Tackling the ‘trust’ issue of online-only estate agencies

6th June 2016

When digital agency BIO surveyed 2,034 people last month to capture their thoughts on the online estate agency sector, the results showed some surprising trends. As any such survey is pertinent for the estate agency sector as a whole, we thought we’d review their findings here for you.

The first surprise came in the form of how many people claimed to have used an online estate agency. Those in the online agency field tend to cite 5% (or one in 20 people) as their figure of choice. However, 7% (or around 1 in 14 people) of those surveyed by BIO said they’d used an online agent. Maybe it was sample size that skewed the results, maybe it was who they surveyed, or maybe, just maybe, the public are being won over by online agencies.

So, why did those who had used an online estate agency choose to do so?

  • 21.5% believed they offered greater flexibility
  • 17.4% thought they would get a quicker sale
  • 15.9% were confident they could do better themselves than a traditional agency

Now, greater flexibility and speed in the sales process neatly follows standard online estate agency marketing messages, so one has to wonder whether this is the reality of what they experienced or simply the perception they have, or had, of such agencies. The survey did not ask how many people actually sold their properties through online agencies, only how many had used them.

The lack of confidence in traditional estate agency that is cited, or the overconfidence of those who feel they can do better, is a little worrying. But, as before, whether they actually did sell their properties or had to return to their high street sales team, was not asked and it is the response to this question that would be more useful.

So what were the most popular reasons among respondents for not using an online agency?

  • 27.5% wanted to speak to someone during the sale of their home
  • 18.3% perceive traditional estate agents as having better local market knowledge
  • 13.5% simply did not trust online agencies as much

This is a very interesting list, as there is much that the online agency sector can do to take a bigger slice of the market. Having someone there at the end of the phone as a property consultant or a sales progression specialist could help almost a third of those surveyed to rethink their worries. Local market knowledge is something of a perception battle as not all traditional estate agency staff are well versed in their local markets, and many online-only agents have access to many of the same sale tools to assess value and demand. But what can help with trust?

I’m actually surprised that trust was such a low percentage. I thought that more people would have an issue with trust when it came to online estate agency as the buying public has always had an uneasy relationship with new digital services.

When goods started to be sold online they said it would never work, because people liked to buy from people, but the ecommerce market has been booming for years, growing at a fantastic rate. When property portals first launched they had massive trust issues due to outdated information and misinformation, and yet you cannot imagine buying or selling a property without them today. The fact that this ‘lack of trust’ figure is now so low, and no doubt will continue to fall, is probably due to several factors:

  1. The rise and rise of brand names in the online agency sector. Purplebricks, Tepilo, easyProperty, eMoov and House Network have become recognised names, and with recognition comes trust.
  2. Funded businesses advertise A LOT. The above list of online estate agencies can be seen advertising regularly on TV, radio and in social media. Their vast advertising spend means that we feel them to be familiar, and this also wins our trust.
  3. Reassuringly expensive though cheap. We may be ‘saving ourselves £5,000 from the cost of traditional agency’ (the claim most online agencies are making at the moment), but as the £500 to £1,000+ to list properties on these sites comes from our pockets and not the proceeds of a sale, we feel it more. And, as with anything else, the more we spend on something, the greater the  possibility of believing that the value you get from it must be greater also.

So, how can online estate agency combat current public wariness of their service? Well, employ staff to act as points of contact for sellers (albeit remote), advertise more, and live up to your promises. As for traditional estate agency, if online agencies get this right, you have a real race on your hands – if this were to happen, customer care will become a differentiator you can really push – but until online agencies tackle these issues they will remain on the fringe of the sector.


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