As online estate agents’ market share rises, is there a risk technology could replace the need for face to face interaction?

According to the latest Property and Homemover report from data firm twentyci, online agencies’ market share is creeping up.

In the second quarter of 2021, twentyci found that online and hybrid agencies’ share rose to 8.1 per cent - a 0.5% rise on the previous three months - while separate research from online agency 99 Home suggested it is even higher - at 13.22%.

You could say this shift was inevitable. Most High Street agents had to close their doors at the peak of the pandemic, meaning that those already set up online, either entirely or partly, were able to continue to trade, while those who relied on a completely branch-based model had to adapt to survive.

It therefore makes sense that online agencies were going to start taking a larger slice of the pie, and in fact, some argue it should have been even bigger given the ‘perfect conditions’. Commenting on the twentyci findings,Proptech expert Andrew Stanton said that if the (true) onliners only achieved 8%, market share, in what was “the best year to be an onliner - as their offering was ideal for the pandemic conditions” it is likely the share will “float down to its typical 5.1% from (MT1) 5.3%” as things start to return to the new normal.

However, even if you ignore the impact of Covid-19, data suggests that hybrid estate agencies were growing in popularity anyway. While the shift to home working has inevitably had a part to play, twentyci’s claims that the market share increase enjoyed by hybrid and online agencies can also be attributed to a ‘significant level of penetration of Hybrid/Online agents into properties of greater value’.

Twentyci’s report reveals a 10% growth in the number of £350k-£1m properties over the past two years, and that ‘the increased adoption of hybrid and online agencies alternative customer offering’ by sellers with higher value properties is a key factor in the growth of this sector.

But whatever the reason, one thing is clear - the market share is becoming less heavily weighted to the High Street. But this doesn’t necessarily mean a direct shift to online - there is definitely a middle ground - the hybrid option. And it would seem that for many this is the preferred choice, with most agents - and clients  - saying they prefer to retain some level of ‘human input’. In fact, one of the UK’s best-known online estate agency firms has admitted that technology will never replace the need for human interaction within the property industry.

Akshay Ruparelia, founder of Doorsteps.co.uk said “I don’t think the estate agent industry will ever be completely automated or technology based….but I do believe in a hybrid model, where local experts and consultants do the face-to-face work backed up by a digital infrastructure.”

John Dobson, who is CEO of anti-money laundering platform SmartSearch, used by thousands of estate agents across the UK to verify their clients, agrees. He says that because there are certain parts of the job that need human interaction, it makes sense to automate those processes that can be better handled by technology.

One thing that technology can do better than people is perform due diligence and anti-money laundering checks,” says Dobson.

“Where it could take an agent hours to check a person’s ID, cross reference it with other documents and then check the name against sanctions lists, an online verification platform can perform full customer identification and verification checks and screening in a matter of seconds, deliver the results to the agent wherever they are, and record the outcomes in a central system.

“Plus, with an electronic check - which is able to make use of the latest biometric technology - you can be sure the system will spot any fraudulent documents, something you cannot guarantee with manual checks.”

John says that, not only is it easier to run checks electronically, but it is more accurate, plus, with SmartSearch, the checks themselves are automatically hosted and monitored on the platform and accessible at any time. This means agents don’t need to think about record keeping either, as it is all taken care of.

John concludes: "I believe that estate agents should be using technology - like electronic verification - to lower costs, make things more efficient and mitigate errors. Not only does this offer a more robust and reliable result, but it also frees up their time so they can concentrate on the parts of their job that need a human touch.”

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