Do estate agents still need a physical high street presence?

The last 12 months have seen the way we buy homes shift further to being a digital process rather than a physical one. And with half of homebuyers revealing that they never visit their estate agent's office - are multi-disciplinary branches the answer?

Related topics:  Business
Property Reporter
12th April 2021
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New research from property platform, WiggyWam, has highlighted the split in opinion between homebuyers on whether or not it’s important for estate agents to maintain a physical high street presence in this modern age of homebuying.

While 54% do not consider branches to be important, a significant 46% do.

With the feedback being so close to a 50/50 split, the data seems to support those who say that branches and high street presence continue to be vital to the estate agent business model. However, further findings, in many ways, make a case for the opposing argument.

For example, while almost half of homebuyers consider a branch to be important, 53% state that, throughout the course of their most recent purchasing journey, they did not step inside their estate agent’s branch or office at all.

38% state that they had cause to visit a branch ‘once or twice’, while just 9% visited ‘quite often’.

This data suggests that, while branches are still considered important by consumers, it’s not because they directly facilitate the sales process.

For example, just 6% of homebuyers say they discovered the home they eventually bought via the window of an estate agent branch, and 5% discovered it via a For Sale board. This leaves 70% finding their future homes online, and 18% responding with ‘other’. Examples of the latter will be word of mouth, auction, and buying directly from the seller.

If sale facilitation isn’t the core value of branches, one must consider different types of value that a physical high street presence provides. These likely include brand recognition, trust, and authority, all of which are particularly important for agents who operate in close-knit communities, and all of which are certain to help drive business from sellers for whom branches may be more important than they are for buyers.

Despite this, one particularly striking element of WiggyWam’s research tells that 75% of homebuyers, when thinking about eventually selling to fund onward purchases, would happily get rid of physical branches if it meant agents had fewer overheads to cover and could, therefore, reduce their fees.

Silas J. Lees MRICS, WiggyWam CEO, says: “Because of lockdown, many agents have been operating an appointment-only system, so it is no surprise that many recent buyers have not made much use of the branch.

“However, we also know that the entire high street retail sector was struggling before Covid and has been truly battered since. Even the biggest names in retail are retreating from physical operations.

“Yet, at the same time, some retailers are enjoying great high street success and, more often than not, they are those who have changed the strategic value of their physical retail units. It’s about time agents started doing the same, finding a way to create an in-branch experience that cannot be replicated online.

“To this end, multi-disciplinary branches are where the smart money is; agents, lawyers, surveyors, etc, all under one roof, all working together to create an efficient buying and selling process. Given how many law firms, for example, are likely to fold as a result of the pandemic, this kind of consolidation provides a genuine option for the future.

“Combining this approach with upfront, transparent property information, such as that delivered by our Sellers Packs, the high street branch could once again become an invaluable resource in fast-tracking sales whilst helping agents increase their fees and service offerings.”

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