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Online vs Traditional Estate Agents

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

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.

A growing number of websites allow people to sell their own properties online. RICS 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.

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.