Estate Agents: online or the high street?

As featured in the Wolds Magazine and written by Chris Ray of Grays & Co


It’s been a hot topic of conversation for the last couple of years since the advent of some more high profile ‘online’ estate agents.  So what is the difference, is there really one and which route should you take in selling your property?

Well, there are two things to say: firstly, I’m a high street estate agent and have been for 23 years but I’ll do my best to take an objective look at it.  The second is that online is a misnomer, we’re all online and have been for decades.  High Street is a closer fit for us on ‘our’ side, but then some of us aren’t these days.  Some of us like to refer to the “onliners’ as call centre agents and ourselves as full service but we would wouldn’t we and well, it’s a little simplistic.  As with any business service levels differ from business to business and they do with ‘us’ as well as ‘them’.  That’s why you should always talk (no matter how painful it is) with a few agents and test drive a few by visiting or calling as a buyer.  After all you want us to represent you and your property effectively so the best way is to gauge how we deal with potential buyers; you can’t do that when we are talking to you as a potential vendor.

Local?  In my view the principal difference between us is whether we are local and whether you can engage with us face to face, and with the same person every time.  Yes ‘they’ have their Local representatives but check out the areas they have to cover and then ask how local can their knowledge be.  Going forward, engagement is via a portal or call centre.  You can pay extra for more personal attention but the model is all about getting you on the market and relying on the ‘tech’ and systems after that.  In my view knowing that personal service is there if you may need it is really important.

Marketing or selling?  All agents, ‘them’ or ‘us’ market properties with boards, portals, website, social media etc.  Selling is the process of converting those enquiries, viewings, offers, sales into the next stage, it’s how we add value and should justify our existence.  Now, I agree with you, some of us don’t do that, that’s why you should test drive agents.   ‘We’ have the capacity to do it though, and the incentive, in my view ‘they’ don’t and haven’t and an online listing is all they offer.

Incentive?  A few of ‘them’ have started to change their fee structure, to half up front or all on success.  But the ‘online’ model and ‘cheaper’ fee is predicated on you, the client paying up front.  ‘Pay anyway’ as some of my industry colleagues call it.  Generally, ‘they’ get your fee whether you get the result you want or not, and ‘they’ get nothing more for getting you a better price.  If it’s not upfront you’ll be paying more and quite a bit potentially.  Yes, it costs more to run a high street agency, in staffing, rent and rates etc. but commission based on success means we get paid on results. Regularly we do a vast amount of work and get nothing from it; that protects you.  Before you say that we charge too much, just go and have a look at how much agents charge pretty much anywhere else in the world.   

There is one other thing to be aware of when it comes to fees.  We’ve had a lot of clients say they’ve been told they can defer their fees.  In some cases you can, if you are paying more, but most are actually signing credit agreements without realising it.  You might be paying when your house sells or in 10 months (whichever is earliest) but ‘they’ve’ been paid and ultimately you will be paying.   You may also have to use other services such as conveyancing or pay an admin fee which compensates them for lack of a kickback.

All inclusive?  For the most part, the fee you are quoted by ‘us’ is the fee you’ll pay and will include all you need i.e.: accompanied viewings etc.  ‘They’ all have different approaches but expect to pay more for accompanied viewings, personal negotiation etc.

There is a free market and I think ‘they’ have place in the market.  There have always been house sellers who have sought to reduce costs, many used to use ‘For Sale By Owner’ signs which you rarely see anymore.  What I would say however, is that it is very difficult (probably impossible) to replicate what a good local agent can and should do for a client and do it on a national basis while promoting cheapness of fees as the main driver.  Service takes time and resource and that costs money.

So how should you choose what is the best route for you?  My advice has always been and always will be, pose as a buyer to test the agents you are thinking of using before you get anybody round or instruct.  That way you will really be able to gauge the service that you are about to buy.  I’d be prepared to bet that nearly all the time you’ll find that it’s a local agent who gives you the best experience.  Oh, and don’t forget to ask questions and check contracts carefully.  Good luck!





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