Are high street estate agents worth more than internet ones?

This question has been an active topic of discussion for a little while now, so does that make the answer Yes, or No?

 

I might be a property copywriter now, but I have a 25 year history of estate agency behind me – high street and internet – so I’d like to think I have a balanced view on each of the camps, and what they offer. I feel there’s plenty of room for both kinds, but I do notice some complacency and aloofness from high street agents around the validity and performance of their internet counterparts. As any good businessperson will attest, complacency is rarely a good thing when it comes to competing.

 

I think high street agents sometimes delude themselves around how much more they ACTUALLY offer than internet-based agencies. High street agents seem to think that, because they have a local shop front, they are better placed to ‘value’ someone’s home and – for some reason I can’t quite connect to reality – that their high street office makes it easier for them to accompany viewings, talk to clients and chase up sales. That is, I’m afraid, nonsense.

 

From my time working in successful estate agencies of both categories, I can confidently declare there was absolutely no evidence that having an office away from the high street prevented me from phoning my clients, going out on a viewing, making sales or being really, really good. The high street agent likes to present a particular view, that internet based estate agents are either a) stationed somewhere on the outer edges of the solar system (perhaps actually INSIDE the internet somewhere), or b) don’t have real people, or at least normal people, or at least PROPER estate agents working in them. Wrong again.

 

If you look at most specialist estate agencies – loft specialists, new homes specialists, architect-designed homes specialists – they are mostly NOT high street based. Yet specialist agents run rings around high street agents when it comes to their particular market sectors. Try inviting a bunch of high street estate agents round to your home and then see if you can remember them apart 2 days later. But call in a specialist and boy-oh-boy will you notice the difference. When compared to their local high street peers, they are often more polished, more knowledgeable, more interesting and more professional, with a wider view on the market than a high street agent – by definition – could ever hope for. More importantly, they often achieve higher prices from their specialist buyers than high street agents deem possible.

 

Everyone knows that hardly anyone starts their search for property in local newspapers OR on the high street. They start on the internet. In fact, more often than not, they go to the property portals, register for updates, and that’s that. Hardly anyone calls estate agents anymore, email enquiries are way outnumbered by the leads from the portals, and even estate agent’s websites take second place to those mighty Rightmove and Zoopla machines. For me, high street agents are presenting a smokescreen of ill-researched statements. They imagine internet agencies to have no office, consisting instead of a bunch of lazy blokes in dressing gowns and slippers, answering emails from their beds while having Jeremy Kyle on in the background. I have encountered this view on numerous occasions and my bet is that most high street estate agents have never visited the offices of an internet based estate agent and have therefore absolutely no idea of how they work. On the other hand, internet based estate agents know EXACTLY what it’s like working in a high street office. They probably started in one, and moved on.

 

So, what exactly DOES the high street estate agent have to offer? Well, isn’t that just the $64,000 dollar question.

 

High Street Estate Agents are indeed more expert on their local market and its vernacular. In an area of 1930s semis, Victorian terraces, 1980s blocks of flats or perhaps ex-council property, they are certain to have seen them in greater numbers than an internet based estate agent. So they might well be more in-tune and up-to-date with recent sales. But that’s not really enough, is it? You could just get a valuation from them and then use a cheaper internet agent. High street estate agents pay £££s for shops that nobody visits, £££s for window displays that don’t produce any buyers, and £££s for expensive ads that don’t attract any sales: no wonder their fees are being questioned. What exactly are people paying for if their estate agent’s main costs are worthless? Of course, as estate agents, we all know that those lovely, pretty things are only there to beguile and entice and win instructions, but we can’t tell vendors that.

 

High street estate agents need to up their game and set about distinguishing themselves from each other. ‘We’re professional. We’re different. We’re local’ just don’t cut it any more. What do they mean ‘different’? The very last thing most of them are is ‘different’. I’m not saying they’re bad, but I do think they spend too much time selling themselves as something they’re not, instead of becoming what they say they are. Which makes you wonder whether they believe any of it themselves. Genuine difference, genuine personality, genuine expertise are all fiercely magnetic. I worked in a high street agent that specialised in warehouses, lofts & contemporary space and we absolutely wiped the floor with our competitors. Not because we were hard nosed, or aggressive, or because we slagged them off. In fact, we never mentioned them. We just spoke about what we did, how much we did, how we concentrated on their kind of property and only had buyers for that. We charged 50% more than the other guys on the high street, and it was easy. And fun.

 

To high street agents I say this: If you’re experiencing a lot of vendors questioning your fees, then a lot of vendors are not experiencing you as being worth them.

 

Which begs another question: What are you going to do about it?