Friday, 29 February 2008

Picketing of Foxtons by Class War – house prices

I have seen that Class Wars are going to picket Foxtons in Islington on Monday 3 March (no doubt the incorrect date is to confuse MI5) for what they are calling ‘a demonstration against the greatest con-men of our time’.

I mentioned a while back that have a go at agents season had opened and the hunters were on the scent of estate agents? But, can you blame estate agents (and single out Foxtons) for the rise in house prices?

Surely, it is a little rich to blame any estate agent. Class Wars’ argument (if one can call it that) appears to be that estate agents are solely responsible for the rise in house prices (at least in London). Whilst I am not an economist I do know the principles of supply and demand and market forces.

Foxtons are successful and estate agents alone cannot be held responsible for climbing prices. Yes they are part of the economic mix, but it is ultimately the very people who are protesting that determine the ultimate level of the house price.

Indeed, the interactions between housing and the economy are more pervasive. Housing affects salaries, migration and the overall growth rate of the economy. Indeed, there is argument that property prices should be kept high as when they fall, the economy slumps, and it is normally the poor that suffer more than the rich in a slump. So why doesn't Class War target the agents who are selling the Bishops Row properties for £50million and claim to be busier than ever.

To this end, it could be argued that Class Wars' stance will only accelerate further recession, which at least will drive down property prices ( I am guessing their goal), but no one will be able to afford to buy one as they won’t have jobs and then there is the argument that no one is ever better off in the long term as with falling house prices, there is falling rent so you lose as owners but gain as renters. Too much economics for these pages.

So will Class Wars actions having any impact? Unlikely. If you look at the house price crash predictions for this year’s house prices at you will see predictions from a gain of 5% in property prices to a loss of 35% during 2008. Let’s face it, I could make a prediction.

There are many topics within this post for more detailed and intellectual debate than I can muster, but I would like to defend estate agents as they cannot be held aloft as the sole cause of property price increase.

I have mentioned DEAs becoming realtors and perhaps this is the way the house purchasing process will go as buyers demand a little more personal attention and move away from high street agencies, but will this drive house prices down, I doubt it very much.

Anyway, agent bashing season closes on the first day of Spring, so they are out of time! (I am operating on the disputed first day of spring being 1 March).

See you all on Islington high street on Monday! Tuesday I am picketing the offices of the Met Office for the shameful bringing forward of Spring, bring your daffodils.

Sex sells, but you have to know the fundamentals.

I couldn’t resist posting a link to a missed opportunity from one estate agent who claims she slept with a 1000 men. Unfortunately, neither she (as a sole agent) nor her company (if she works for one) benefits from her piece in the newspaper. She is plastered across the newspaper and the Internet, saying she is an estate agent but doesn’t promote herself any further (not professionally at least). What a waste!

I am not suggesting that all estate agents should follow this route and perhaps she believes she will earn enough from the spread in the paper or perhaps she is considering a new career. Indeed, given some of her comments her employer may not relish the association and it may not be safe for a buyer/seller to be with her alone in any event.

Whatever her motivation, she could have used this as a springboard for marketing herself as an agent and taking more advantage of such glorious marketing opportunities.

Anyway, I have to dash to a photo shoot for a Sunday newspaper.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Seth Godin on Real Estate

The Future of Real Estate Marketing has a recent post on comments from a favourite of mine, Seth Godin. These comments are relevant as they apply to real estate agents and whilst the future of real estate marketing correctly states that they are comments heard before by realtors they have not been heard enough within the UK.

I mentioned a while back in my UK realtors post that there was an opportunity for DEAs to become what I am calling UK realtors and this is just the type of advice I was referring to in that post. Indeed, if I am single agent with a good website I should be selling my strengths, one of which ought to be my local knowledge. Even if I am an estate agency practice I should be commenting on my local area and looking to promote my site, my knowledge, my business through all media channels. I should have a facebook page, a blog, be listed on diggit,, be a member of the real estate community and all the others. This has never been more important than in the current climate. Estate agents who survive will be those with active participation in such media spaces.

I will be making further posts on the importance of online marketing for estate agents along with some thoughts on how best to achieve this within the UK market, but for any estate agent wanting to develop their online marketing in the meantime there is a mass of information available and I can think of no better starting point than the future of real estate marketing and of course Property Owl.

