The property industry is going in two different directions, so agencies need to choose which path they’re going to take - and fast - said the founder of a Nottingham-based estate and letting agency on a visit to Goodlord HQ, because sticking with the status quo is to risk getting caught out.
David Thomas, director of Liberty Gate, sees two paths for agencies in an industry that continues to be disrupted by new technologies. The first path is to become a low-cost, no-frills, online-only agency where customers do almost everything themselves. The second is to go in the opposite direction altogether and provide a premium level of service, using the time saved by new technology to spend more time focusing on their customers instead of manual admin. The second option is one that, until the introduction of platforms like Goodlord which automate manual processes, would have been unthinkable to agents bogged down with paperwork.
“The problem is lots of agents can’t see which way they’re going and they’re making knee-jerk reactions,” says David. “A lot of people are getting it wrong.” He points to Countrywide, which has struggled since trying to price-match online-only agencies like Purplebricks. “They didn’t show the value they could add and I think that’s the key at the moment - finding the balance between technology and automation, but adding value.”
Although he recognises there will always be some customers in the market who want to do everything themselves, he believes the group is a small one. “Property is emotionally-driven … You’re selling your biggest asset and moving home,” says David. “To think that you can just do it all on a website and not talk to anybody is extremely naive.”
That’s why Liberty Gate are choosing to take the full-service route. “The reason we got into this industry is relationships and people and the property buzz and if all we are is a website, you lose all that,” says David. The agency is always looking for opportunities to add value to their services and new technology can help you make that happen “without having to employ 50 people to do it” he says.
“We’re now thinking, do we become a lifestyle brand? Do we go that one step further and do what nobody else is doing?” says David. “For example, I’d love to be able to have more discussions with my landlords, to keep them updated on their property and advise them on the market. But the only way I can possibly do that is by automating, delegating and streamlining as much of the admin as I can through technology, while not losing any of the quality or touch points along the way.”
It’s vital agencies that opt to provide a premium service adapt their operations to new technology in order to reap the maximum benefits, says David. “We had to change our business processes around it for it to fully work, because if we didn’t change, there would have been friction - that’s the key. You’ve got to fully embrace it and build your business around it and then it saves that much time,” he says.
“Technology is going to take everything one way or the other and if you’re caught in the middle and just do the same old thing - you’re not as quick as one company and you don’t talk to people the way another does - then you’re going to get wiped out.”