Despite changing consumer expectations, many estate agents are not providing the digital convenience to customers opting for traditional estate agency and paying higher commission-based fees. For example, when offering a hybrid, fixed-fee solution, some brands are using digital tools on their website, but then not making those same tools available for customers using the traditional service.
It is counterintuitive for clients paying more to not benefit from the digital capability and convenience that is offered as part of a less expensive, fixed-fee service package. This disparity also muddies what should be a clear proposition to the customer: pay a commission fee and get much more than the lower fixed-fee.
For instance, it is common for agents to set up online booking and valuation tools on their site, allowing anyone paying a fixed fee to manage the sale of their property 24/7, whilst those paying for the full service have to wait until conventional working hours to speak to an agent or receive a response to their email.
If agents decide to provide both fixed fee and commission-based services, there is the risk of the former cannibalising of the latter existing business. As detailed in section one and explored further in sections seven and eight, there will likely need to be a clearly articulated message describing the two services. Therefore, whether an agent chooses to provide digital capability for all service levels, it will likely need to be clear that the premium option (traditional, commissioned-based) of the tiered service offering provides the personalised, human touch that the standard option (for a fixed fee) does not.
Estate agents could model their service levels on the approach banks have taken. One is a low-cost, standard banking option with online banking and call-centre customer service, while the other is a costlier premium option that provides a relationship manager as well that offers a more personalised approach.
What this could look like for estate agents is the premium option offering the best digital tools and, in essence, a relationship manager that provides the hands-on service of traditional estate agency. Customers pay extra for the agent to actively match buyers to their property, conduct viewings in person, and use their experience to make the sale. Those customers also receive extra guidance and granular local knowledge as well as proactive sales progression. This option combines the best of traditional estate agency and digital to deliver a first-class service that is clearly distinct as the premium choice.
The standard service (for a fixed fee) in this instance may need only be the best digital tools agents can offer (such as online booking tools) coupled with a valuation and potentially very light agent interaction, such as a call centre if scale allows. In summary, the customer has a simple choice: standard or premium.
Defining what those service levels are upfront to the customer and then sticking to them, should also help avoid confusion and poor feedback afterwards. Defined service levels will also more clearly show what customers on basic, self-service packages are missing out on and provide opportunities to agents to upsell during the process – whether an agent decides to provide add-ons to the basic service or encourage customers to upgrade fully to a more traditional service.
If a vendor is on self-service/basic package and their property isn’t getting much interest, the agent can provide incentives to upgrade to a traditional package. For vendors who have used an online agent, the money paid up front is lost if the property doesn’t sell, but giving vendors the choice to upgrade at minimal expense would be a point of difference high street agents would have over onliners.