Wow. It's almost Christmas. I love this time of year. Goodwill to all, Christmas tunes dominate the airwaves and the telly gets better too. Oh, and all the estate agents come out of hibernation and think of new ways to win your business.
According to most surveys, what you as the consumer are really looking for is convenience. Not necessarily price but quality and convenience.
Look around you and ask when the last time was that you actually went out to buy a DVD or a book? It's easier to watch online on Netflix or buy your books from Amazon. Now, I take it for granted that Amazon selling me that book is good value, but the truth is I no longer bother shopping around. I love the convenience. I'll even pay more (on my Amazon Prime membership) just to know that it will be with me this time tomorrow.
I can't even tell you how many times I've gladly accepted Uber's price surcharge because it's convenient. I don't need to explain where I am, the cabbie knows this and I know where he is. I know the route he will take. I don't need to carry cash, I know it will be charged directly to my PayPal account. I even avoid that awkward 'waiting for change moment' and the 'do you or don't you' tip dilemma at the end of the journey. My cabbie has got his money and all he wants is a five star rating, so I even have a little guarantee of courtesy from what I've long since thought were the second grumpiest group of people after bus drivers.
So what am I buying with Amazon and Uber, other than books and cab rides? The simple answer, according to Gary Vaynerchuk, is time. I'm buying time through seamless convenience. And if that means I might pay a bit more, I don't mind because as the consumer we've decided that convenience is where we see value these days.
So what of the rise of Online Estate Agents or as they are often referred to as “Call Centre Estate Agents”. They are hoping to hook you on price. Cheap fees are the first refuge of the weakest agents, however, what do you get in return?
My most recent conversation with a disgruntled online Estate Agent customer was that they find it so hard to get any sort of information or feedback from their agent. They've had to do their own viewings. They've even had to carry out their own very awckward negotiations in their front room with a prospective buyer that insisted on dealing direct because “your agent are a nightmare to get through to and each time we finally reach them, there's a different person each time.”
So an online agent sounds great on paper. You could save thousands in fees, you'll also probably sacrifice thousands on the price of your house that a full service agent would have worked tirelessly for, after all on a percentage based reward the better you do, the better your agent does.
But where's the convenience?
So far, online agents have yet to offer the same convenience that your local full service agent can provide.
Your local agent has a shop you can walk into at any time that's virtually on your doorstep. You have confidence that they know their onions and the local market not because they offer the meaningless boast that they are “local experts” but because you know that they live in your area, send their kids to school in your area and work in your area.
The valuation appointment is arranged entirely at your convenience to suit your timetable. Evenings and weekends appointments are available too. You never have to worry about fitting it in around work.
Professional photos, floorplans and full details are provided as standard and there's no fuss. You get a chance to check your details and before you know it you are online and underway.
All enquiries are fielded by knowledgeable, polite, staff. People with a name, people that exist (you can visit them at any time) not faceless call centre staff who are unaccountable.
All viewings are fully accompanied and all aspects of the negotiations are handled by someone you are confident has your best interests at heart. You know they want the best and the most that you can possibly achieve for your property.
And it doesn't stop there. Your agent will stay in constant contact with everyone involved in your sale, both solicitors and in the case of a chain every agent and every solicitor. You can rest assured that their years of experience will guide you through any post survey issues or additional negotiations.
In a nutshell? If time and convenience are the key drivers to your decision making process, the clear winner here is still your local high street agent. Don't be duped into thinking that 'Online' is synonymous with convenience.
Whilst the discount agents both online and locally are the last refuge of the desperate, you may occasionally be tempted to ignore that voice of reason in your head that tells you that cheap rarely equates to quality.
In the run up to Christmas you might see a lot of agents competing in the race to the bottom, where the winner gets an instruction or two but where quality of service inevitably suffers.
I chose to pay more for my car, knowing that my wife and kids would be safer in a quality built car. Sometimes there's a premium worth paying for the things that matter most.
By the same virtue, I'm not the cheapest agent, but why would you entrust your single biggest tax free asset to anyone that was? I can promise you the best value available for the service received, and this should hopefully translate into more convenience, less time wasted and more money in your pocket on the price that I achieve for you.