Can The Traditional Estate Agency Really Compete With Digital Competition?

2nd May 2016

Twenty years ago, back in 1996, if you wanted to sell your home your options were clear – you would simply pop down to your local estate agency, one of just a few on the high street, and register it. They would put up a ‘For Sale’ sign, advertise it in the local papers and magazines, stick a printed ad in their window for a few weeks, and may even upload details to their website if they were big enough an agency. But with the rise and rise of the online estate agency, promises of vast fee savings, rapid sales and more and more innovative remote selling strategies can the traditional high street agency really compete?

As the millennium celebrations subsided, a few mortgage lenders and estate agency firms collaborated to form a company that would mark the beginning of an obsession with the digital environment for estate agencies – Rightmove. Dogged with early database issues, confidence was low at the outset, but they weathered this, improved their systems, and today 95% of all estate agencies in the country are signed up to the service. It has become a staple of property marketing and has transformed the way we buy and sell our homes here in the UK.

Statistics tell us that 90% of all buyers look first online to find a new property – so it’s not at all surprising that some bright sparks worked out that if the majority of buyers were looking online and as the majority of traditional agents were advertising online, then maybe there was a way of selling property without high street overheads. Early online estate agencies failed to make much of an impact, but with a new generation of digital property agencies, backed by serious funding, the tide seems to be turning. Purple Bricks, Sarah Beany’s Tepilo, eMoov and House Network are very obvious examples of this success story. You can’t turn the TV on or turn to your social media without an advert for one or other of them popping out at you.

But all might not be as it seems. Because, for all the spend on advertising, for all the pundits pronouncing the fall of high street estate agency and fears from the traditional market, there’s still only an estimated 4% of us buying through online estate agencies in the UK.

The traditional estate agency is also fighting back and adapting to the new competition by offering innovative ways to help bring buyers and sellers together – ever more sophisticated video walkthroughs, digital window displays, flexible fee structures, and so forth. The argument, and it’s a compelling one, is that nothing beats the personal touch, the ‘one-to-one’ experience of dealing with a property expert who’ll guide you through the buying process from registration to the handover of your keys. Online estate agency has come a long way, but it has much work to do to put a dent in the still dominant high street estate agency market.