For estate agents, what are the risks and benefits provided by the fast-moving, all-powerful portal?
The emergence of the portal
The emergence of technology - and the internet in essence - has forever changed the way we interact, communicate and handle business in the world. The property sector too has escalated rapidly in the digital age, with one significant change being the fast-moving portal, a centralized online space where scores of properties are listed by and for homebuyers and sellers.
A 2018 study revealed that over 50% of homebuyers’ first step is to go online to search for properties, and that statistic has grown every year. In the UK alone, usage of property portals reached a record 47% of homebuyers having used a property portal search website. Portals allow them to access a catalogue of available property listings they can browse at their convenience. A network of clients materializes that consists of both buyers and sellers, with much room made available by the centralized system to negotiate and handle business regardless of geography.
There are a number of reasons why portals are so appealing to homebuyers:
- More variety of answers and advice because of widely/freely-shared content
- Easy to compare properties and make comprehensive searches
- Speeds up the homebuying process for some, etc.
Good news for agents
As beneficial as portals may seem for homebuyers, what does it mean for real estate agents? For starters:
- Property portals give professionals the opportunity to self-list and become online agents.
- Because of little to no geographical constraints, many portals have been a boon to RE agents in the time of coronavirus lockdowns, where video and online viewings and negotiations have become not only ideal, but mandatory. This is especially true if they don’t have a fully functional agent website of their own (if at all!).
- With sheer amount of data and the possibility for ‘anyone to sign up’ as a seller on these portals, agents actually still maintain their incredible value as professionals, knowledge keepers, and legal advisors in an online space that otherwise could feature less than savoury individuals who take advantage of clients. It does mean agents must take measures to prove their credibility and expertise, (which may be difficult to do on portals that simply feature so many others). Portals still lack the level of detailed evaluations and assessment that a stellar agent can easily provide.
- Portals can help many agents who otherwise would not have the budget to go all out to make their presence felt on advertising, TV or billboard spaces. However, although there are a few with enough site activity to offer such cost-effective space to agents, with more people now having access to the same medium, it does drive up competition and the need for each listing to be showcased effectively.
Risks and challenges
Here are some of the issues agents face in the onslaught of an otherwise very new (and still developing) area within the industry:
- As more sellers want to be featured on portals, it piles up pressure on agents who must be able to prove they can provide this service reliably and in good time
- With increased demand to be on these portals, estate agents are actually charged significant fees just to access some of these sites. Sometimes strife can be exacerbated as was seen in last year’s rivalry between the UK’s onthemarket.com and other portals, where the former company’s policy for agent signups only allowed them to sign up with one other portal to advertise property (either Zoopla or Rightmove - not both). What’s more, onthemarket.com also stipulated that they would not feature properties advertised by online-only estate agents, such as emoov.co.uk or tepilo.com, a move instantly criticized by many.
- What this means is agents often find themselves in a bind if they are to choose to pledge allegiance to the online portal - having to choose carefully in which one, as well as having to face making the right decisions for each valuable property in their arsenal.
- There can also be more adverse domino effects as agents then have to increase their client fees in order just to recoup some of those costs. For agents who are primarily traditional (as opposed to the digital agent) in their approach, these fees are in addition to other costs they must cover - rent and rates of their properties, etc.
Although this isn’t a comprehensive breakdown of the risks and benefits portals provide for agents, it tries to give an indication of the way digital is breaking down long-held barriers within the property sector, and that regardless of whether an agent enlists with a portal or not, it’s still very clear that they must shoulder great responsibility in their endeavours as a brand. They have the opportunities and duty to prove their experience and worth, and market their particular skill sets in ways that address the unique needs of a client demographic more digital and knowledgeable than ever before.
Homebuyers may browse the portals for reference and information, but most still want to refer to agents they can trust, who can help them hone in on exactly what they’re looking for. Agents who invest in their personal marketing and business goal strategies by learning and adopting more digital-led solutions themselves, can become less and less dependent on portals entirely - freed of the many T&Cs, and freed up to invest in approaches that cater to their clients’ needs directly.