As Dexters continues its meteoric rise as London’s biggest independent estate agency, boss Jeff Doble explains why he’s not worried about the ‘digital threat’…
The impact of the internet and more recently Covid-19 have brought far reaching changes for many businesses across London and the rest of the UK. Changes to high streets are being accelerated with services like banking available on-line and many shoppers preferring the convenience of home deliveries.
During the recent lockdown clothing shops and restaurants were shut. However, the UK Government surprised many people when they allowed estate agents to open, even going so far as to encourage the public to visit their local estate agency. Housing Minister Robert Jenrick wrote a detailed personal letter to the property industry highlighting that it was “business as usual” albeit with social distancing and health safeguarding measures in place.
The government’s actions highlighted both the importance of the property market to the economy and the valuable role that specialist local estate agents play. Unlike home shopping, buying a home is for most people the most important and largest financial commitment that they will make in their lifetime. Mistakes are not so easily corrected as sending goods back to a depot – local expert advice is key when it comes to where you choose to live.
It is for these reasons that when buying a home a purchaser, and equally a tenant when renting, quite understandably, wants to go and view the property, meet up with and speak personally to a local estate agent about the property, and tour the local marketplace and amenities. Only through personal experience can a buyer or tenant be fully informed about what they are purchasing or renting.
In London the latest statistics show that over 95 out of every 100 property sellers prefer to use a specialist local estate agent. Despite the millions of pounds of advertising spent trying to convince the public to use online-only options, it’s clear that they aren’t buying it and appreciate that purchasing a property is not like acquiring a pair of shoes.
Estate agents are not all the same, despite similar shiny offices and lookalike adverts. Resources and skill levels vary enormously and the public are rightly discerning and even fussy as to who they trust to deal with their most valuable asset. The differences between them though are relatively small when compared with the gulf that exists between a specialist local estate agent and an online-only company.
Even in the USA and Australia where fees can be up to 5%, online-only companies continue to fail, proving that it’s not just about price.
Professional estate agency is all about expert advice, local knowledge and a lot of hard work searching out the very best buyers and tenants. Not surprisingly this is more expensive than just placing an advertisement online. The results however easily justify the cost and it is worth remembering the UK has the lowest estate agency fees of anywhere in the world. Even in the USA and Australia where fees can be up to 5%, online-only companies continue to fail, proving that it’s not just about price.
At Dexters we’ve identified two key statistics to help explain the difference. Firstly, on average we spend between 150 and 200 hours of work to complete a successful sale or letting. Whilst our Local Directors provide the expert advice, the hard work is carried out by their colleagues in the sales teams who actively promote properties and make sure that we get the best possible results. Secondly, out of every 20 viewings we make on properties, only three of those will come from advertisements on portals and the internet. So 85% of viewings come from the efforts of our sales teams, proactively on the ground and on the telephone, and it’s this hard work that makes the difference.
It does help of course that at any one time we have over 100,000 people registered looking for a London home, but the point is that advertising alone doesn’t effectively sell or let a property. This is because house hunting always ends as a compromise, you never end up with what you thought you would, be it the type, size or area, everyone changes tack at some point and nearly always estate agents are as important in this as they are for their help and advice.
Hence, the clue as to why online-only doesn’t work is in the service estate agents provide to buyers and tenants, as much as in their work representing sellers and landlords, who pay the fees. People like to deal through a good estate agency, but don’t take my word for it, check Google reviews to see customers’ first hand experience. Searching for property and the subsequent negotiations are always easier through an intermediary, especially one who is available long hours and has the time to help.
Corporate and international tenants are particularly wanting to deal with a recognised estate agent when they rent property, hence we have a specialist central London team who routinely deal with over 1,000 enquiries every month. In lettings it’s not just about the negotiation, it’s support and help in finding the right place, specialist local knowledge and a trust in us to be offering good quality property that is well managed and so a joy to live in.
A few years ago I was constantly being asked to comment on the “digital threat”, but I haven’t been asked once this year.
A few years ago I was constantly being asked to comment on the “digital threat”, but I haven’t been asked once this year. My response is always the same though, we welcome the fact that the public has a choice and can opt for an online-only route if they so wish. People do seem to realise that it’s largely a DIY option and for some that’s an attraction and it’s their prerogative to give it a go. In London the stakes are high though, as adjoining houses in any one road might vary in value by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds and both sellers and buyers want the reassurance of dealing with a local specialist estate agent.
Online-only companies do their best to sell their “full service”, claim to have local representatives, deride estate agents by calling them “traditional” and “high street”, but of course the truth is that all estate agents are online and no amount of humorous advertising can disguise the shortcomings of being online-only. Dexters for example has a powerful online global reach, with our website attracting over 90,000 visitors each week from around the world
Regarding online-only companies, we expect the next step in their fight to make a profit to be a “no-sale no-fee” offer and to try and position themselves more closely with specialist local estate agents. The public still won’t be fooled!
Jeff Bezos has famously been quoted as saying that business strength is about having vision and perseverance; “At Amazon we like things to work in five to seven years. We’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow and we’re very stubborn.”
Similarly the success of our specialist local estate agent business model can be seen in how Dexters has grown over the last three decades. I believe that a clear vision and constant investment in the development of our brilliant people has meant that we get thousands of rave reviews and word of mouth recommendations.