Posted on Thursday, June 22, 2017


We’ve had a couple of homeowners come to us recently after having a really quite dreadful experience with an online agent. The service was so bad, one of the owners couldn’t stand it for more than 10 days (the other managed to hold out for 19) before finally ditching the firm. Both of them had paid £1000 upfront, with no refund.


Now, this is not a rant against online agencies. It’s a rant against taking people’s money, giving them nothing for it and having a business model that is basically designed to reward exactly that sort of behaviour.


After these people contacted us we were all chatting together in the office and nobody could really get their head around the idea of ignoring a client, particularly someone in the early stages of having their home on the market.


The first 2-3 weeks of a property being for sale are, for the owner, a fairly apprehensive time. They will include the excitement of putting their home up for sale, the reactions and comments of potential buyers (sometimes positive, sometimes not), and the discovery of what their estate agent is truly like after all the sales pitches and presentations.


The property market has been through its ups and downs in the last few years – we could argue it’s never free of them – and most people would be fairly understanding if their experience was of a slow burn rather than a gold rush.  But that understanding would come, in no small part, by the role their estate agent played at a time of fewer enquiries or viewings (and let’s be honest, that is the experience for some homeowners right now). If you don't stay in touch with your clients, why on earth should they stick with you? This goes for high street agents as well - the lack of communication with clients is by no means limited to online companies.


We have a policy of contacting every client once a week with accurate feedback from viewings along with any suggestions we might have to increase the response to their home. It’s a service that goes down extremely well – yes it takes time, but we are being entrusted with the next chapter in these people’s lives. For us, it’s only polite to keep in touch.


There is of course a difference in business model here: we get paid for providing a service and selling your home; an online agent gets paid for putting it on the market. The cheapness of an online agency is clearly tempting, but you are paying for a service before you receive it (and which you may never receive).


We understand the business attraction for the business owner: get people’s money upfront; no customer service; no accompanied viewings; no high street office costs; leave people to agree their own sale then farm them out to centralised sales-progression centre somewhere. Customer satisfaction doesn’t appear in the list of objectives. Once someone's property is on the market, the agent’s income stream (and, seemingly, their interest) ends. Could there be a better example of getting what you pay for?


This might suit some people. If you basically want to do it all yourself and have the time to do so and are happy to be left well and truly to your own devices, that’s great. But then why would you pay someone else £1000, or anything at all?


Online estate agency is a perfectly logical progression in property world. Who knows – we may even become one ourselves. But people are not crying out for terrible customer service to save a few quid. If online agents want to be taken seriously, they need to offer more than simply “take the money and run”.