Charlie Wright, founder and CEO of CRM property software firm Easymatch, has stunned the market with his damning comments on online agents.
The ex-city trader held nothing back in a series of comments and also wrote an open letter to independent agents encouraging them to come together to defend their interests from corporate and online threats.
The controversial CEO’s new group is The Charter of Independent Estate and Letting Agents (CIELA) and has been created to “fight against corporate domination and unfair practice”, citing the need to empower independent agents against larger ‘bulge bracket’ firms like Foxtons and Knight Frank.
In his open letter, Wright scathes the customer service of larger agents saying their only function is to “harvest and extract value from staff and customers and funnel it to their shareholders”.
He then turns his attention towards online agents, “Large, national ‘online’ agency brands are even worse. Not only are they undermining the whole industry, they are exploiting vulnerable first-time sellers who are naive to the challenges and difficulties involved in a successful sale. They must be stopped and made accountable for their misleading practices.”
Consisting of a number of handpicked owner-managers of independent estate agencies, the newly formed group met on Wednesday 18 January to decide whether the association will move ahead and launch formally.
It has also been reported that, should the plans go ahead, CIELA members would have access to a number of perks dependent on their tier of membership. Some of the services that have been mooted include back office emailing hosting, staff coaching and even energy bill management.
With a history of outsourcing for estate agents Wright is confident he knows their needs, “the aim is to substantially reduce overheads for the best independents, so they’re on a level playing field with the corporates.”
DMZ thinks Wright could have identified an interesting and previously neglected area – independent agents.
The rise of online agents (circa 5-6% of the total market) is going to impact the whole industry, especially the lettings sector in light of the government’s recent fee crackdown.
However, there are still structural and social challenges for online agents to confront. One emerging criticism is that they are successful in built up cities like London and Manchester where the market is easier to price, but struggle in more rural areas where pricing comparison is difficult and the property needs to be ‘sold’ rather than just listed on a portal.
By consolidating this currently fragmented collection of independent agents, Wright can at worst focus members on what they perceive as upcoming threats and at best use their influence to create counter strategies or evolve their businesses to ensure revenue is not hit in the same way as larger players.
Members of the CIELA will be conscious of, and want to avoid if at all possible, recent alarming trends and statistics like Foxtons Q4 sales revenue last year, which was down an eye-watering 40%.