Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Portals. The drug of choice for estate agents?

When you ask an agent these days how the sale of your property is going, you're unlikely to get much of a human response. Instead, you'll get a mini-spreadsheet.

It lists how many people have 'viewed' the property at Zoopla and Rightmove, plus any relevant traffic on their own website. Sometimes it even tells you how long these wonderful cyberspace visitors actually looked at your particular property online.

Another agent might have a whole section of its website devoted to giving you these 'personalised' stats in graphic form. So you don't even have to phone or email them.

All very nice, I'm sure. But like so much from the digital world, these figures are as meaningless as they are addictive.

Now, it just so happens that I have some personal experience of the perils of addiction as well as the pratfalls of the digital industry. So, all told, I feel well qualified to comment of the effect of drugs like Zoopla and Rightmove.

As with cocaine or alcohol, they can seem like your best friend when life's a little rocky, the party a little dull, the relationship a little stale or your confidence a notch below par. A harmless, occasional stimulant, some might suggest.

And of course, that's how 'portals' were initially pushed to the industry.

"Try this if business is a bit slow."


" This will make you look sexier than your competitors."


" Improve client relationships by giving them more stuff."


" However small and scruffy your office, you can look like John D Wood online."

Very soon, however, it starts to not work so well. As other agents join in, the buzz begins to wear off. You need more and more 'digital' to get high (or, at least, appear high up the search lists).

And, before you know it, you're done for. An addict. Paying digital agencies, techies and social media chappies through the coke damaged nose for an ever increasing range of services.

And what have you got for your money? Very little, actually. Because who knows how many of those 500 people who viewed your £3m Chelsea house online last week could actually afford one, or even want one.

How many of them were in fact other agents keeping track of the market? Or the client and his family obsessively checking the competition? Or any number of other perfectly legitimate but valueless anomalies.

Of course, like all addicts, agents are in denial about this.

They don't even recognise their own classic addiction symptons such isolating themselves (have you noticed how many agent's offices are not really configured to welcome visitors - they prefer virtual visits to personal visits.)

Truth is, these days, they're too busy coping with their online addiction to bother much with real people.

So where does this all end?

Well, when an addict can no longer afford his habit there's really only one way to go - become a pusher themselves.

And, that's exactly what a group of top agents have set out to become.

They plan to launch yet another online Portal and become the Mr Big themselves. (With Rightmove valued in the billions, who can blame them.)

Good luck to them, but might I suggest that one or two agents go into rehab instead.

The result might be that they find a different way forward. One that is based on people rather than google-like web surveillance.

You may have noticed that some of our most successful insurance companies have now opted out of their industry's price comparison portals.

They've cracked their addiction and prospered. How long before one of the top agents does likewise?

It can't come soon enough for me.

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