People vs pixels (the case for traditional estate agency in a digital world)

chris burton director in claygate header

Chris Burton, Director in Claygate

Let’s start with an incontrovertible fact: online estate agency is growing.

Analysis reported by Estate Agent Today backs it up, too. According to the publication, the market share of online and hybrid estate agents reached 18 percent for the first time during Q1 of 2022. Not bad, considering that online estate agency only started to appear around 15 years ago.

So, it seems that online estate agency as a model isn’t in question. Perhaps what is in question, though, is whether or not it’s more effective than the traditional high street model; one that involves bricks, mortar and real people.

Platforms such as Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket have, for some time, complemented the estate agency profession by providing buyers with access to a wealth of properties in one place, and estate agents to an essential route to market. For both audiences, these portals add tremendous value and have become essential tools. But they’re exactly that – tools.

Online estate agents take the digital realm to the next level. Unlike Rightmove, for example, these don’t exist to support estate agents; they effectively are estate agents.

Are you a people person?

Whether you choose digital or traditional comes down to what you value most.

If it’s cheaper fees (and you’re happy to do the legwork yourself), then maybe an online estate agent is for you. However, if you prioritise the personal experience when it comes to selling what is likely to be your most valuable material asset – and let’s not forget that for all its association with property, estate agency is ALL about people – then maybe a high street agent is the better choice.

And that is why, despite living in an era of online estate agency growth, the overwhelming majority of sellers choose to list their property with established, bricks and mortar agencies. People generally like to deal with people.

As a Claygate estate agent, I’ll regularly have people pop in as they’re walking down the parade just to ask for obligation-free advice. They may even do this once or twice a year before maybe instructing us to sell their property three or four years down the line. That intervening period has not only bought goodwill, but it’s also bought trust.

Community vs chatbots

Okay, comparing the two may be a bit glib, but you certainly can’t build a community presence from behind a screen – especially if the person behind the screen isn’t even based in the community in which they’re being instructed.

Estate agency is not only a people-based busines, but it’s also a community-based business, too. I might be helping with printing for Claygate schools one week, then sponsoring a fashion show for charity the next. To support the local community, you have to be a part of it, which is something that online estate agents simply cannot achieve.

Finally, the value in using an established agency with a physical shop front is in the whole experience of working with experienced professionals from start to finish – at least that’s where Grosvenor Billinghurst provides value. It’s important to state here that estate agency is all about change management, and most people do not like change. Can online estate agents provide the reassurance and guidance that a conversation over a coffee can provide? The answer is a definite ‘no’.

The digital world undoubtedly adds value to estate agents. Although in my experience, this involves supporting them with key tools and portals – not replacing them.

If you’d prefer your property to be sold by a real person, then contact Chris at the Claygate office of Grosvenor Billinghurst on 01372 462323 or by emailing him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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