Investors were told yesterday that the future of estate agency will be bricks and clicks – customer, not technology, led and with a strong hint that operators such as Foxtons have got things right.
They also heard that online, or hybrid, agents have been raising their prices – erasing claims about savings for sellers.
The Home Truths seminar, held by City analysts at investment bank Jefferies, was held under Chatham House rules, meaning anonymity for participants. Speakers included Countrywide’s head of retail Sam Tyrer, eMoov’s Russell Quirk, and Mark Goddard, head of property services at Zoopla.
Attendees in the queue were puzzled to see one well-known agent, Bob Scarff, formerly head of Countrywide estate agency, politely denied entry into the room, at the Savoy hotel in London. This was despite Scarff having been invited.
It is rumoured that his being barred from the room was one of the speakers said they would not participate if Scarff were present.
Anthony Codling at Jefferies, reported on the debate last night to EYE: “There was agreement in the room that the future structure of the UK residential services industry will be customer, rather than technology, led.
“In many other consumer facing sectors, a digital channel is not a ‘nice to have’, but a ‘must have’. In order to succeed we believe that agents will need to have lines of communication open outside of the old-school ‘nine to five’.
“Consumers also want to choose which channels of communication they use and transact through; those that offer the fewest channels are likely to attract the fewest customers.”
Codling added: “It was interesting to note that the hybrids have all been raising fees over the last two years, suggesting that the headline grabbing low fees may well be unsustainable and over time will be less of a differentiator.
“Low fees are nothing new in the industry: many traditional agents have launched with low fees, but we cannot think of one which has successfully changed the mould.
“The fact that hybrid fees are increasing in our view demonstrates that consumers are willing to pay for customer service when they fully understand what they are paying for.
“We believe that there will be less fee pressure for estate agents of all types who can clearly communicate their service proposition.
“In this regard a certain high-profile London-based agent comes to mind.”