A Viewber’s Tale
I’m Michael and I’m a Viewber as well as being an early retired technical consultant to the global pharmaceutical industry.
I’ll be upfront and disclose that I’ve received close to £1,000 in fees as a Viewber over the last 15 months, and earlier this year I purchased £3,000 of Viewber shares in the crowd-funded portion of their latest raise.
Weekend viewings appear to be a contentious subject in the industry, but I’m sure that sometimes the lack of flexibility must hurt agencies.
Fifteen years ago I was selling a property in a remote corner of northern England, but living (in a company rental) and working abroad, whilst in the market for a four-bed townhouse in inner London (presently valued in seven figures).
Once or twice a month I would fly into Heathrow on a Saturday morning and manage a couple of estate agent accompanied viewings before being reduced to pushing notes through sellers’ letter boxes to attempt to secure viewings for the Sunday.
One recent reader comment on this site expressed the view that if a sale can be agreed on a property without the need for weekend viewings, why bother with them.
Surely the holy grail in the industry is to reach the point where the outcome is a bidding war between prospective purchasers.
There again, possibly the fact that the London estate agents couldn’t cross-sell anything to me reduced their motivation to facilitate weekend viewings.
Viewber offers the industry a solution to fulfilling viewings at a time of the customer’s choosing subject to the property owner’s or tenant’s consent.
It was perhaps no coincidence that my busiest day as a Viewber was the Saturday in July when England faced Sweden in the afternoon.
I’m going to be honest and admit that after almost 50 viewings predominantly over the summer months of 2017 and 2018 I’m a bit jaded and disillusioned. Why ?
Mainly due to being asked the same questions by viewers on almost every viewing, and the steadfast lack of answers to such common questions being provided by the estate agents either in their online marketing of the property or in the notes provided to Viewbers.
“How many years are left on the lease?
“What is the annual ground rent, and how is it increased?”
“What is the annual service charge and what does it cover?”
“What council tax band is it ?
“Is there an allocated parking space included?”
Whilst I can happily talk about the local supermarkets, cinemas, restaurants, parks, leisure centres and libraries, it’s the lack of answers to the more important questions that frustrates viewers and Viewbers alike.
I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the rationale behind using a photo set and floor plan of a completely different apartment albeit in the same building on the online marketing, or the lack of action when the “mistake” is pointed out.
I don’t doubt that virtually all readers here put professionalism first and foremost, but I have found the role of estate agents in each of my four house buying experiences in different parts of the UK immensely frustrating.
After conducting viewings on behalf of 14 different estate agencies as a Viewber, I can only sympathise with viewers’ frustrations.
The vast majority of the viewings I’m asked to do are, I think it’s fair to describe as, towards the bottom of the mass market in the London Docklands area, so typically £400k-£500k (£1100-£1450 pcm rentals) studios and one- and two-bed apartments, either ex-local authority or in a very tired condition.
With many similar properties to choose from at this pricing point, no-show viewers are frequent, and viewers turning up 15 or 20 minutes late is the norm, not the exception.
Am I prepared to stand around outside for half an hour in winter waiting for viewers ? The simple answer is no, especially as keeping my balding head warm in any of my smart (and expensive) padded winter hoodies would contravene Viewber’s dress code.
Stating the obvious, I would not have invested in the recent funding round if I didn’t believe in what Viewber are doing, and of the longevity of the concept.
Nor would I continue to act as a Viewber (at least during the warmer months) if I didn’t get “something” out of it (money is not the central driver in my perhaps unusual case).
However, I think there are dangers ahead for Viewber.
The Viewber operations team (“controllers”) are the oil that allows the business to function day to day, and whilst most are brilliant at troubleshooting in real time, this year’s expansion has perhaps created challenges for Viewber in recruiting individuals with the ability to problem solve rapidly while being mindful of the implications of any particular course of action.
The potential for disillusionment of Viewbers and their subsequent dis-engagement feels to me the biggest risk. The concept needs both width and depth in the pool of Viewbers.
It may simply be coincidence but it feels to me as if at present there is less competition amongst Viewbers for requests in my area than has been the case, with me conducting a recent Saturday morning viewing several miles outside my normal patch.
I’ve mentioned the lack of regard many estate agents have for the questions viewers want answering during a viewing (leases, service charges etc), the discourtesy of many viewers in turning up very late or not all, the standing around getting cold, but have avoided the subject of remuneration.
The fee paid for Viewber services by estate agents has to cover many bases, and I suspect that over time Viewber will hope to decrease the proportion of that fee that reaches the individual Viewbers.
For each new property, a Viewber has to research the property, its location, travel to it (in London and other big cities even a couple of miles can take 30 minutes-plus), pick the keys up (often some distance from the property) arriving sufficiently early to familiarise with the layout of the property, where the light switches are, etc.
We then have to show the viewer around, return the keys, travel home, and finally submit answers to the half a dozen or so feedback questions on the Viewber website concerning the viewing.
Done conscientiously and professionally, the time spent in return for the fixed fee per viewing is remunerated at little more than minimum wage rates.
It’s hard to see significant scope for Viewber to reduce the headline fee paid to Viewbers without eroding the willingness of Viewbers to jump to 24/7, sometimes at just an hour’s notice.
Less obvious ploys are likely to disillusion Viewbers very rapidly, though.
I’ve recently been expected to agree to unpaid scope creep – repeating a one-hour return journey to collect a set of keys, given the key collection point was closed at the time originally specified for the collection by Viewber.
Whilst that proposal was quickly retracted by Viewber, the manner in which the retraction was handled raised more concerns in my mind as the underlying focus was clearly on Viewber’s own margin on this particular transaction.
Does Viewber’s strapline “We open doors, you close deals” ring true? Anecdotally, in my local area, absolutely.
A one-bed apartment rental in an ex-local authority block (£1100pcm) achieved a let from two open house sessions I conducted shortly after the property was advertised. Almost all properties I do viewings on result in a Sold, STC or Let flash on online marketing rather than being withdrawn from the market as the vendor seeks out an alternative agency.
Viewber, in my opinion, deserves to succeed, and it is only the rather one-sided reader comments on this site that has prompted me to write this article.
I have not been paid for it. I would like to end with what is undoubtedly a contentious thought.
Perhaps contracting some of the viewings to Viewber would allow estate agents more time to compile answers to those common questions (such as service charge, lease, etc) that are so often neglected, and to improve the quality and accuracy of the marketing collateral.
I imagine that most experienced agents will have a gut feel as to the potential for cross-selling to a prospective viewer, and could add just the more promising prospects to their own diaries.