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It’s tempting to think London cabbies assumed that Uber wouldn’t affect them because of The Knowledge. Whatever your view of Uber, the cabbies savagely underestimated the threat.
Yes, there’s plenty to feel good about when getting into a black cab, but last week a friend took a cab from SW3 to SW18 and it cost them £20. The following day they did it with Uber and it was half that.
So has satellite navigation rendered The Knowledge obsolete?
Clearly there are plenty of parallels with agency and many landlords and sellers will feel comfortable with what they know. But ultimately does the knowledge stashed away inside an agent’s head still count?
We all know, and are constantly being told, that information is available to all and sundry via the web – and that like it or lump it, IF a client is thinking of using a cheaper agent they can still get free advice on pricing from local agents and simply use that to set a level.
This is a bit like Uber passengers opening their windows at traffic lights and asking a black cab driver the way.
How does that knowledge best come into play and what pay does that put by energetic 20-something year-old negotiators running around talking to potential buyers even though they probably know about as much as those buyers do about the local market, and for whom viewing numbers are all that matters. Indeed, is there any mileage at all in older agents bothering to pass on expertise to youngsters at all?
Many agencies, it seems, reckon that the first 18-24 months of a negotiator’s working life are the best and so are replaceable.
I learnt my trade from the best in the business and remember vividly the things they used to say to me. People like Andy Langton and the late and much missed Rebecca Read put the client, seller or landlord, first. Agency profit came second.
That entire ethos has changed and is now almost always about the money, and whilst technology might be a way of doing more with less, just how far can the pendulum swing without those who matter – clients – being disadvantaged.
Full service agency has much to recommend it, not least the fact that using historical perspective to value someone’s prime asset has never been a satisfactory way of maximising value.
Agency is ALL about getting the best price – NOT the asking price – and to that end technology needs to help make a market, not simply deliver the cheapest possible route to what your neighbour sold for: that’s often the easy bit.
Young negotiators, portals and technology are simply a way to the start of that process. How to handle a sale, know when the limit has been reached or listen to an owner’s real needs is learned over years by real experts and will prove tough to replicate or automate.
The real mark of that is to see whether digital agents can match the existing ones in achieving such value, because one thing is for sure: you can’t rely on owners to work out for themselves when they’ve got the best deal – and asking them to do so is surely a cause for concern.