A decade ago, the Mystic Megs of the property industry believed that online estate and letting agencies were the future. Sadly for them, however, those who thought the likes of Purplebricks would take over the world were left rather red (or perhaps we should say purple) faced.
Although the online agents made their mark, they haven’t quite lived up to expectations. Hatched closed, Emoov found itself in administration at one point, and Purplebricks’ share price plunged. Consequently, the crystal ball bearers have started to big up the next big thing instead: the hybrid agency model.
But will this new breed of agency which, as the name suggests, combines the best of the digital and traditional models live up to the hype? We look at its features from a customer and agency perspective below…
The Nostradamuses weren’t all wrong about the benefits of going digital. Buyers and sellers loved the speed and convenience of organising viewings and submitting offers online. What’s more, the cost savings for agents were very real.
The online agencies also proved that high-street offices weren’t strictly necessary to sell homes. Indeed, automating bookings, tenant referencing, utility management, and other processes can now be done digitally too – thus saving more time and money.
As business owners in other industries have found, remote workers can also be incredibly efficient. Microsoft, for example, found that 82% of companies were able to work just as efficiently during the pandemic as they were beforehand. Consequently, digital estate and letting agencies could be seen as pioneers who showed that traditional methods could be improved.
The problem with digital, of course, is that buyers and sellers don’t always want a DIY approach. Moving home can be as stressful as having a baby; therefore many people recoil at the prospect of logging into a dashboard, doing viewings themselves, and negotiating offers.
The digital model also undervalues the help and expertise that agents bring to the table. Local agents know the local market inside out and they’re always on hand to help. This is why some argued that the online agency model was “flawed from the start”. Property is a people-orientated business and it’s best done with a personal touch.
Many agencies also found the digital model restricting. They had less chance to do what they do best: showing homes, negotiating, gauging interest, and getting to know customers. Furthermore, remote working doesn’t suit everyone. It’s difficult to build relationships with colleagues when you can’t chew the fat over a cuppa and a custard cream.
Furthermore, although digital overheads are lower, it can be expensive to provide remote workers with the hardware they need. Remote teams need good laptops and smartphones, and these don’t come cheap.
The best of both worlds?
The great thing about hybrid agencies is that they take strong elements from both the high-street and online agency models. Things like sign ups, viewings and valuation appointments can be done digitally, whilst self-service portals allow buyers, sellers, and landlords to manage their properties from an online portal.
Real-life teams, who step in and help when needed, can then support these automated services. Hybrid agencies therefore offer both convenience and that all-important personal touch. It’s a fruitful recipe that cherry picks technologies to augment rather than replace traditional services.
Hybrid agencies also keep employees happier by allowing them flexible hours and the choice of office-based or remote working. They can even split their time between the two. Their physical offices are also evolving into collaborative spaces that are more flexible and not quite so formal.
Hunters target a hybrid future
The hybrid model also offers estate and letting agents intriguing flexibility. For example, Hunters’ new ‘Personal Agent’ scheme allows individual agents to operate under a Hunters’ licence whilst working flexibly from home on their own terms. This gives them a taste of independence with a generous serving of marketing and software support from Hunters’ HQ.
This model should appeal because there’s no joining fee, low on-going costs, and agents can sign up and get started within two weeks. It’s therefore perfect for experienced valuers and other agency professionals who want to run their own business with a support network to fall back on. It’s also a dream scenario for those who want to semi-retire or improve their work-life balance.
Hunters’ scheme shows that technology can not only make life better for buyers, sellers, and existing agents; it can also help individuals to fulfil their professional aspirations. Indeed, other agents are moving in similar directions too: eXp UK and Haart’s network of self-employed agents are good examples.
Whilst digital agencies had a revolutionary model that showed everyone what’s possible, they probably went too far. And they probably underestimated the value of traditional methods too. Sellers and buyers want expertise and guidance as much as speed and convenience. That’s why there will always be room for a high street presence.
The hybrid model seems like a natural compromise: speed where it’s appreciated but also a human element that reassures customers and allows agents to shine. There are also enormous benefits for estate and letting agents looking to make efficiencies whilst improving their employees’ working lives.
So is the hybrid model the future? We wouldn’t bet against it. In fact, many of our own services are based on the very same philosophy: automation when it helps but good old fashioned human support when required. After all, phone lines shouldn’t just be there to support wireless routers. It’s nice to know there’s a person on the other end of the line, too.