There are a few things we can take as gospel in the UK. The weather will always be the biggest topic of conversation as, despite experiencing the same seasons every year, people still express consternation when it’s hot in summer or cold in winter. There are endless pointless reasons why your train is delayed. And estate agents still languish with journalists, lawyers and traffic wardens as the country’s most disliked professions.
Indeed, as the UK’s only organisation championing homeownership, we receive complaints from members about estate agents. Stories of unfair contracts or unexplained small print. Tales of agents who give their profession a bad name by prioritising their own interests, abusing their position of trust by not being transparent.
Tarring all agents with the same brush means that the really useful service that agents provide isn’t given the credit it deserves.
We’ve certainly spoken out against estate agents who employ sharp tactics. But while there are obviously issues that could do with reform, tarring the whole industry with the same brush is unfair and means the service that agents provide – a really useful service that isn’t easily replicated – is not given the credit it deserves.
THE MAGICAL AGENT
If you’re moving to a new area and have little knowledge of which particular areas are most suited to you, you can count on an estate agent to give you the local knowledge – which is the right side of the street in the right neighbourhood for a buyer like you.
You can register with a local agent, tell them what you’re after and they’ll reel off all the homes they have that match what you’re looking for – saving you masses of online scrolling through images of homes that aren’t suitable. And they tip you off when a new property comes on their books that you might like. If you’re selling for the first time they can hold your hand and help to make the process a lot less stressful. If you want to sell your house ‘quietly’, they can do so discreetly, matching it with those they know are looking in the area.
And if you just like to look at properties – and who doesn’t – you can browse their shop windows. Let’s be honest, few of us can walk past a high street agent without stopping to look at the properties even if we have no intention of moving.
ADDRESSING THE ISSUES
We need greater competition from agents, a stronger desire to be the best in the business and an end to any underhand practices that cast a shadow over the industry.
Let’s face it, today’s consumers are savvy. The rise of online reviews and comparison sites has made the public much more discerning when it comes to choosing a service provider. We see this from the increasing number of sellers who use our free impartial comparison tool EstateAgent4Me. They’re not willing to opt for the nearest local agent and be done with it. They want the best. If your business is lacking or your experience is poor you’ll struggle to hide it.
Furthermore, the increase in competition from online agents has made everyone in the sector examine their offering and wonder what they could have done – and can do – to improve it.
Agents must ensure their online presence is as strong as their high street offering and enhance their service, offering more flexibility and ensuring their contracts are in the client’s best interest.
They must look at their propositions and adapt to the new landscape. They’re recognising they can act perhaps not just for sellers, but also as buyers’ agents, helping both sides of the exchange (obviously not in the same sale), as happens in other countries.
They must understand potential buyers and the need to be honest with them, to ensure they find the right buyer for their client’s home. (Calling a box room a “study/ fourth bedroom” will only get you so far, namely to the point when the buyer walks in the front door – then the game is up!)
They should be building on their knowledge and expertise and making this their USP. They can pitch themselves as independent property experts, the solution to the homeowner’s problems, rather than as they all too often are at the moment, the problem.
And this needs to happen across the entire market. The estate agent model needs to evolve and at Homeowners Alliance we certainly hope it continues to do so. Indeed, the property world without high street estate agents would be much worse for customers – despite the fact popular opinion may suggest otherwise!