An Endangered Species…?
As the internet alters the landscape, the High Street estate agent – formerly king of the property jungle – must learn to adapt
Article by Charles Fraser-Sampson Photograph by Olu Eletu
One upon a time during a property boom far, far away; there lived a type of business called an Estate Agency. The workhorses of this Estate Agency were often old, eccentric, not the most proactive and often poorly paid. However, as the years went by, something magical happened to the robust but pondering estate agent, something that marks a zenith in its evolution. People began to start earning bigger salaries as the economy re-energised and grew. This was coupled with properties that were affordable to the a large section of society in relation to what they earned and with their well-paid and stable jobs they secured favourable lending to really, for the first time, stretch well beyond what they previously might have been able to afford. As the consumer demand grew, for bigger and better, so naturally did the prices and many owners found themselves sitting pretty on not just a ‘home’ but a constantly growing asset. This was to be the fuel that fed the beast and as the old agent bade farewell, a new breed of species, quickly and skilfully manoeuvred into their position, thus becoming the dominant force.
This new generation is what we know today as the ‘High Street Agent.’ It favours prime positions on high streets across the country and particularly enjoys finding new ‘up and coming’ locations where pretty bricks and mortar prey are rich in number and un-seasoned to their habits and hunting tactics, particularly if competition is light. For years this species has commanded a presence at the top of the food chain when it comes to property. They have employed and relied heavily on technology and marketing. A new, younger, hungrier and more agile agent has evolved who possesses the ability to speed up the decision making process for buyers by providing more options with glossy photos, interactive floor plans and longer opening hours. Their power is particularly impressive at times of great demand when the economic and political winters have been kind and the summer plains are rich in pickings. Their hunting tactics can sometimes be unpopular as they fight off competition to preserve their status within the property kingdom that can only be admired for its effectiveness.
Perhaps their biggest plight has been during more recent times when the domestic political winters have almost conspired to thwart them and their position within the property arena. As the harsh winters reduce their options they become more desperate and despite searching further afield with added dedication, sadly find that their strategy, once so effective, has been blunted. Their tactics have become predictable and as such, all the other species are wise to them and take little notice or avoid them altogether. The High Street Agent roars loudly as part of a mating ritual in an attempt to attract attention and remind the arena of the status they once held. It talks of credibility, expensive marketing, detailed buyer feedback, proactivity, realistic pricing, international presence and most importantly fees based only on a successful outcome.
However, there is a now grey squirrel to the High Street Agent’s red squirrel which threatens the species and its dominant position within the property arena entirely. The High Street Agent looks along the high street cat walk it once prowled, un-challenged, and becomes increasingly concerned as it sidesteps the well weathered bones of Blockbuster Video and Woolworths, creatures it once tolerated and shared the plains with. It’s worried that soon it may become like them, firstly an endangered species, looked upon with pity, weakened, until it too litters the high street as a new, more dominant creature comes to the forefront. Like a wounded animal, it fights to survive and eventually turns on its brethren, the larger High Street Agent consuming the smaller in a bid to have more locations, more data, greater strength in numbers with a larger presence. It re-thinks its tactics and choice of technology as if it had been doing something wrong all this time in a bid to try and appeal to a new property audience. Only time will tell how many more rough winters the High Street Agent can survive, especially with the arrival of a new specie which threatens its very existence.
This new creature is the much dreaded Online Agent. The Online Agent has watched from a distance and has learnt how best to tackle the High Street Agent. It proposes a revolution in marketing property and offers a seriously discounted fee for selling, but beware its seemingly passive nature as it does charge this fee regardless of whether there is a successful sale or not. This species’ appeal is not only fee related but in that it provides a level of power and control. What it offers by being online is not dissimilar to other species but the fact it’s online provides a level of reassurance and access given that people now do almost everything else online. There is Autotrader for cars, Vestiaire for fashion and Ebay for almost everything else, so why wouldn’t you sell your property through an online only platform?
There are increasing voices calling for the High Street Agent to be placed on the endangered species list. The Online Agent is proving popular for the time being and growing in number but is still dwarfed by the larger High Street Agent; its immediate future looks safe enough. However, the threat is there and unless a way to co-exist is found within the property Serengeti, one will have to make way eventually; it’s only a question of time.