Our resident webinar-in-chief – David Mann – looks at how virtual viewings have captured the attention of the public and asks: what does the future of virtual service really mean for estate and letting agents?
Recent statements from Rightmove and Zoopla – along with press testimonies from estate and letting agents up and down the UK – seem to indicate that online viewings and valuations are here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Rightmove recently declared that 6000 of its estate agency branches have used its online viewing label when uploading properties to the portal. Now, following a recent poll, Zoopla note that an overwhelming majority (98%) of vendors said that they would prefer to receive a remote ‘virtual’ market appraisal from an estate agent as the first stage in the sale process.
Necessity, protection and public sentiment
The UK Government’s advice is that agents should strongly encourage clients to view properties virtually in the first instance and only physically inspect properties which they have a strong interest in. Even developers have been told to pursue promoting virtual viewings in the first instance too.
Necessity, protection and majority public sentiment have been the catalysts for the growing popularity of virtual property services over the last few months. This unprecedented pandemic has brought about unthinkable changes to our way of life, and the desire to make a move for many is now coupled with extreme anxiety. The ramifications of social distancing will live on for the foreseeable future too; especially as we are constantly foreshadowed by a potential second wave of the virus as lockdown measures are continually relaxed.
On the plus side, most of us have also been forced to embrace technology in some way due to lockdown; fuelling our sense of interest and proving that even the most diehard technophobe can conduct social and business transactions online as it isn’t actually as daunting as we first thought.
It does now seem inevitable though that agents will – once again – be put under the microscope by consumers (and by their own competitors). There will inevitably be an analysis of service; how are agents adapting, how they are operating safely? Who would have thought that offering virtual property services could become an indicator of competency and trustworthiness for the industry in the future?
Indeed, I think that back when marketing properties on the portals became a commonplace benchmark for a basic marketing plan, the expectation for virtual property promotion will now surely follow from vendors and landlords as a pre-requisite service that we will come to expect as part of our marketing package.
Combining safety and convenience with a reduction in overheads – what’s not to like?
I believe that virtual tours will become commonplace in the housing market, purely because people like convenience; and what can be more convenient than getting to see what a property has to offer from the comfort of your existing home before committing to a purchase or a rental?
Yes, there are some welcome guidelines from the industry’s regulatory and advisory bodies to note. On lettings, The Property Ombudsman (TPO) has stated that ‘it is not advisable for an agent to accept, or recommend a landlord to accept, an offer on a property that has not been viewed by the prospective tenant(s)’. Similarly for sales, it notes that ‘video viewings are to be used by agents as a filtering exercise, and that any serious buyers are provided with an ‘offer agreed subject to viewing.’ Likewise, the NAEA and ARLA Propertymark air on the side of caution too; sharing the same sentiment for using virtual viewings as a ‘filtering system’ to progress sales or lets with prospective buyers and tenants who are serious about continuing the transaction.
Some agents are not entirely sold on the idea, noting that – justifiably – only a physical viewing can confirm whether a property ‘feels’ right. Some are apprehensive about letting the vendor or landlord film the property, and some are worried that it serves to undermine the objective of traditional online marketing altogether: to ‘whet’ the appetite to book a physical viewing.
Taking all these considerations onboard, surely virtual viewings should be embraced as an exciting moment of progression in property marketing? Whether you are an agent that has been doing them for years or if you’re new to it, this is a service that comes with massive benefits for the consumer – and that’s what’s important to get the market moving. I totally get that there is a sentiment from agents that says even though virtual viewings are available, most people would prefer a physical viewing before making a final decision, and that’s understandable; property is a big commitment.
Yet, video viewings are, for me, an extension of the services provided by property marketers, and I think that’s really exiting. E-commerce is officially part of the property industry and its impact is becoming very tangible. The Property Franchise Group (TPFG) actively stated its business pulled through lockdown by its reliance on virtual viewings and property management; something that we advocated in one of our first Protection & Planning webinars. Closer to home, one our clients, Butlins Property Services, recently shared with us that their last campaign help them to take on five new properties in a really challenging climate.
For me, virtual services will drive productivity and reduce overheads in the short and long term – and that is crucial to agents who are up against in financially. In a recent meeting I had, one agent calculated that if they reduced their physical viewings by 75% and used virtual viewings to qualify genuine buyer interest first, they could make a potential annual saving of £15,000. As well as cost-saving, there some other immediate benefits that spring to mind:
- You can start shifting existing stock and use the USP of virtual viewings to prospect and replenish pipelines.
- Any prospective buyer and tenant who view a property but don’t proceed to offer become your next bank of purchases to contact for similar properties.
- You’ll see a significant improvement in accurately qualifying leads and buyer intent.
- They’ll be a colossal reduction in overheads as you decrease the number of unsuccessful physical viewings.
- Every property on your books becomes more accessible to a wider audience. Get multiple buyers all in one ‘room’ and accompany them on a tour.
To conclude then, there is little doubt that traditional in-person viewings and valuations will need to continue. However, agents who supplement virtual services into their proposition will not only capture the zeitgeist of public sentiment at a pivotal point in the industry’s history, they’ll also recover quicker.
Pandora’s box has been opened; virtual viewings are here to stay and it’s going to be nigh on impossible to go back. Even when (fingers crossed) a vaccine is manufactured, the way we interact with properties will be forever changed. The benefits to agents should far outweigh any reluctancy to adopt them right now.
In an ongoing poll, we’re asking agents to tell us more about how they are using virtual services. Click on the links above to provide your feedback. Here are the results from the responses so far.
- What percentage of agents have been asked about virtual viewings from their clients? 90% 90%
- What percentage of agents said they are offering virtual viewings? 67% 67%
- What percentage of agents said they are currently conducting between 1-10 appointments per week? 93% 93%
- What percentage of agents have been asked about virtual market appraisals by their clients? 70% 70%
- What percentage of agents said they are offering virtual market appraisals? 67% 67%
The new norm?
“Both the public and estate agents have had to adapt to a new way of working. The question is: ‘Is this going to be the new norm for estate agents?’ In week one of lockdown, we launched virtual video viewings and valuations. Now, our tenant-enquiry levels are up by 366%, which is massive. Buyer enquiries are up by 36%. People are still making that decision that they want to look for homes and move to a new house. Valuation enquiries are up by 60%, which is great for the industry as a whole and for the economy. “
Jayde Pope, Marketing Manager, Jacobs Steel
“BYM’s video module, it’s a really powerful tool…”
“We’ve been using the new BriefYourMarket.com video module, it’s proved to be an amazing tool for us. During lockdown – as I’m sure we’re all aware – video has become a massive part of our day-to-day lives.
Whilst it’s great to get video messages out across social media, obviously a large part of our target audience isn’t necessarily on Facebook and so on, so we’re not always able to get our message straight across to them.
Utilising the new video tool is enabling us to get our video message out directly to the whole of our database.
It’s a really powerful tool, we really appreciate BriefYourMarket.com bringing it out for us and everything you do in your Communications Managed team.”
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