Do estate and letting agencies still need a high street presence?
The question of whether physical estate and letting agency branches will still be relevant in the future is constantly debated, with the needs of both tenants and landlords to put into the equation - and the opportunities presented by remote working have only amplified the debate, as Dawsons has discovered.
"Will physical branches continue to play a role in the future? There are probably a mixture of answers, depending on where you are, what your brand has meant, and how you've placed yourself in the market locally or regionally at least," says Ricky Purdy, Director of Residential Lettings at Dawsons. "High streets are a changing environment, more so in the last 12 months than ever before."
The necessity of high street branches has been questioned since lettings started to digitise its processes and build a stronger online presence to interact with landlords and tenants - and the debate only becomes more relevant as we edge towards a virtual future in the industry.
In support of a high street estate agency branch
At South Wales-based Dawsons estate and letting agency, choosing to invest in branches was originally a well-considered decision based on in-depth research. "The reasons and the conveniences for a branch location was as much for the landlord as it was for the tenant," says Ricky.
"We did lots of research and questionnaires and surveys, and a number of really recognised industry polls and brands taught us that landlords like the convenience of their tenants being able to pop into their agency and have a problem dealt with as much as they wanted to pop in themselves."
The impact of remote working
This research led to the agency having a strong high street presence, which meant a lot of change when the first lockdown struck. "That was one of the big points to adapt during the pandemic - how we communicate across our branch network, how we distribute work, how we distribute elements of a person's task, working from home versus working in an office," says Ricky. "All of that was key."
There were many aspects of working from home that the agency has since chosen to keep, as remote working has equated to a more efficient business in some areas. "There were structures put in place that we are now choosing to maintain, rather than reverting back to what was the case pre-COVID. Now we appreciate what's done differently and we're better for it."
The future of the agency branch
But does the fact that remote working has highlighted many best practices mean that branches become irrelevant? The agency's research into the necessity of branches was all conducted pre-pandemic. The world is no longer the same, and that must be taken into account. A hybrid form of working, with both virtual and physical environments, is one such option touted as being the future of work, for example, and Ricky takes that a step further in suggesting how branches could be managed, with a system of hubs.
"If we had our time again, would that be different?" asks Ricky. "It might well be and we may need to adapt the office. Maybe we move over the years towards hubs, for want of a better phrase. Rather than work in offices, have a centralised administration or a property management department.
"Will our offices change location wise? I would say not for the foreseeable. But how we utilise them and who we put into each of our branches? I think that already has changed and will continue to in organic terms over the next one or two years."
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