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Why the Independent online estate agent may be the answer the property industry is looking for!

As the property industry finally appears to display a degree of acceptance towards alternative ways to sell and rent properties, this article examines the concept of the independent online agent and its place within the current estate agency landscape.

Examining the current offering of online estate agents, it appears that there are two forms of service on offer amongst online estate agents. The online estate agent who offers a ‘sell it yourself’ service, normally nationwide, where the majority of the processes, including all viewings, are left up to the owners to carry out, with the online agent then providing on telephone support during the sales process.

The alternative is the independent online estate agent. Described simply, this is an ‘everything but the shop’ style of operation where there is the presence of a professional estate agent for every step of the selling and renting process, but without multiple local estate agency offices – just one general network office.

Ironically this ‘everything but the shop’ independent online model is older than one may think, with the first registered estate agent shops within England opening way after the processes of property ownership transfer was established.

Additionally, there have been independent private agents selling and renting without a shop presence throughout the entire life of the traditional high-street agent. So what has occurred in modern times that seem to be supporting a fresh opportunity for independent online agents, and why do they have such potential over ‘sell it yourself’ online agents and indeed the traditional high street estate agent?


I recall in the mid-nineties as a teenager a huge advertising campaign promoting a new airline of which employees wore a captivating orange uniform. I also vividly remember my confusion, shock even, that the airline believed not offering an in-flight meal was the way forward in European travel.

Surely the nation would support my argument, that the moment a glowing air stewardess immaculately presented an alien looking tray, allowing the traveller to survey all four corners of the bizarre compartmentalised pockets of delight was the highlight of any flight and would be too much of a national favourite to be so ruthlessly done away with; all in the very grown up sounding name of ‘efficiency’.

Never again would I run my index finger through the diamond like bubbles of condensation that nestled atop the cardboard lid of the foiled main course or dive through the cutlery sleeve to discover what ingenious wipes and cheese spoons I could find. Surely this could not be coming to an end?

A few years later that I watched a documentary following a famous retired footballer as he travelled around Europe looking for the next best undiscovered footballers. Indeed I watched in amazement as he hopped onto the aeroplane adorned with the glowing orange stewards and quickly disembarked on the other side. Ironically the three or four flights the documentary followed the gentleman through completely opened my eyes to how easy the journeys seemed for him. The quick hop on and hop of nature of the airlines service was beautifully illustrated.

You may wonder why I have chosen to tell you this story but I believe it really poignantly ties in with where the property industry is within Britain at the moment. In many ways, metaphorically speaking the compartmentalised tray of unappetising but amazingly assembled food stands for the modern day estate agency shop, it provides a slightly unnecessary cost to the process of selling your home and it is absolutely not required especially if as a customer you care little for expensive luxury in the sales process.

At the turn of the millennium people did not want to travel around Europe in unnecessary luxury, they just wanted to get there and get there cheaply! At this very moment in time, I feel a large proportion of home sellers do not want to sell their homes the traditional way with the luxury of a costly shop, they just want to sell them, yes effectively but crucially they want to do so cheaper then ever before.

Reverting to the key issue of timing I feel if you were to ask me five or even three years ago if the nation was ready for the concept of property sales away from the high street shop I would have said ‘no, not ready yet’.

So what has changed in today’s world allowing a shift in our belief to embrace online estate agency? Well ironically I do not think the estate agents have been the main driving force behind the door opening for online agents, but more so the powerful online property portals that have grown in experience and capability in what they do.

Let’s face it not only is the level of the I.T illiterate shrinking in Britain, but the marketing of companies like Rightmove and Prime Location have really driven the major portals into the laps/laptops of property searchers today.

Online agents do not have to sell the idea of buyers mainly using online methods to find property, as it is those regular online searchers that are their potential customers in the first place, simplified everybody knows it is the internet that sells property these days – not dated shop window displays.

So it appears the timing may be good for the online agents but let’s look at the differences between the sell it yourself no human presence online agents that offer their services nationwide and the independent ‘everything but the shop’ model.

Online estate agents offer their service nationwide, meaning effectively anyone anywhere in the country can call them and say ‘hey I would like you to put my property on the portals for me’. Their fees are normally very low between £199 and £499 for a sale and as low as £99 to rent a property. Independent online estate agents operate in a smaller targeted area normally as wide scale as a high street agency with the same level of human presence for viewings etc., but offer a reduced fee in caparison to their high street competitors.

Personally I think the mechanics to the way the two models operate especially in terms of their geographical area is a good insight into the fate that lays in waiting for them. When the orange coloured airline came into service it was an instant success, but did it launch wingless aeroplanes or jets that flew twice as high or fast as the market was offering at the time?

No it did the opposite, it scaled down a very similar service which did not revolutionise but instead simply increased efficiency and changed public perception of its industry in doing so.

That is where I feel new online ‘sell it yourself’ agents are getting it wrong, the model they follow is just too alien from the traditional service, it’s the opposite even, when you think that, love him or hate him, your local estate agent is the central component to making a sale proceed to exchange and to a level much more then buyers or sellers are really aware of.