Monday, 18 February 2008

More Globrix

The Globrix post has appeared to stir a healthy discussion and thanks for the comments. To this end, I would like to introduce a few further issues into the mix.

Just how intelligent is the Globrix search?

There is a helpful section in their webmasters guide that is the beginnings of what we would hope to be real assistance for estate agents in optimising their pages for the Globrix search.

Given many agents may not have the time to consider and act upon the advice provided, the question remains, what is Globrix searching? In a nutshell, it would appear to search a set parameter of keywords within estate agent sites.

On the whole, this is impressive, but it still relies upon agents having content that marries up with the search criteria. Perhaps I am stating the obvious, but by using such search criteria I sense two immediate issues, namely (a) agent's site content may not match search criteria and will therefore produce inconsistent results, and (b) agents may rewrite content to force incorrect properties into first line searches.

How will the smaller agent optimise and push its way into the listings?

Globrix is good for affiliate partners such as Property Owl as we can feed all our estate agent clients into Glorbix by way of ftp. Given our pages are well optimised and we have clear instructions from Glorbix regarding how they crawl and what they search, our agents should do well. Indeed, agents may find it easier to sign up to affiliate partners such as us and let us handle their site structure and optimisation.

Indeed, this is where we can compliment such a system. Many agents will not have the time and/or technical background to play around with meta tags and the like and would be better off looking to us to assist them.

The default search appears to be set for price ‘low to high’ so in theory the cheaper properties should be displayed first and therefore perhaps the smaller agents will at least get a look in.

Will it deliver quality traffic?

It is hard to say at this stage and perhaps one for comments.

What impact on agents?

Many agents have of course built their sites around Rightmove, Primelocation etc. and to this end Globrix is displaying search results from Rightmove and the like. The question follows that if Globrix can delivery quality traffic, all the agent needs to do is rebuild their website and remove their listing from Rightmove (but see below). Indeed, what if they big three start to block Globrix from searching such sites?

This does put pressure on agents to monitor and advance their analytical efforts so they can see where the traffic is coming from. Of course, if it is as good as it says on the tin, then a minor investment to the likes of Property Owl can in the long run save the agent a small fortune!

Great for estate agents potentially, but what about users?

Whilst being a good system, the user still has to be weaned off using the bigger players. Yes, deep pocket marketing can dent this, but brand loyalty is hard to penetrate. I guess if they are that successful and agents do stop paying rightmove et al, then the Rightmove brand will suffer for having less properties. This is of course a long term and very expensive strategy. I suspect they will need to shout louder.

Will they be satisfied with just site ad revenue?

I will leave for comments, but even with the levels of Rightmove traffic, will the site ad revenue alone satisfy the board and shareholders alike?

The industry overall?

Whatever happens, such development is stimulating estate agents to address their webs sites, delivery of online property content, search optimisation and general SEM. We know what we have built will only help the agents further, so better times for agents perhaps.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008


Another vertical property search engine enters the market. So we now have Nestoria , Zoomf and Globrix and hot on their heels, the property owl search portal.

Globrix have made some noise and obviously spent a fair amount on marketing. Not suprisingly given they have some heavy weight backers in the form of News International, who incidentally own half of Propertyfinder to name one of a few property interests. Anyway, they were advertising all over the tube (London underground system) on Friday last.

I have written about elements of the Zoomf system in the past and we have a good relationship with Nestoria so what do Globrix add to the mix. Well, I like their branding, but I have to ask what they are doing that is different? Both Nestoria and Zoomf have added to this space and continue to innovate and we are offering an entire property management system for our estate agent clients, so again, what do globrix do that would make me put all my estate agent clients through their system?

Well it is free, so that is a plus point and one we would be foolish to ignore. The advanced side navigation is good and quick and they are using infinite scroll for property listings (which we are using!). But watch this space to see how we have done it!! A good selection of property, which you would expect from the investment. It is also very quick, which really impresses me. (although see my earlier blog regarding kisses of death).

We like the map drag box search which we guess is linked through the google api. Not the same as the Zoomf draw box, but it is still a good quick feature and seems to be what the searching public uses.

Monetisation would appear to be the standard generate traffic and advertise on the site method, which I question in such a populated market space. But with deep pockets they can take time generating traffic.

Anyway, welcome Globrix.

