Someone asked the other day, if online estate agents are the future, why don’t they have a bigger slice of the property market? And, to be honest, although it’s a good question, it’s actually quite tricky to answer without sounding peevish or paranoid. First of all, we’d point out Rome wasn’t built in a day. As BBC business “Dragon” Deborah Meaden once said, any company with its sights set on a national reputation is probably going to struggle unless they have £3,000 a month to spend on marketing as a bare minimum – and it takes time to establish that sort of financial clout without a big-name backer. More importantly though, few start-ups in any market other than estate agency would find elements of the media quite so closed to them quite so frequently.
Let us explain… In the age of so-called “citizen journalism”, social media and the internet, it’s no secret that newspaper readership is falling – and with it their revenues. The last thing any managing editor therefore wants to see is their biggest advertisers pulling out – and, historically, property has been the backbone of much of the printed media’s income. The result is a risk of a degree of influence when it comes to editorial policy, particularly in the regional press.
Be assured we’re not suggesting scandals are being covered up or rogue agencies are being left to fleece unsuspecting members of the public, free from the fear their brand may be exposed in a bad light. Not at all. However, when a co-operative of agents has the ear of a media outlet’s sales director, collective pressure might be brought to bear to keep a new competitor’s name out of the spotlight. Starved of a platform, that newcomer will find it harder to build a reputation while the established clique will continue to be given opportunities to comment on topical issues pretty regularly, re-enforcing their standing as the region’s serious players.
So what? Well, some might argue it’s the tail wagging the dog and shouldn’t really happen. Surely all should have equal opportunity to bend the ear of the media, with decisions on who gets the exposure based purely on editorial judgement and not who spends the most cash on advertising? So, although you may not hear about many online agents and although it’s true they only make up a small part of the estate agency market, it’s not because they don’t work. It’s more a case of having to combat negative spin sometimes peddled by influential rivals with the ear of the media which also has a vested interest in keeping them profitable.
If we make a comparison with football, the sport has seen an era dominated by the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal and, naturally, they want to stay where they are and will do everything they can to protect their position as the sport’s aristocrats. Leicester City have just shaken that particular establishment to the core. In time and with the right backing and management, an online agent – perhaps the equivalent of an unfashionable team usually given the last slot on Match of the Day – might take the top slot in the property market too. And then maybe a new generation will be able to look forward to a very different future with a few more choices about who they should support.