Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Social media and spaces

A very brief post reporting on my thoughts on how agents should commence using social spaces/media and my experience to date.

It goes without saying that each is different, but I have met many businessmen and women who don’t understand the space and don’t feel they need to. They then ask how can they benefit from these spaces, but not how they can interact with them? Much is written about this and I won’t go over old ground, but here are my thoughts that any agent/business considering entering these spaces may like to consider.

Don’t put the same old blurb in each space and hope for traffic, get a feel for each one. I spent time just reading and interacting with others within these pages and got a feel for the community before entering any content, sometimes as long as a month. I then decided upon a theme for each one, i.e. squidoo was exciting and fun so this is where I write fun stuff and engage in a more light hearted manner (still about my industry, but not too serious), it was an opportunity to be more adventurous than my blog. In digg I will discuss more serious technical matters, news and use as springboard for my blog and in facebook I network. There are a few others I use as well such as technorati, but you get the idea. All link to one another and I grow my presence in each one at a rate I can manage.

Read the old forums and you may be surprised by the amount of venom and bad press agents received and still receive. Social spaces now offer opportunities for agents to show the public (the current and future house buying public!!) that agents are just like everyone else and can be trusted. Interact with your future customers. All agents can benefit from these spaces, especially sole agents.

PS. Have a look at the monkey brain argument in squidoo, it is great fun. Enter an argument subject, back it up with a paragraph and start ranting with others. Great way to communicate and get a message across. See my test one and pick a fight if you dare!!

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Please buy our house

The rat and mouse have a good post about a report on new build incentives to buyers as reported in the Daily Telegraph.

This caught my attention as I have been inundated recently with emails and offers from developers telling me how summer heights and other awfully named projects are the best places to live since you could buy your own council house. Indeed, not only is the Zen (I kid you not) a blissfully appealing place to live, but there are a number of Zen like schemes to make it all affordable, especially if you are a first time buyer.

So I went to see one and have a chat with the sales rep. As she was telling me all about the great features of this pathetically small(poor plot) one bedroom flat and what incentive schemes were on offer, I called her bluff and asked outright how keen she was to get rid of the property. In other words, what would she take?! Slightly taken aback she indicated that a small discount may be available, but i could see in her eyes she was desperate so i offered to buy for what I thought was a considerabe 20% discount on the offer price. She gulped and explained she would have to ask her superiors.

I didn't expect a call back so I was surprised when she came back to me and said we had a deal if I could sign and deposit very quickly. I said I would if she threw in a Chelsea season ticket for my nephew. Perhaps the camel that broke the other camel's back as she never called back, but it goes to show what is available.

If you have the funds and really want to (a) live in compound called 'Zen' or (b) think that property won't fall more than 20% and rental will survive and it will all bounce back anyway, then there are offers out there, just don't get fobbed off with a super-saver evergreen environmental scheme payment plan, just negotiate and take the discount.

I note the government also offer a first time buyer discount, which on first reading actually appears helpful. The devil is in the detail however and without boring you, you have to start repaying the government after a period of time and guess what - this money goes towards the 50% they lent you? Not a chance, you pay for the facility and still have to pay back the 50% when you sell, at the market value at the time!

Monday, 24 March 2008

Foxtons Minis

Forget hunting for Easter eggs, there is more fun to be had hunting for a Foxtons mini. I understand they have all been recalled for new paint jobs and are disappearing from our streets quicker than a stock broker's bank balance.

The Foxton mini has also been removed from the website and no doubt this is the beginning of a rebranding exercise.

Your customer has left the building

What an excellent post from 1000 watt. Nothing is more true of the new generation of house buyers and sellers. They are mobile!

One only has to sit on a commuter train/bus/airport to get a rough idea of how the masses are using mobile media. More and more people are watching video on the train through a handheld device. So why shouldn't this be a video of a house, with map links etc? No reason whatsoever. A user could look through 10 or so properties that he or she had downloaded at work (during the lunch hour of course!). By the time they arrived home, they would have refined their list and made efficient use of their time.

This has of course been written about before, but it puzzles me why all agents are not yet embracing these changes. Our sole agent product is designed very much with this in mind. Indeed, a single agent can take a video, upload it to numerous sources, send to a client, send to others and market that same property on a blog.

Sole agents appear more willing to embrace this technology. Indeed, I am still trying to persuade agencies to use better quality photographs and take as many as possible, i.e. three or four of each room, the loft, the cupboard under the stairs. People want to see these, but I still struggle to convince agents to use better quality photos let alone more of them. There remains an element of ‘not showing the customer’ the entire truth, which is of course a fundamentally flawed approach and one that will see the demise of any agent who adopts it. The next generation of punters demand much more and agents should be working on building the relationship and establishing what I will call the trust factor. An agent should be looking to help the buyer/seller not just be looking to buy/sell the property.

We adopt a similar sales approach with our agents, namely building a relationship, listening to what they need and then trying to help them with a product that fits their needs. This is the model that agents need to embrace if they are to prosper in the next 10 years.

