Like most businesses, estate and letting agencies have been forced to embrace new technology. Over the last 20 years, they have switched on to property portals, digital conveyancing, video tours and property management software.
A whole industry has sprung up around the sales and lettings sector with entrepreneurs and IT specialists looking to find new ways to make old processes faster and slicker for both agents and for buyers and sellers.
It is collectively known as “proptech”. Here, Patrick Cutcheon, Head of Residential at Dacre, Son and Hartley, reveals why some of it must be welcomed without losing the human touch:
“Innovations in property technology have transformed the reach, efficiency and customer service that estate agents can offer clients over the past decade.
That said, in my experience, digital platforms must operate hand-in-glove with first-rate customer service – after all, our role is to matchmake buyers with their dream home and to support vendors as they navigate the sale of their most valuable asset. But what does good customer service look like?
Little has changed from when I started my career 35 years ago. Our role remains to communicate and to listen; to build a rapport; to appreciate what motivates a sale or purchase; to understand lifestyle needs; to be proactive and committed to a transaction and, above all, to be plugged into the driving forces of the local market.
To do so leads to deal making. It is also reflected in the fact that a good percentage of buyers do not ultimately buy the type of property they first set out to look at thanks to choice and opportunity given to them by attentive agencies.
Effective and accurate local knowledge demarcates a good agent. Indeed, local knowledge isn’t just about knowing the catchment area for the best local school or which village pub does a great Sunday roast, it’s about the nuances of the local community.
From pairing up village-newcomers with like-minded neighbours to having the foresight to arrange a viewing for a property that is yet to launch, good agency is an exercise in matchmaking buyers with homes, lifestyles and communities.
Whether our client is a first-time buyer on the cusp of taking their first step onto the property ladder, a downsizer or a young family searching for their forever home, the emotional investment is often even greater than the financial one. As such, human interaction and a foundation of trust is integral to the success of an agent-client relationship.
We are often responsible for realising a buyer’s vision and sometimes it would be helpful if we could wave a magic wand.
While that magic wand remains elusive, of all the innovations in proptech, it’s arguably the property portals, such as Zoopla, that have had the greatest bearing on our industry. Having a partnership with a portal has become a mark of quality and there are tales of vendors who have refused to list with an agent unless they are affiliated with the ‘right’ outlet.
With over 98 per cent of property listings in any given marketplace, the portals drive ease of awareness, maximise visibility and choice and provide a snapshot into availability across the market.
Furthermore, portals afford an understanding of local market idiosyncrasies, price performance, which agents are most prolific and the breadth of their geographical spread.#
In many regards, the portals have made buying and selling property a 24-hour a day business. Buyers are no longer restricted to searching for property during working hours and many are likely to have perused the local market on their Zoopla app from the comfort of their living room.
Exodus to Yorkshire
The portals have also revolutionised the house buying process for those who are considering a move from outside of the local area. While a London family with ambitions for a Yorkshire lifestyle might once have earmarked a weekend for house viewings, local reconnaissance, and estate agent registrations, they can now conduct much of their research remotely.
This is ever more important, given that, month- on-month, 20 per cent of our applicant registrations are from the south east of England and of the balance 25 per cent are from outside Yorkshire. Indeed, with 35,000 hits to our website each month, traffic is high and appetite is strong.
For time-poor buyers, efficiency is mandatory. With their visibility and reach, portals can take the labour out of the buying process and the best agents work proactively, making connections between what buyers want and how a property can fulfil that need, with all the benefits of the portal listings through to property valuation capabilities.
It might take 20 viewings to sell a property but portal visibility and agent momentum should do the job. It’s all about a people-focused approach and embracing the tech advantage.