Many such companies state that the vendor running all viewings is the best way to sell a house, well anyone who has ever worked a day in well-run estate agents will know that is pure fabrication to cover the model’s weakness, a weakness in which offering a service over a national area surely haemorrhages control.

Most worryingly such control is often lost in key areas of marketing with most online agents claiming to possess the ability to offer a service of professional photography & floor plans everywhere in the country?

These are very skilled services so the claim must be farcical, and the proof is in the quality of such marketing services when checking out properties listed by sell it yourself agents with most properties having mobile phone quality photos and poor quality floor plans if any at all!

You can’t beat a human presence!

The main element of control which is completely lost via any ‘sell it yourself’ model is indeed the fact that home owners are forced to sell it themselves. Why do you think the people that represent estate agencies who deals with all maters from viewings to completions are actually called negotiators? Because they do exactly that, they negotiate every stage of the way.

As an experienced estate agent myself I have lost count of the times when I have agreed an applicant’s offer with an owner only to hear the age old joke from a colleague ‘well done getting the offer agreed…now all you have to do is sell the property!’ But what does this joke actually mean you may ask reading it for the first time?

Well the difficult part of selling a property, the part when a negotiator’s skills are continually called on to ensure the sale reaches exchange of contract only begins when meeting the buyers at the point of the viewing but continues through the offer process and is sometimes repeatedly called upon until the day of exchange.

In many ways the glamour of the salesman meeting clients at a property, running the perfect viewing and agreeing an asking price offer is very much short lived. The property is not sold at that moment, the opposite in fact, it is merely reserved while the deep exploratory process including solicitors and mortgage surveyors commences.

From the moment of agreement onwards the task of selling the property truly begins and it is normally a nerve raking process of salvation for the negotiator. They must salvage and maintain the vendor’s willingness to sell to the buyer (however challenging a buyers behaviour may be) and maintain the interest from the buyer within the property and navigate through whatever demons the property may throw at them via solicitors etc.

So is the art of selling a property appearing more of a morbid then glamorous vision than you previously had in mind? Well yes as an agent I can assure you there is very little glamour in negotiating a sale to exchange.

There are a thousand reasons why a sale can fall through and if your negotiator stands half a chance of keeping the peace and moving things along you can bet your bottom dollar he will want to be there at the start, at that very first viewing to know and understand just who he is dealing with on both sides. If you think a stranger to all parties on an 0800 telephone number, which is precisely what ‘sell it yourself agents offer, is going to calm the sensitive soul of a vendor or quash the ego of a difficult buyer and salvage a deal at any tricky stage of a sale, then you may be better off calling.

If you look carefully on the websites of most ‘sell it yourself’ online agents you will also see that they virtually all offer to visit your property ‘once’ normally to do the valuation or to do the photos, so does this prove they don’t truly have the courage of their own convictions – that they cannot truly sell your home online from start to finish?

Surely the independent online agent has the right model exactly, he is the scaled down model within the industry because without the 10-15K of bills a month a month (yes that’s right a month) which even the smallest of high street agents have to bare, he can make a sizable reduction in fees and can still most importantly BE AROUND!

Yes precisely he is on the ground at every valuation and viewing to meet every buyer and is always be a face to a name when in touch with homeowners to give sales progression updates. What he does not have though is the shop rent, the shop rates, the energy overheads or indeed any of the overheads the poor agent in your local high street does. Such independent agents are now growing with one centralised office covering a larger area with negotiators offering a personalized service in their given regions.

When considering the disadvantages of a high street agent it is almost impossible to look away from the monthly running costs. Yes all business incurs costs, but even a small independent will face bills north of ten thousand pounds on a monthly basis.

The reason the independent online agent can beat a local high street agent by up to 50% on lower fees is mainly attributed to the fact they have scaled down the level of high street shop presence. From shop rent to business rates it seems the classic high street shop is the obvious luxury that can so easily exit the equation; how do you think a property owner based overseas sells their property with a UK agent?

Day in and day out folks instruct, market and sell their properties without stepping foot inside the agents office, in fact from my experience a large per cent of owners only pop into the office for the first time to thank the agent/drop keys in once the sale has exchanged. With such regular financial stresses it seems a risky business for land lords to allow their entire first month’s rent and damage deposits to flow through their agents hands.

Considering the above, I see the true agent of the future to be the independent online agent, harbouring less crippling outgoings, offering industry changing lower fees, to a ever open minded customer set.

He or she will be a skilled all-rounder, capable of generating top class wide angle photography, floor plans and an EPC certificates all in house and not needing to outsource such integral marketing services for either the necessity to make a mark up on them or just through a lack of self-sufficiency.

Yes he or she should evolve into a true marketing professional because let’s face it estate agents do work within marketing and the old fat cats that know and care for nothing other than talking loudly down a telephone from within a stuffy shop should get, as they would in most other markets, swallowed up through technological advances within their own industry.

Ten years ago people just wanted to travel low cost – today people want to sell and rent their properties cheaper but not themselves because they are not estate agents, and they don’t want to have to compromise on quality – Arise the independent online estate agent.

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Please Note: This Article is 8 years old. This increases the likelihood that some or all of it's content is now outdated.


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