I certainly don’t think that estate agents know best when it comes to the merits of your home; its value; the best buyer to proceed with or, even, where a buyer should actually live. Buyers and sellers do.

But it is apparent that the mainstream estate agency industry (the ‘establishment’ as I call them) really do believe these things. And I know this because I heard several of them say so this week.

I was invited to a round-table lunch debate this week at the rather plush Quaglinos restaurant in West London, attended by the great and the good from the property industry. Fortunately the bill was on VTUK, the software house that sponsored the event.

The forum was undoubtedly orchestrated to be a means of finding some exploitative gaps amongst us online chaps. A plethora of well rehearsed arguments began to flow almost as quickly as the wine did, along with a salvo of accusations and statistics. Yet sadly for the assembled throng of traditionalists, not a single punch was landed on the outnumbered internet agents that had attended in good faith including myself; Adam Day, from Hatched.co.uk and Michael Bruce from Purple Bricks.

I say outnumbered because we faced exactly twice the number of ‘normal’ agents compared to our number plus a very, very biased sponsor host, Peter Grant, CEO of VTUK who, understandably, strove to chip in and support his high street based clients with jibes and ‘data’ at every opportunity possible. (Many of the high street invitees are VTUK customers).

Here are some ‘facts’ then, peddled by the local experts over this two hour ‘feast and fight’ session. These are all statements or opinions voiced by the estate agency intelligentsia present in the room this Tuesday. I’ll spare the blushes of the individuals concerned but suffice to say that I will list the names of the firms involved at the end of this piece. I’m not breaching any confidentiality here as the entire thing was filmed with the footage promised to be released soon. And there were journalists in attendance too, one of whom, Ros Renshaw of Property Industry Eye, chaired the debate and whom has written a story on it since.

Here we go…

1. On viewings. Get out the way and let the professionals work their magic. Home owners only cause problems if they hang around and they’ll often say something that ruins the chances of a sale. Like something true, in fact. Pretty much every one of our six opponents believed that the seller should be kicked out of the house whilst viewings were carried out. Even one particular chap who had previously said on a Channel 4 show in 2011 that ‘houses sell themselves’.

2. On valuations. A price set by an estate agent is more authoritative than the forces of the market itself. An interesting take on economics really. Agents definitely know best and sellers haven’t a clue what their homes are worth. Buyers can be manipulated to pay an unrealistic figure in any case because local agents employ ferocious negotiators who can bend their minds. This is another reason that ‘local knowledge’ is apparently so vital too. Because knowing how many phone boxes there are in each electoral ward, is a massive catalyst to adding value. One wonders how it can possibly be therefore that there are hundreds of thousands of homes languishing on the market unsold by these guys right now.

3. When an offer is made…. It’s best not to tell the client too much. A little knowledge is dangerous. Apparently. You do not know best. This claim was made by an old school agent when confronted by the online agents over the need for openness and transparency. He seemed to favour being somewhat selective over a buyer’s finances or circumstances. Could this be because agents like to ensure they sell ‘add-ons’ and have been known to favour such buyers over and above others?

4. People often change the entire direction of where and how they live, moving to a place they hadn’t previously thought of, just because an estate agent tells them to. Yes, believe it or not, popping in to an agent’s office can be a revelation. Your aspirations to set up home in Greenwich can, unexpectedly, turn into a stint in Newham on the back of your new-found property Guru explaining how up and coming it is.

So, your local estate agent is not just an estate agent. They are a counsellor; your power of attorney; a financial authority; a secret agent; geography teacher and a wise old uncle. A high street Yoda, if you will. Who knew….?

I take it all back. Online estate agents cannot possibly compete with the prowess of a local property pro who simply knows best.

In all seriousness, I am so absolutely delighted to have attended this face off with the bricks and mortar guys. Not just because the online concept won the arguments on the day hands down. But moreover, to reinforce to me how very desperately the estate agency industry needs to be disrupted. Even if just to save itself from itself.

Attendees

In the blue corner for the online estate agency sector:

Russell Quirk eMoov.co.uk
Adam Day MD of Hatched
Michael Bruce CEO of Purple Bricks

In the red corner for the traditional sector:

Paul Bonnet Team – An association of high street estate agents
Jamie Lester Haus Properties
Richard Barber W A Ellis
Jan Hytch Arnolds Keys and former NAEA President
Simon Gerrard Martyn Gerrard & Co and NAEA President
Nick Salmon MD of Property Industry Eye and estate agent (retired)
Peter Grant CEO of VTUK (Sponsor)

The Ref:

Ros Renshaw Editor of Property Industry Eye

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