Without a bricks-and-mortar foot print, online estate agents have relied heavily on mass media advertising. Predictably, Amazon revealed in 2015 that online estate agents were driving most of the property industry’s spending on TV advertising, with PurpleBricks spending the most. Consumers have been taught the benefits of fixed-fee agents through these advertising campaigns, but unsurprisingly, not the drawbacks.
In 2017, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned two TV adverts for Purplebricks as they judged them to be misleading. Complaints to the ASA challenged whether the comparison in both ads between Purplebricks’s upfront fee and the commission charged by other estate agents was misleading. The ASA found in favour of the complainant and concluded that “it was not sufficiently clear in the ads that the fee payable to Purplebricks was not conditional on the sale of the property”.
However, the adverts ran from March to October before being banned six months later. Furthermore, there has never been TV advertising campaign to explain specifically the benefits of traditional agency due to the fragmented and localised nature of the industry. Until then, the role of explaining what a customer will get from a fixed or commission fee structure will need to fall on the marketing efforts of each high-street estate agent.
If the vendor and buyer understand what a fixed fee service delivers, they can both align their expectations accordingly. Upfront, because of the lack of consumer awareness of the true value of high estate agency, the onus will likely be on the agent to explain very clearly the difference between self-service and full-service on their website, in person when the opportunity arises, and when possible, in their marketing.
Fixed-fee customers may ask for services they mistakenly assume they’ve paid for, though every effort will likely need to be made through out to make it clear what comes as standard and what costs extra. There will need to be as much clarity as possible in terms of what a full-service, commission-fee package includes, especially as this is an opportunity to upsell fixed-fee customers.