Estate agents working from home: is it Plan B or a future trend?
Boris Johnson’s government is now saying that if workers can work from home they should, which means many agents will be doing just that. Perhaps the bigger question is whether this is a sustainable model, and could it be best practice?
When Lockdown 1.0 occurred in March 2020 and agents were forced to shut up shop, thousands of estate agents and lettings agents suddenly realised that their business was very analogue and based on paper systems.
At least one large corporate agent and numerous independent agents found that basic communication tools like their telephone systems could not adapt to routing the public’s calls to its staff at home, and vast cash was spent to deal with this weakness.
Then as all agents understood that the lockdown was not going away, piece by piece agents put together strategies for running the business not from the high street but from workers homes in their own street. This meant that automation of processes and the utilisation of digital solutions overnight became front and centre.
Of course out of the eighteen thousand agents, some were already very tech-savvy, having invested in many property technology services to run their systems. So when the office doors were locked it was pretty much business as usual.
In fact many rentals businesses that had huge portfolios that were using advanced software, realised that they did not need their teams in the branch at all, as long ago were the days when a tenant or a landlord wandered into the branch to do business.
As we moved out of the first lockdown, and into subsequent lockdowns, the adoption of other technologies became prevalent, especially the concept of viewing digitally via virtual reality or video streaming, cutting down the amount of physical viewings.
Agents started to say that adoption of this meant for less physical viewings, typically four or five had to take place to secure a sale, down from the usual pattern of twelve to fifteen.
Regarding anti-money laundering and proof of identity, the pandemic saw a flurry of smart solutions being adopted, also spurred on by the adoption of open banking allowing a real look into a person’s financial make-up. Making better decisions for letting agents and estate agents about who was suitable to do business with.
Many people say that agency is a ‘people business’ as if having a high street office where people can meet face to face is an essential tool for looking after clients. In 1985, that might have been true, but the customer of 2025 wants fast efficient solutions to their buying or letting needs, and they expect to do this instantly and digitally from their sofa, morning, noon or night.
Since 2016, over 3,000 high street banks have shut, and nine still shut every week in the UK. The fintech revolution is ten years ahead of the proptech revolution in real estate, with very few people now, not banking online.
So as the UK eases into a soft ‘lockdown’ which may harden in the weeks ahead, ‘the need for physical branches for agents is at tipping point,’ and the true battle is understanding how to digitally transform estate agency businesses for the future.
So that if Plan B becomes the norm, and offices have to close their doors and leave offices empty, their businesses can still thrive as software is working 24/7 alongside the human workforce. Efficiently enabling the commercial functions of agents up and down the country.
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Motherland star Diane Morgan heads the Zoopla Christmas advertising charge
Every year, the major property portals make a great play out of the fact that property search activity spikes during the festive season, which is why they push out their advertising initiatives. This year is no exception, and the excellent skills of deadpan actress Diane Morgan, one of the stars of BBC2’s cult series Motherland will be utilised to get the ZPG brand across to the nation.
It has also been reported that Zoopla are now going to utilise TikTok as a platform to get to the consumers and the whole marketing campaign is kicking off five days before Christmas.
Whilst knowing that views on property portals do skyrocket in the festive season, as an ex-agent of thirty years, I do also know that January is typically a very slow and low sales month, which in some ways defies the myth that everyone come boxing day will be lining up to buy sell, rent or let property.
Maybe window shopping online over Christmas is just a way to escape the turkey sandwiches or the imminent advances of Aunt Doris winking knowingly at the mistletoe.
What is fascinating from a real estate analyst viewpoint is that though collectively the portals get multi-millions of views on properties monthly, not only in December but throughout the year. The actual amount of properties bought and sold and completed remains pretty static at 120,000 a month.
So clearly the portals are not ‘creating’ millions of extra sales, and those viewing metrics are very much vanity metrics. This might be a thought for all the agents who have to pay increasing fees to continue with ‘some’ portals, and maybe the question they should ask is what value they get out of listing their stock, which after all is the honey that gets the busy bee general public to use the sites in the first place.
No inventory, no eyes on the portals.
Andrew Stanton is the founder of Proptech-PR, a consultancy for Founders of Proptechs looking to grow and exit, using his influence from decades of industry experience. Separately he is a consultant to some of the biggest names in global real estate, advising on sales and acquisitions, market positioning, and operations. He is also the founder of Proptech-X Proptech & Property News, where his insights, connections and detailed analysis and commentary on proptech and real estate are second to none.