The industry should recognise that online and hybrid estate agents are a “positive threat” and the traditional agents who carry on regardless won’t survive.
That’s the view of David Westgate, the Chief Executive of Andrews Property Group (pictured, standing left), who says online competition is good because it’s “shaking us all up a bit and forcing us to think dynamically about how we move our businesses forward,” he says.
“It’s a threat, but it’s a positive one that enables us to get sharper and focus on what our customers’ needs are. For me, it’s about how Andrews responds to this ‘threat’.”
David, who recently received a long-service award to mark his 20 years at the firm, has overseen the introduction of an app (pictured, below) for its customers to help them manage viewings and review offers which, he says, already has 2,700 ‘live’ vendors.
“We recognise that a lot of customers haven’t got the time to, or just don’t want to, talk to us directly so that’s why we developed the app,” he says.
“The first thing is to define what the customer wants, then launch a service to match that through the appropriate channels.
“If someone wants to come into our branches, then fantastic, but if they just want to deal with us on the app or go online and transact via email, then that’s brilliant too.”
David says this shift in how customers talk to staff when selling a property is also dictating how it expands the business.
Andrews has 56 branches in London, the SW and SE of England including several branches opened recently in North London, but David says they are unlikely to open any more soon.
He says there are some areas where people still want to meet staff face to face and that these are “bustling” but other branches are struggling in the areas where customers are increasingly transacting online.
“The industry forgets that it’s all about people – buying a property is a life changing event and people want their hands holding, so their needs are important, and we’ll match our service to that,” he says.
During his interview with The Negotiator, David also revealed that Andrews is about to start making more of its charitable ownership and work, including highlighting the work of its staff and the two trusts who own the business, the Andrews Charitable Trust and the Christian Book Promotion Trust.
The former is the larger of the two and funds charities and other organisations working to solve social problems across the UK through three funding programmes. It receives approximately £2m a year from several sources, including Andrews, according to the Charities Commission.
David, who has been in the industry for 32 years and worked for 12 years before joining Andrews in several roles including as a rent collector and later a Chartered Surveyor, says a lot of people talk about estate agents being rogues.
“The way Andrews is run is all about values and integrity, and that flows through from being owned by a charity trust,” he says.
“One of the objectives I’ve got is to bring the trusts and the company together so that we can start to tell our staff and customers what the good work is all about – a lot of people either don’t know or are confused about how it works.
“Watch this space – we’re going to be shouting a lot louder about out our ownership and the charitable work we get involved in.”