But if I can’t persuade agents to use better quality photos how do I convince them to set up blogs, build and plan for mobile applications and embrace online marketing? Yes, a challenge and I see many agents stepping forward and wanting to go it alone and perhaps this is where the future lies. I see agents who recognise the need for change escaping restrictive practices and setting up on their own. Customers will be drawn to such agents and I see a real opportunity to create a reputable body of trusted real estate agents.

Not only has your customer left the building, but the agent may have also left the highstreet and changed the way he/she does business.

Friday, 14 March 2008


The recent supplement in the February Estate Agency Times – (sadly not online) reflected on what was labelled Property Portals.

The opening editorial is titled Portal Power and is a summary of all the ‘property portals’. This led me to ask, what exactly is a property portal?

As with all such investigations I first approached this question from the users perspective and quickly concluded that users don’t use the term portal, they ‘search’ for property. You never hear people saying I used a portal, they just say I ‘searched’ for a property.

This would suggest that the term portal has greater significance in the industry and helps define the space and allows one to consider the question in more detail. To this end, I believe there are three types of online companies serving properties to the user: marketing portals, portals and property search engines.

I see rightmove, primelocation et al as what I would call ‘marketing portals’ or in other words you have to pay to be in it (and rather a lot at that). For the user they are just searching for property, but for the industry it is not a property search engine per se. The user has a limited choice of properties from agents who have paid to have their property in the system.

Nestoria, Zoomf and Globrix are what I would call search engines and Property Owl is what I would label a portal as we provide property feeds from others and properties directly from agents. We allow the user to search within our system, but we do not search and perhaps there lies the nub of it.

Where I am going with all this? Well, the EAT wrap all these companies under the umbrella of portals. This is not a criticism of the article, as I am sure it is easier for agents to work with the one term. But as the new generation of search engines enter the market I feel we need to establish a clear definition and educate both agent and end user.

Indeed, the confusion becomes clear when one looks at the top 20 portals chart provided in the supplement. The top 20 is based on traffic and introduces a few entrants that would not fall into my earlier categorisation. Indeed, there are overseas properties, estate agent directories, software companies. For example, Vebra and expert agent are included in the rankings, both of whom are property software development companies?! To be fair, Vebra has at least a search option on its site, but it is not used as a property search tool. You could argue it is a marketing portal, but its traffic is magnified by its brochure ware sites as they all point and direct traffic to Vebra. Furthermore, Vebra has, which is also in the rankings.

Not a sin by any stretch, but if I am an agent I look at the rankings and think they must be good, sign up, pay a small fortune and then still have to spend on rightmove et al to get any traffic to my site (which is the goal) as I am not sure my Vebra site will be picked up by the search engines.

Another software provider, expert agent, doesn’t even have a search for property so I am not sure how it gets into the property portal rankings.

It is shame that some of these players have been included as there are good search companies, such as Zoomf, who would probably have been included if these others had not. Perhaps a fairer chart would have been a more detailed analysis/comparison with places being awarded on a points based system.

This is not a rant at the article, but more a note to estate agents that this space is changing and they need to be able to identify the differences as they have serious cost implications (both in terms of capital and revenue). We will be expanding upon these issues and setting out some useful guidance on all the search engines, portals and the like in the near future.

The Budget provides a lifeline for first time buyers – think again!

How many times have you discussed matters with friends, colleagues, strangers on a bus, your imaginary friend and realised you all agree about the same point. Football players, tax, and the budget are all such matters. No matter how many people believe a course of action is the right way to jump, the people at the top stubbornly refuse to accept the wisdom of the masses.

Enter the 2008 budget, which despite the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) and others calling for revisions in stamp duty for first time buyers, failed to deliver. The NAEA and others have all been quick to complain about the reluctance of the government to address what it sees as the real issue.

The NAEA claims that stamp duty for first time buyers has doubled over five years and the total stamp duty revenue has risen by 40% in 2006/07. The Budget was the opportunity to help the home buyer and the housing market, but since when has the budget, or the government for that matter, actually helped anyone but itself?

Government websites of course praised the budget and said the policy of building more houses will help people afford their own home in the longer term. How is not explained and I will leave you to form your own opinions on this one.

Yet again, it would appear the government is using the housing market as another taxation stream and the NAEA rightly state that the Chancellor should realise the gravy train is finished. But will the government forego a slice of £6.4 billion in stamp duty? I doubt it very much.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Google trends - national search terms

A very brief post on the use of google trends.

We were looking at house search terms and I was just playing around with comparisons. I typed a comparison of house for sale and home for sale and noted that the first result produced by google trends showed a strong result for home for sale, well above house for sale.

But drilling down to country level, i.e. UK, revealed that house for sale outstripped home for sale. Whilst not definitive I thought I would try a few obvious ones to test the system, so I tried apartment for sale and flat for sale and yes more people in the UK search for flat (understandably). I then got carried away and I shall not bore you further, but you get the point.

I am not sure as to the reliability of the next level drill downs, i.e. county, area etc as I was producing some strange results for areas of the UK.

Anyway, the house/home comparison does appear logical and has prompted me to explore with this tool in a little more detail. After all, we are all trying to understand what people search for when buying homes, opps houses!