Currently, the percentage of sales from exclusively online agents stands at around 5%, a seemingly unthreatening portion of the market. But those in the know are predicting a sharp increase in this number, representing a significant threat to established agents across the country. Here’s what you need to know about ‘fake estate agents’ in today’s increasingly competitive and fast-changing property scene.
What are ‘fake estate agents’?
‘Fake estate agents’ aren’t really estate agents at all. They’re online marketplaces designed to provide a marketing platform for sellers advertising their homes. Asserting that they offer everything that a traditional estate agent does, but at a fraction of the price, in many cases they’re nothing more than a fancy website with a massive marketing budget.
So how do they get away with it? They make a virtue out of offering a DIY approach to their clients: they can write their own property description, take their own photos, and show potential buyers around the property themselves. All of this, they claim, gives the seller direct contact with the buyer.
What could they mean for the future?
If today’s agents don’t take a stand and move to counteract the epidemic of ‘fake estate agents’, we may find that the very profession of estate agency undertakes a major shift. It could move from being a skilled service, based on trust, knowledge, and experience, to no more than simply an advertising service pedalled by online marketers, with little foundation of integrity. Buying a home could become much more of a gamble, with far less reassurance, due process, legal thoroughness, and informed decision-making than we might hope.
Ultimately, fake estate agents could undercut real ones in the same way that online flight-and holiday-searching services have undercut high street estate agents.
How can we counter them?
The first step is to raise public awareness of the difference between the full service that a real estate agent offers, and the far less comprehensive provision by our ‘fake’ equivalents. People deserve to know, and our businesses will benefit, from the realisation that our fees are the result of the added value that our skill, customer loyalty, connections, expertise, and established reputation provide. CIELA, the Charter for Independent Estate and Letting Agents is one platform for this effort.
As well as this, we need to harness the power of the digital revolution, providing competition to these newcomers on their own battleground. Increasing our online presence, and educating ourselves about how best to use PropTech to benefit our businesses, is one of the major ways in which we can counter this looming threat to our livelihoods.