Online vs traditional estate agents

Andrew Bulmer FRICS

UK Residential Director (RICS)

There are more online estate agents popping up than ever before. High street estate agents up and down the country are now facing the reality that there's more competition than ever before in an already crowded marketplace.

Janine Hÿtch FRICS

In this comment, member of the Residential Estate Agency and Lettings Working Group Janine Hÿtch FRICS compares online and traditional estate agents, and explains why employing the services of the former may mean you don't get what you were promised or paid for.

Confusion and comparison

I have found that many "traditional" residential estate agents start twitching nervously when the conversation turns to the subject of "online" estate agents.

They immediately begin a negative critique of all that is done by these "impostors" in our name, using words such as "cheap" and "unprofessional" to describe the service they perceive to be offered, in comparison with their "full-traditional service".

Doubtless, therefore, the same conversation echoes up and down the country with hundreds of aspiring sellers who seek to engage their potential agent about how this new concept of online estate agency differs to what we still like to refer to as traditional. It makes me a little sad to hear from potential sellers who remain confused about what we do for the extra fee we charge.

First of all, we are all "online" agents because we all use the internet for marketing and attracting buyers and sellers. Everything an online estate agency does is the same, or very similar to, what most traditional agents are doing — it’s just that we do so much more in addition to this. Our problem is that we’re not very good at explaining it all to our potential clients.

Fast food vs restaurants

Online-only agents provide a service where you can buy a small component part of the usual service of an estate agent, a little bit like a fast food delivery meal does by comparison to eating out in a restaurant.

With a fast food delivery, it tempts you because it is quick, easy and cheap, and promises to satiate your hunger. But you have no idea when you pay for it or if it will be anything like the picture promised when you get it. It might be OK and do the job, but it also might be late or never turn up. The fast food shop has had your money, so what will they want to do about it?

However, with a restaurant experience, the first thing they will do is to put you in control and ask you where you want to sit, invite you to choose what you want to eat and have your food prepared exactly as you wish. Everything is taken care of for you by people who are right there with you from beginning to end, each having a specific part to play. Best of all, you don’t have to pay until the end, which is when you know the service you received was value for money.

How to tackle the situation

Estate agents cannot be afraid to talk to potential clients about online-only agents and what they do. In fact, we have a lot to thank them for because they have taught us a few lessons in how to use the internet to better enhance what we already do.

So, in assisting our potential new vendor clients to make an informed choice, maybe in our presentations we should first focus on agreeing all the things that we and online-only agencies do as part of our service, and set those to one side. We can then spend the remaining 90% of our presentations discussing and explaining the other aspects of our service that the online-only competitor cannot ever provide — only after that's been established can we allow the conversation to turn to fees.

Interested in this topic? Read 'Bricks vs Clicks'

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