Sold and let property - should it remain on an estate agent's page?

A recent post from the great blog at Geek Estate Blog comments on the issue of real estate blogging and social media space, subjects close to our hearts and our clients' hearts. Indeed, we are trying to encourage all estate agents, DEAs and the like to create blogs and write more. The property owl system is geared up to help them with the template and format so all they now need is good advice.

To this end, the post is as always helpful, but I would like to pick up on one point. I refer to the final point when it is stated that old properties ought to remain live and available on a page/site.

As a user, there is nothing worse for a real estate search to produce a result as ‘sold’ and then another and then another. I fully appreciate the benefit of keeping good rich content live, but perhaps there is a better way to save this on the blog/page/site? Perhaps link to all that are similar and available from the sold one, although this requires a little work, perhaps have a section for previously sold that redirects users to the ‘available’ property lists?

It could be a valuable discussion, how do we keep the rich content alive without upsetting the user. After all, the user wants ‘useful’ content and a sold property is of no use whatsoever (other than to the agent for search). Until we can think of a way around it, I would say it is better to get rid of sold properties. Please let us know if someone out there has already devised a unique way around this issue.

In the meantime, all property appearing within the property owl property search portal and our estate agent client’s databases will remain ‘sold’ free. The user will only ever see 'available' property.

Domestic Energy Assessors - the first UK Realtors?

The growing army of Domestic Energy Assessors (DEAs) in the UK leads me to the following thought, a theory if you like. I am sure I am not the first to mention it but will the UK housing industry go the way of other markets and the American market, namely, more single estate agents who deal with, if not the whole, then the lion's share of the buying/selling process (a real estate agent in the USA, and other areas of the world)?

What would he or she need? To be DEA certified, an association with a HIP provider, a conveyancer, be able to take good photographs, draw a floor plan and possess a web site. What more do they need? Unlike the USA and other countries, very little in the way of red tape, licenses etc. In other words, not much.

What if a company were offering DEAs a complete property management solution from web site to back end property management system which in turns feeds their property up into the portals. All they need to do is take the pictures, easy!! And guess what? Yes, Property Owl is offering the complete DEA solution.

Can this also appeal to conveyancers, why not? Cut out the middle man, sign up for a DEA course and become a realtor over night, surely the perfect realtor, a one stop shop! I suspect the law society may have something to say about this, but you get the idea.

Furthermore, there is strong argument that the house buying and selling public will benefit from single agents. More attention to personal service means greater prospect of selling your home. Indeed, with the majority of property searches conducted online, wouldn’t all parties be pleased to find someone who does the whole package.

Property finders are the closest we have to realtors in this country and I would like to think they have all signed up to be DEAs. Moreover, there is a mass of realtor bloggers out there to help, advise and effectively tell you how to do it. Although the process of buying and selling abroad is different, many elements are not light years away from our model.

Anyway, we will soon welcome our first DEA, he will use the Property Owl system that we have specially adapted for DEAs, use a Property Owl website, again specially created for DEAs. We will help with the SEM and they will become the UKs first Realtors! (I await a call from the intellectual property lawyers on this one, but surely the term is generic).

Will the UK public stomach such a term, maybe, but you heard it here first and if you are a DEA reading this, then see us for your system and become a Realtor.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

The worst sentence ever

I often bang on about good customer service and we were horrified to receive the following email from Dell today.

First, a little scene setting. We purchased some Dell machines before Christmas, one of which didn’t work. We called our account manager, explained the problem and he kindly agreed to provide us with a credit note and instructions for return to base. So far so good.

Some three months later and about 10 emails and a few phone calls later I was starting to get the feeling normally reserved for BT customer service. Then we received an email from Dell customer service/sales department, a general ‘how are you doing sir, would you like to buy something’ type email. Bingo we thought, this kind lady had just asked us how Dell could help. Well, we explained once again that we had not received a credit note and the offending computer was still cluttering the office. Now I absolutely kid you not, this was the email response we received from Dell customer service.

'...the only way you'd be able to return a laptop is by contacting customer care on 087 -09-06-00 10, and if there is something faulty with it ; if its just coz u don't want it, they will not take it back...'

This sentence just compounds the shoddy customer service. It is aggressive, accusatory and just plain wrong, innit!

Whatever – Property Owl