Agents and portals - the differing approach of UK to NZ

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The real estate industry is universal, and in principle operates under a similar business model of commission based services in many countries of the world. The migration from print to online is well developed in most countries and therefore it is always interesting in my mind to explore the different approaches to marketing property from country to country.

I was recently in the UK, visiting relatives in Scotland when my eye was caught by this “For Sale” sign outside a property in Edinburgh.

As a backgrounder, the UK model of real estate is somewhat different to NZ with real estate agents largely salaried off a lower commission of around 1.5%. For this the role of the agent is more as a facilitator of the contact and managing the listing. Most properties are sold by negotiation. In Scotland the model is more unusual with a lack of real estate agents as independent entities. All properties in Scotland are sold through solicitors who operate real estate services within their company and therefore provide what amounts to an end-to-end service including conveyancing.

The property I was looking at in Edinburgh was being marketed by McEwan Fraser Legal. The marketing of the property through the exterior sign board was what captured my interest.

The most conspicuous aspect of the sign was the lack of smiling face of an agent. The property is being sold by a company, not an agent - a specialist real estate team as part of the legal company ready to take your call up to midnight on weeknights!. The prospective buyer will enquire of the company rather than calling a specific agent.

The other aspect that caused me to pause and capture this picture was the brand references to the main real estate websites on which the property is being marketed. The UK has a dominant player in this space - Rightmove; a significant competitor in Zoopla and also the Scottish market has a regional portal S1Homes

The selling company has a website on which the property is featured but the pragmatic approach by them is to highlight that this property is being featured on the major UK property portals and a specialist Scottish portal - a clear demonstration to the interested buyers that the property can be found and examined exactly where they expect to find them. This makes total sense, buyers are used to the functionality of these dominant portals - why encourage them to a company website that they may not have used?

I ask that question rhetorically - NZ real estate has always seemed reluctant to advertise any other website on street signs other than their own; this despite the fact that the consumer has little interest in checking out the details of a property on the agents site, when the details will be on Trade Me or Realestate.co.nz - sites that the consumer knows well and is aligned to the functionality and established process for storing favourites.

I find in retrospect this example in the UK even more bizarre when you consider that in the UK the real estate industry is seeking to start an industry owned portal - Agents Mutual as a consequence of what they see as excessive fees and profits made by the leading portals of RIghtmove and Zoopla.

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In New Zealand agents own a portal, Realestate.co.nz, yet they have never, despite the competitive pressure from Trade Me Property taken the decision individually or collectively to act to support this industry owned portal by advertising the brand on their “For Sale” signage or print advertising. The best they seem to be able to do is a discrete reference in the print media of 'contributor to realestate.co.nz’ - hardly a glowing endorsement. Such a missed opportunity!