Independent property advisor and commentator

Sitting and watching change - its a risk
Ed Mead // 4th November 2016

Sitting and watching change - its a risk

If there’s one thing that’s made me realise how life has changed over the last few weeks, it’s the thought that clocks going back gives me an hour more to work – not an extra hour’s kip as it used to be. Being able to spend my dotage becoming a teenager again is looking more and more remote right now.

Trying to put the hour to good use, it occurs to me that ours is a watching industry. Given that so many agents are small companies, their ability to embrace change is directly proportional to whether they see a commercial advantage in it.

It’s been enlightening to speak to so many different people in such diverse parts of the country over the last few weeks, but the comments are remarkably consistent.

No great surprise there, what with portal changes, software changes, social media changes, advertising changes, tech changes etc. It’s entirely possible to go off up an expensive blind alley – and no one wants to make that mistake, especially when profits are slim and a wrong move might tip a company over the edge.

Change creates even more fear when you consider the average age of a business owner, and the likely average age of the person pitching them. I’m reading a book about grey hair in the US West Coast tech industry, and whilst the average age there of a customer CEO is over 45, the average age of the tech workers and sales people is in the early 20s.

I don’t want to court too much controversy by trying to guess the average age of an estate agent proprietor here in the UK, but let’s estimate that it’s probably a bit older than their US counterparts.

So essentially what you have is a bunch of people half your age trying to sell you things you don’t really grasp that well.

Asking for help is VERY un-British [particularly if you’re male] and you are NOT going to ask a rival agent – so you naturally sit and see what happens.

Is it any wonder then that it tends to be the big corporate agents who take the plunge and test things out, and if there’s a massive uplift in shares/value, they’ll be the ones getting it, much to everyone’s chagrin.

That intrinsic defensiveness is perhaps one of the things that’s served the property buying and selling industry well, but fear of change is a real progress killer.

Sole traders have an intrinsic disadvantage over bigger groups in that risk costs are borne by that trader alone: bigger groups, however loosely associated, can spread that risk.

Given that 80% of agents are one or two office operations, then despite the fact that many sit back and pillory outfits like Countrywide for risking change, this aversion to risk and change isn’t going to defend against the progress of these bigger companies, let alone the digital ones.

I’m not for one second denigrating smaller companies, who form the backbone of the industry, but I am questioning whether there’s a way the smaller agents can defend the typical divide and conquer nature that bigger, and digital, agents are using against them.

Sitting back and watching might seem to make sense, but with things moving this fast I’d suggest it’s not the way to win.

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