packages, but surveys show that we are increasingly booking our flights and holidays online – this will be the way forward for selling property.

How should high street agents react to this threat?

JS-L: We just need to ensure that the overall service we provide to our clients continues to be better. For example, we have dedicated staff to progress transactions once a deal has been agreed.

How can online agents better compete with high street agents?

SB: As technology improves, we will be constantly evolving and looking for innovative ideas that will continue to save both vendor and buyer time and money. However, in the short term we will always provide easy access to a friendly and experienced member of our customer service team to help them with any queries.

Why have online estate agents not taken off as quickly as predicted?

JS-L: They provide a much narrower service and their marketing exposure is dramatically less. We’ve got 50 offices, our own website and we’re on the big portals, as well. That sort of exposure cannot be matched by small portals just selling people’s private houses directly.

SB: Property is one of the last markets to embrace the internet. This is down to frequency of purchase – compared to groceries or books, most people may only move home a few times in their lives. Eventually, as younger generations step on and move up the property ladder, selling online will become the norm.

How will this area develop over the next few years?

JS-L: Finding new ways to do business, be it selling property or anything else, is to be welcomed. It is up to the responsible players in the industry to embrace these new ways of selling and add them to the services that they provide. That’s what the switched-on traditional estate agents are doing. Interestingly, our personal service with weekly telephone contact throughout the transaction combined with automated marketing updates has helped us grow our market share. People like talking to people who know what they are talking about. True customer service.

SB: We estimate that by 2020, 50% of homes will be sold online. There is a revolution happening and it will be fascinating to see how traditional high street agents adapt. Some of these will survive, but with an offering clearly differentiated to online.

Sarah Beeny and James Scott-Lee FRICS

Comments (1)

  1. Completely agree with Sarah on this one. Online estate agents like CastleSmart.com, are the new wave of online estate agents and while the conversion of home sellers is taking longer than expected it is inevitable. There will be a day where traditional estate agents are obsolete.

    James Tilford James Tilford, 28 June 2016 28 at 08:27AM

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