Estate Agents: High street or on-line?

October . 2015

Walking up and down Castle Street in the otherwise lovely historic cathedral city of Salisbury, Wiltshire is surely one of the most soulless experiences with the complete dominance of estate agency offices and this comes from someone who is an estate agent himself! Napoleon once famously described Britain as being a nation of shop keepers, now it seems we are a nation of estate agents!

One could easily be forgiven for thinking that there are more estate agents in Salisbury than properties to sell, indeed, there is some truth in this. Despite the severe recession in the housing market over the last decade, the numbers have grown even though there are fewer homes available to sell now than there were ten years ago. Every other shop in the city seems to be either an estate agency or coffee house!

So do we actually need so many estate agents in our city and town centres? The answer is surely no. Not only is there currently not enough business to go round so many firms but the reality is that properties are no longer bought and sold in estate agents’ offices the way they used to be. It is the internet that is now the property World’s shop window.

With the surge in the use of handheld devices such as tablets and smart phones over the last four or five years and the continuing popularity of personal computers and lap tops, whatever ‘product’ one is marketing, the internet has undoubtedly become king. As an illustration of this, the UK’s leading property portal Rightmove, one of the country’s most visited websites, 500 pages are viewed every second.

Logging onto a property website is the way the overwhelming majority of house buyers search for their next home. This has led to a number of on-line only agencies being set up. With lower overheads by not having high street rents to pay for and fewer staff to employ, they can offer sellers discounted fees, allowing home owners to post their properties on the internet cheaply. This might sound great but the reality is often far from it and vendors need to be aware that some sites refuse to post properties marketed by on-line agents.

There are other disadvantages with on-line agents not least of which is a call centre style of service. Some offer a dedicated contact albeit with an individual who is likely to have limited knowledge of the property itself, it’s setting and the immediate surroundings. If the remote agent is based in say Basingstoke, they will not know about the local schools, pubs, shops, walks etc. in a village in the Wylye Valley.

On-line agents’ marketing material usually has much to be desired with owners often being left to provide their own photographs and descriptions. I have seen some quite appalling property details which are poorly presented, misleading and more likely to put off prospective buyers than entice them. The seller will also have to conduct their own viewings and have limited support in the offer, negotiation and sales process.

So is there room for a hybrid, i.e. an agency that provides a traditional hands-on, personal intermediary service away from the high street but providing both global and local marketing using the World Wide Web and other digital platforms such as social media? Certainly and it is very much what smaller, non-corporate firms like Rural View are about.

We have found that sellers and buyers alike prefer to develop a good working relationship with ‘real’ people who have an intimate knowledge of the area, the local property market and understand their needs and expectations. Oh, and we do have an office where visitors are most welcome, it’s just that it’s in a complex of converted farm buildings and not on Castle Street, Salisbury!

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