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Spot the difference

Alex Gosling, HouseSimple.com

Alex Gosling imageIs HouseSimple different from other online agents?

We offer more flexible fees, including a pay as you go option, while other online agents have fixed fees paid whether they sell or not. We also offer a no risk, no tie in and no cancellation fee.

HouseSimple.com websiteWe don’t have estate agents taking pictures, but rather pride ourselves on our network of professional photographers, because we know the importance of having high quality photography to increase the chances of a sale.

We have specialist teams in each area, including local valuation teams, viewings teams, account teams, negotiation teams and sales progression teams. We are very focused on giving users the best tools and as much or as little control as they want over everything from viewings systems, secure viewer communication systems with email and text capabilities, advert editing suite, performance statistics and negotiation systems. Sellers are provided with a professional customer account handler, on hand to help at any time.

Finally, we probably have the best property marketing network in the UK, made up of over 500 websites, including Rightmove and Zoopla.

Why are online agents are now starting to pull in a significant portion of the market?

As soon as the public learns about this way of selling and letting, they are keen to try it. Anyone you talk to will agree that high street agents are overpriced. The public wants change. We are here to show how it can and should be done. The internet is a fantastic way to provide the tools to help people during the selling process; giving them more control and the relevant information to help facilitate a seamless transaction from offer through to completion.

Until recently the sector didn’t have the level of investment to market very broadly.

But the landscape has changed over the past 12 months. For example, after three months of lightweight exposure on television we have doubled the size of our business, and we are now the second largest online estate agent in the UK by listing numbers after Purplebricks.

What is HouseSimple’s market share?

Our market share is around 15 per cent and we are gaining pace since we’ve started television advertising. We are now twice the size, in terms of new instructions per month, of any of the online estate agents in the following pack, including eMoov, Tepilo and Housenetwork.

Connells acquired Hatched, is it a sign that high street firms see the threat of online firms offering cheaper fees for sellers?

There is a certain amount of movements happening towards protectionism. We have been approached by the biggest names in the industry interested in taking a stake in our sector.

What impact is the online sector having?

It’s forcing the traditional estate agents to improve their service levels and reduce their fees. However, this is only noticeable in a few places, usually outside of urban areas where local agents have to fight more for business. In cities, like London, with so many potential property instructions, high street agents have hardly lowered their fees at all. In fact, if you look at the figures, they are making almost double the commissions they were eight years ago as London house prices have doubled in that time.

Will traditional agents be able to carry on charging a proportion of the sale price?

The percentage fee structure is not unfair in the eyes of the public. What is unfair is the level that high street estate agents set their fee at.

The reason why they charge such a high percentage rate is largely due to the low level of properties high street agents sell, and so those that do sell end up paying to make up for those that don’t sell. It’s bizarre, for example, that someone selling a one bedroom flat in London could be charged twice the fee of a five bedroom property in the suburbs, hence we are advocates of fixed fees.

High street estate agents have a lot of work to do to make up ground. Poor service levels needs to be improved alongside offering more competitive fees. HouseSimple consistently outperforms high street agents in terms of percentage of stock sold, percentage of asking price achieved, and the speed to secure an offer.

What is the future for online agents?

We’ll get cleverer, bigger, faster and stronger. It’s the future, it’s what the public want and that is an irresistible force.

Do you think online agents will ever be permitted to list on OnTheMarket?

Legally they cannot stop us, if they reached a certain size, competition law states they cannot disallow us from marketing on their site. However, success seems very unlikely when very few people are using OnTheMarket due to the lack of stock.

OnTheMarket is not a threat at the moment, and they do not have support from the public or even the estate agency market as a whole. Their approach is cynical and anti-competitive, both of which are negative forces. They will always struggle to succeed in this age of internet freedom of choice.

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