We’re currently living in a historic time. Advances in technology, and the way it is used, change the way we live our lives every day. In particular, faster internet access and smart devices (and the way that we use them), change the way that we interact with our friends, the companies we buy from and the consumers we sell to. Social media and smart phones for example, give us a world of information at our finger tips.
Companies have to adapt the ways that they do business, display service information and communicate with customers due to what can be seen as a digital disruption. The property industry and the estate agents which operate in it are influenced by this digital disruption too. This post explains how estate agents are dealing with digital disruption and what it means for them and for buyers, sellers, landlords and tenants as well.
The two main categories of estate agencies are traditional and online. Advances in technology and digital channels have caused influence on both of them, but due to their differing views on how to offer a valuable service to customers, they have both approached estate agent digital disruption differently.
Traditional estate agencies have always (and still do) seen strong value in having a physical presence in the cities and towns in which they buy and sell homes. They feel that local knowledge is crucial for understanding their market, understanding the value of properties and for being able to convince a potential buyer to sign on the dotted line. Advanced local knowledge means that many traditional estate agents charge a higher fee to sell your home, as they promise a higher sale price than their online counterparts.
Although traditional estate agencies do focus on having a physical presence, they have always seen benefits in still having some form of online presence. The majority have websites where you can usually view images of properties, find your nearest branch and find contact details for the branches. Estate agent digital disruption means that homeowners and buyers are demanding more information from their estate agents, meaning traditional agents have had to adapt their services and have had to begin using digital and technology more.
Traditional estate agents such as Foxtons have begun to build powerful websites which allow their potential clients to search for properties in greater detail. Home buyers can filter by price, tube station, school or even highlight their desirable area on a map. This transparency means that the information which is demanded because of digital disruption can easily be found by buyers, meaning better customer service for the buyers. Many traditional agents have also begun to offer 24/7 contact centres, so that homeowners, buyers, landlords and tenants can get any additional information that they need, when they need it. Another disruption that has come with digital advances is the fact that potential customers demand accessibility both in and out of office hours.
Traditional agents have dealt with digital disruption by advancing their online presence and information dissemination, but it hasn’t meant that they are now focusing on competing online with online estate agents. Most traditional agents use powerful websites and social media to gain awareness but then interact with potential customers offline in order to use physical viewings and local knowledge to their advantage; in order to, in their eyes, create a service which is better value for money. For example, you can easily share a property you like on the Foxtons website to Twitter, but you have little chance of engaging with them on the social network.
Digital disruption doesn’t just mean advances in websites and social media presence. Digital disruption for traditional estate agents has also meant using new technology in order to allow mobile estate agents to better provide information during viewings; meaning that even when physically interacting with a traditional agent, buyers and sellers can still take advantage of the wealth of information which digital advances have brought about.
Online estate agencies have no physical presence. They are not the agencies whose windows you peer through as you walk down the high street. They also don’t deal with property viewings, meaning no guided sales tours around homes for potential buyers. The money that is saved from not having a physical presence means that online estate agents are usually able to offer lower fees, traditional estate agents would say at the cost of little local knowledge. Both traditional and online estate agents believe that they offer a value for money service however; you get what you pay for.
Before digital channels and technology began advancing at a rate which became disruptive to the market, online estate agents of course already had a vested interest in the way in which they performed online and through digital. The clue is of course in their name. Increased use in social media and mobile devices (smartphones, tablets) technology has however meant that potential customers demand more information transparency and new ways to connect, and therefore online estate agents have also had to adapt due to digital disruption.
Online estate agents now give plenty of focus to social media monitoring and engagement. Social media is seen as a key source of traffic to online estate agency websites and a key way to get potential buyers and sellers to browse. Twitter and Facebook are also communication channels which many of their customers have begun to expect answers through. They’ve begun to expect answers on social media due to online agencies proactively offering information and advice through these channels in order to create transparency and a better service for customers; ultimately online agencies believe more involvement in? social media means more sales.
Unlike traditional agencies, online estate agencies are happy to develop a buying/selling process on social media or through their website, as that is where they intend for the customer to buy/sell at the final stage. This also means that many online agents have begun to offer 24/7 support too, like traditional agents, but one difference from their counterparts is that they often encourage potential customers to use communication channels such as social media and live chat, rather than phone. Communication channels which work well with the efficient online mind-set.
The two main categories of estate agents have dealt with digital disruption differently but both have attempted to compete by offering a better experience for customers whilst not restructuring their whole business models. Buyers, sellers, tenants and landlords all expect to be able to receive more information, fast at the appropriate time. Traditional and online agents are using digital channels and technology to provide this information but traditional agents still have a focus on providing physical presence and local knowledge and online agents still sacrifice physical presence for lower fees.
Digital disruption may have meant that estate agents have had to adapt their services but they have been able to benefit from greater brand awareness and their customers are beginning to receive better customer service due to the availability of information and transparency which is now present. If you are an estate agent (traditional or online) you may be interested in reading more about digital communication channels which offer more information to customers with a better level of service.
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