Before the tech. revolution transformed estate agency in to the digital affair it is today, the phone was the most powerful tool in the agents’ tool kit. New instruction sheets would circulate for each negotiator’s daily call out.
Armed with little more than a brief outline of the property, the agent would pick up the phone and describe the new instruction in all its glory. And so it was that the art of the sale was born!
The most successful agents were the ones with the most enthusiastic delivery. Fast dialling fingers and an ability to instil urgency in buyers were a must. But now it seems that e-mail has killed the art of the sale.
The ‘old school’ approach put the spot light on relationships
In the fast-paced market of the ‘noughties’, buyers had little choice but to agree to a viewing off the back of this description. Otherwise they risked their dream home slipping through their fingers, since there was always a time lag between a new instruction coming to market and the paper details being available to post. A mutually dependent relationship developed: the buyer needed the agent to know what was on the market, while the agent needed the applicant to buy what they were selling. The relationship may not always have been harmonious, but it was a direct relationship all the same and its lifeblood was the telephone.
Scroll forward 15 years and the modus operandi of the industry has changed almost beyond recognition.
Visit your local high street agent and far from being greeted by a cacophony of ringtones and a wall of noise generated by people selling property over the phone; you are more likely to hear the sound of silence or the soft clacking of keyboards.
Matching by robots
E-mail has replaced the telephone and with that the atmosphere and energy of the industry has also changed. Automatic matching means that agents no longer need to actively communicate with buyers because e-mail will do all of that for them. Tick the boxes on the applicant’s digital record and a computer will take care of the rest.
This is not in all senses a bad thing. Digital communication has flayed hours off older ways of doing business. It offers not just efficiencies, but also certainties. Vendors know that their property will be matched to all applicants registered on the agent’s database nationally and internationally, without exception. There is much less margin for human error or omission. This matching happens automatically and in the 24 hours after the instruction has gone live. Time zone and language barriers have been eliminated also, which in a global market is a great thing.
The advantages of going digital
Superb property details with multiple colour photographs, interactive floor plans and maps can be circulated across the globe at the touch of a button. The comprehensive nature of these digital details also makes it easier to establish if a property is appropriate for a potential buyer. Buyers are no longer disappointed and underwhelmed by what they are viewing. They can establish the orientation, aspect and overall appearance of the property in advance. In fact, new technology has enabled an entire industry in off plan new build sales to go mainstream. Without digital visual aids such as CGIs, fly-through movies and the like such sales would be nigh on impossible.
Paper details in contrast, are hugely inefficient not to mention costly to the environment. Think of all the postage, the sheets of A4 paper and printer cartridges, the staples, envelopes and photographic paper involved. The delivery of paper details is slow in every way. They make it impossible to deliver the same level of service to international buyers as domestic ones.
It is worth mentioning here that the demise of paper property details has also spared recent generations of agents the mind-numbing, spirit-crushing and soul-destroying afternoons of envelope stuffing which drove many of the older generation to drink!
Let’s celebrate this amazing time efficiency in an industry plagued by time wasting!
But isn’t it all a bit less human?
Without doubt the digital revolution has delivered efficiencies. Unfortunately, it has done so at the expense of both human contact and of active communication. I can’t help thinking that automatic matching allows estate agents to feel they have discharged their duty to the vendor. When the computer sends a new instruction out to applicants, the agent has only to sit back and wait for the viewings to roll in. It doesn’t matter in this context if the agent knows their buyers or can easily recall their requirements.
Matching buyers and properties is the key to selling
It used to matter a lot: applicant qualification was the foundation to a successful career selling property. Before computer algorithms took over matching buyers to properties, agents had to use brainpower to do this. They had to really listen to their applicants, probe their requirements and understand what they were hoping to achieve with their property purchase. The whole transaction was that bit more imperfect perhaps, but definitely more human.
E-mail may be an efficient way of communicating, but it is certainly not an emotional one. E-mail cannot convey colour, sentiment and feeling in the way an excited person telling you about a new instruction can.
Moreover, we are all drowning in e-mail these days. People no longer pay as much attention to anything but the most essential material in their inbox. Communicating by phone is a more personal way of doing business. It pays attention to the human side of property transactions.
Is E-mail encouraging estate agents to hide?
I can’t help feeling too that lots of agents end up hiding behind e-mail instead of engaging with the public on the phone.
Agency is a notoriously challenging business: agreed sales fall through, parties fall out with each other, people change their minds. If an agent hasn’t honed their telephone skills on easy calls to register applicants, how do they develop the skills to deal with the difficult calls that will inevitably occur?
It requires courage to tell someone they have been gazumped, or that their buyer has pulled out of a sale. Agents need resilience to deal with the reaction to that news. E-mail in these circumstances is never appropriate. Surely the phone should be the first port of call at all times? Surely e-mail should be a harmonious second fiddle to its starring role? This is the only way to ensure the business of property is about people rather than about data and algorithms.
This was a guest blog piece I wrote for Lonres.