Matthew Fine: Can Estate Agents Really ‘Work From Home’?

Estate Agency is changing, whether we like it or not.

Having been an agent for the last 35 odd years I have seen many changes from within that have made our lives easier, from computers to digital photography and a lot more. Proptech, a current buzzword, is very much alive and kicking with new innovations daily but I am not sure 90% of them are worthwhile or really help, you can even pay another company to show prospective buyers/tenants around a property!

Ultimately, they are reducing the overall commission an agent will earn. In a tough market where volumes are down it will be harder to conduct more transactions to keep the turnover the same.

What I have never witnessed before is the way we are changing from the outside.

Residential estate agents have, in general, parked themselves on the local high street in a retail environment. We range from small independents with the one shop and lots of local knowledge, the slightly larger independent with 4 – 5 offices in nearby towns/villages, the larger agents who cover London, Manchester, Leeds, York and the even large national agents with multiple brands and offices.

“Just like travel agents and insurance agents in the past, Estate Agents are having to adapt to the internet”

Now, just like travel agents and insurance agents in the past, Estate Agents are having to adapt to the internet or the Uber effect as I like to term it. Yes, they all have an online presence but they carry high overheads and are now competing with the online only agents with call centres and ‘local’ experts.

Whilst these agents only account for 5% of the market as a hole it rankles the high street brigade and you see this constantly in the trade web sites.

I personally have noticed an increase of people in the industry now ‘working from home’.

I am still not sure what that means and it may just be an age thing but good talent is leaving the industry and being replaced by the youth. We are losing experience and the personal touch. The ‘local experts’ also seem to be working from home and some agents are advertising the fact they are setting up in coffee shops/libraries and mixing with the public at a local level.

Is this all the Emperor’s New clothes or the new reality?

There is no doubt that the new generation of buyers are far more internet savvy and demanding. There has been a race to the bottom with fees in most areas of the UK and people now have a choice of paying upfront to list a property for sale on the internet or using the no sale-no fee agent which also lists on the internet but comes with a personal assistant.

“Our member club organisations seem ineffective at doing this whilst the public listed or crowdfunded online only agents have amazing PR.”

Being in the trade I know what one is better value for my money but I am saddened that we as a business have missed and are missing the opportunity to educate the public over this. Our member club organisations seem ineffective at doing this whilst the public listed or crowdfunded online only agents have amazing PR. It does not matter what they say as they only get a slap on the wrist afterwards.

I do not know where this will end.

Will we become a little like the American system where the majority of our ‘brokers’ work on a self-employed basis, either from home or at the coffee shops and we multi-list the properties, a little like LonRes in central London but more open to others.

Will the online only agents go the same route as Lastminute.com or grow like the travel and comparison web sites? Will Rightmove or Zoopla start taking private listings? Does Estate Agency disappear from the high street as rents, rates and advertising costs spiral upwards? Is there a hybrid version that will win out?

I have no idea but am enjoying and embracing the changes as much as I can and on the weekends refurbishing the study at home just in case!


Matthew Fine is a Managing Director at Hunters Estate Agents in Marylebone and has been advising private and corporate clients in the area for over 30 years. Click here to follow him on Twitter.