There have been countless arguments about why high street agency will survive, but one by one, year by year, those arguments have fallen away as online and specialist estate agents have eroded the monopoly of conventional businesses.
The strongest argument was always that online agencies didn’t offer local expertise, as though they were located somewhere in outer space, rather than at a desk. This was the sell; how can a digital operation in a cloud sell your house in Clapham? It worked for a while, until people worked out that online agents could also be working locally.
The rise of the specialist agent has also had an effect, with owners of unusual, unique or architecturally interesting properties preferring to use someone with a true understanding of their home. In this market, no one cares about your office: it’s your online presence, your brand and your knowledge that count.
The most recent nail in the coffin has been in the suburbs, always the last places to leap into the future and those most concerned with being able to pop in for a chat, see their picture in the window and tell their friends about it. But the suburbs are also where people want the lowest fees. In a land where all the houses are the same, estate agents are seen that way too. Why pay a higher fee when all the agents are in the same location, share the same audience, and do the same marketing? There’s not much call for difference.
Large corporate agencies are taking more than their share in these suburban districts, waging fee wars on the competition and using their buying power with newspapers and magazines to woo vendors with impressive double page spreads in local publications (a total waste of time in terms of selling property, but an effective way to seduce homeowners into using their services). With no property to sell, you can’t do any business, no matter how good an agent you are.
This leaves little room for anything but the most ground-breaking and driven of local agents – something they’re not really known for. Squeezed on fees for their bread and butter business by the bigger firms, and squeezed out of the more interesting properties by specialist agents, it’s likely that most small independent chains will consolidate their operation into one larger office covering several districts, while those with just the one branch will, in the main, simply disappear.
We have proved for well over 20 years that specialist expertise trumps a high street presence every day. If we had a shop front, our expenses would go up, our business would immediately become associated with the postcode where it sat, and we’d lose countless clients in other parts of London and the UK.
In short, high street agency as we know it is breathing its last breath.