UK Housing Trusts - How are Online Estate Agents Transforming the Private Property Market?

It is safe to say that the internet has already revolutionised a number of industries such as travel, music and books; evidence suggests that the housing market will be the next to enter the virtual world. With an ever increasing number of people opting to sell their houses online as a fast and cheaper alternative to the traditional high street estate agents, can the ’real’ estate agents survive?

On high streets up and down the country you will find numerous letting and estate agents aimed at tenants, potential buyers and landlords. The services provided by these agencies usually are not cheap. Charging up to £200 for contract renewals (which often involves little more than photocopying the previous contract) for example, is it any wonder that more and more people are looking to online estate agents?

As house prices continue to soar, more and more people are being forced to rent. Home ownership is at its lowest for 25 years whilst the rental market is growing; up to four million households in 2013-14, double that of 2002.

Last year, 60% of tenants found the property that they would eventually rent through online portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla. Most house hunters now start the process using search engines rather than directly going to agency websites, so there is an evident need for high street branches to keep up with their online competition.

Ewemove.com, the estate agency franchise, would recommend investing in internet marketing to boost online visibility. The internet is revolutionising the property market, in March online estate agent SellMyHome.co.uk held its first Facebook Open House with a virtual walkthrough of a two-bed apartment in Hackney using 4k cameras.

The dominance of property portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla has both positive and negative impacts on buyers and estate agents. The ease of being able to find all of the properties that suit your needs in just a few seconds is attractive for many people.

However, for buyers this means that there is hard competition as everyone is using the same websites. This also creates problems for estate agents as it means that any property being advertised can be easily compared against all the other properties in that price range and geographical area – if it doesn’t catch people’s attention instantly it can be difficult to find a buyer.

Estate agents charge on average between 1.5pc and 2pc of the ultimate sale price. This means that when selling a £500,000 property, fees could easily reach £10,000 without taking into account other costs such as valuation and surveying.  With most online estate agents charging flat fees of around £500, using online estate agents can represent massive savings.

Public Perception

However not all Estate Agents are vilified with a huge number providing an impressive property rental and sale process and are often the go to business when looking for advice on extensions, planning applications, damp proofing companies and the like

In the case of estate agents, it’s clear that the key to achieving online success relies heavily on their willingness and ability to embrace online marketing. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is by ensuring the company website is mobile friendly. A recent survey found that 48% of people associate a poorly performing mobile website with a company that don’t care about their business.

So what are the advantages of a high street estate agent? The simple answer is that the internet cannot provide the service and expertise of someone who has been in the industry for 30 years. Whilst online estate agents can show you amenities on a map they don’t know the reputation of local schools or any local history.

At the moment only 5.5% of UK house sales are carried out using online estate agents, but this figure is expected to rise to 50% by 2018 and up to 70% by 2020.

As the market will undoubtedly change over the coming years, technology is likely to both improve the ways in which we view property and the means of selling it.

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