The need for innovation in the property sector

Russell Quirk, CEO of online estate agent eMoov, launches our new blog section as he talks about the sector’s need for innovation.

If it were not for innovation, some of you would still be driving Austin Allegros. Or worse its appalling cousin, the Princess.

Us Brits used to be great at making cars… think of icons such as Jaguar; Rolls Royce and the Mini. Beautifully made, the pride of the nation. Great to drive and revered across the globe. We didn’t invent the motorcar but we may as well have done.

The thing is, we got overtaken (pun intended) way back in the 1970’s. Japanese reliability, German efficiency and South Korean mimicry all began to take their turn at beating the incumbent manufacturers at their own game.

Robots; ‘Just in Time’ production techniques and, frankly, better workmanship unhindered by the then militancy of Red Robbo and his ‘everybody out’ approach to working (or not), soon put paid to Great Britain being great at making things. Cars especially.

We were the future once.

I’ve had many a conversation, politically inspired, where friends to the left of me have yearned for a return to the halcyon days of grease covered West Midlands car workers sipping tea as they jam on MG bumpers. The fact is, we got beaten as carmakers in our own right by being complacent and for our ‘this is the way it’s always been done’ attitude. Better design, superior engineering and a harder work ethic were always going to win through in producing better value and an improved product. Innovation in many respects.

Latterly, we’ve learned from our global cousins that utilising a modern ethos and being ahead of the curve rather than behind it, is the way forward. Since losing car manufacturing to the Far East 40 years ago, we’ve since regained it in the form of Nissan, Toyota et al educating us how to do it in a new way. And the North East of England has flourished as a revised centre of automotive engineering excellence once again.

Here in the estate agency industry, we are having our own 1970’s moment. We’re an industry beset by lethargy and inertia. A sector that as far as the consumer is concerned, is broken. Unjustifiably high selling fees, low service levels and an absence of any technology save for having replaced 35mm film with SD cards and Rightmove having taken the place of the once important window display.

As with the car industry, we have our own passionate clique of traditionalists that argue that estate agency is still a face to face affair and that the internet is a rather new fangled thing that will have its day eventually. A blip really.

Yet these Jeremy Corbyn types, heels well and truly dug in to the past, are so busy looking backwards that they also fail to see that they are also being overtaken.

A relatively new consumer proposition is currently nibbling at their heels led by my company emoov.co.uk. I say nibbling because currently, internet based estate agents have about an 8% share of the UK property industry versus the high street incumbents such as Foxtons, Bairstow Eves, Connells and the like. But the momentum that emoov and its stable-mates now has, is growing significantly led of course by a consumer that is now ever more demanding and insists not just on a truly competitive price point but an awesome customer experience too. Think Ocado versus Sainsburys. Or, obviously, Amazon compared to Borders. And Netflix challenging Blockbuster. Note that the last two incumbent examples I’ve just used have already withered on the vine. Heels will soon no longer be nibbled but chomped up to the knee.

So, this online estate agency thing is a credible and viable alternative to the expense and angst of using a bricks and mortar firm that charges you through both nostrils for the pleasure of their 900 branch offices (which are often closed for longer than they are open), Perrier fridges, plus the 7000 staff, 2000 company cars and the company trip to New York etc.

Typically, the best online agents charge around £600; use customer empowering platform technology; open for longer and deliver a customer service level that is frankly embarrassing to the high street guys and girls. And all whilst achieving often better sale prices than the establishment can (evidence available if need be). If you don’t believe me on the service experience, check out AllAgents.co.uk and see for yourself. A better outcome really can be delivered for a better price.

Innovation is a thing that isn’t invented as such. Rather it’s provided due to demand by those that want to use it and will benefit from it. Horses can only run so fast and can only carry so many people. Which is why, I would imagine, someone came up with the car in the first place. People wanted an alternative that was better than they already had.

The telegraph being usurped by the telephone. And the wireless by a Samsung 50 inch smart TV. See… these things exist because the consumer insists on such innovation. It’s unstoppable.

From a customer perspective, the advantages of an online agent versus an expensive one are plain for house sellers to see. There’s a kind of inevitability to it as true as Confused.com or Direct Line replacing your local insurance broker’s office.

Similarly, in a competition between Tesla and the ‘trusty’ old Allegro, guess which one’s bound to win…

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