Well that very much depends upon to whom you are referring. Let us start with the movers and shakers of the property world, namely Purplebricks. Ah yes, the Bruce brothers, who the majority of those involved in the business of trying to make money from selling houses, loathe, because, er, they have made an awful lot of money from (sort of) selling houses. For the record, I doff my cap (I am sporting a Peaky Blinders number at the moment) to the gentlemen. Well played sirs. Headlines during the week screamed that Pb’s share price had “plunged”, at one stage falling to 262p. Remember that one man’s plunge is another man’s slight trip. The shares finished at 280p, 10% down from the previous day’s opening price of 311p. The fall came as Pb made clear its intention to continue its roll-out in the USA, France and Germany accompanied by an announcement to the London Stock Exchange of a £125m investment by German-based international publishing house Axel Springer. This would be the same publishing house that owns several leading European property portals, such as Se Loge, Immowelt and Immoweb. I wonder what Rightmove and Zoopla think of that move? One thing of which I can be certain is that neither the Bruce brothers (a respectable 62nd on the UK Rich List) nor the founding investors in Rightmove or Zoopla will be going for the Aldi egg as opposed to the Waitrose number. Why? Because they were in at the start when the shares were £1 for a bucket full. Once again proving that timing is everything. As possibly the mysterious estate agent travelling alongside Jeremy Vine in a first class carriage the other day may rue. Jezzer was suitably astonished and outraged by the fact that the lady in question was loudly broadcasting to a carriage of strangers various private information-names, addresses and fiscal amounts-about a property that she had just sold. Concern has been raised that she may have breached data protection rules. Fair point, although Jeremy’s recording and subsequent reporting on a national radio show probably wasn’t too clever either on the privacy number. What did raise a titter here in the backwaters of Cwmbran was the agent marking some point of her transaction with a ‘Hip hip hooray’. In these parts, that would be supplemented with a “Thank “£$& for that”. I did wonder how Mr Vine (or any other vendor) would feel if when phoning their agent on the latter’s mobile (note the clue is in the title), they were then told, “Sorry, Mr X, I know that it is really important to you and your family, but I am on the train, so goodbye”. Speaking of goodbyes what a week of exposure it has been for the Australian psyche; not just that their phenomenally naturally talented cricket team are cheats, but they are also a bunch of crying sheilas (calm down all you Germaine Greers). The only one who has earmed some respect is the patsy Bancroft. To put sandpaper down your trousers takes some er, balls. Even Russell Crowe in full Maximus mode might have winced at that (ok, I know he wore a skirt for most of the film…). At least Steve Smith-acknowledged as possibly the best batsman since Don Bradman-can now have a career in amateur dramatics. FFS. Two queries that I have after watching his cringe worthy press conference performance: Isn’t a “mistake” something that happens inadvertently, not a deliberate action with the aim of eliciting a specific result? and was it the intense heat from the gathered press and their equipment that made his tears evaporate before they even appeared to the naked eye? As for Warner and his wife, I am genuinely sorry that they couldn’t find a babysitter yesterday so had to lug their daughters through a heaving airport at a time when he acknowledged that they should already be in bed, whilst the collected press surrounded them. It worked-to a point-as the media were sufficiently solicitous so as not to upset the ‘human shield’ of two small children. FFS x 2. Has their Easter break been spoiled? I would wager 1-11 on, that it has. And Christmas.
While it was interesting to read that Countrywide-one of the industry big hitters-had plunged deeply into the red last year resulting in far-reaching cuts countrywide (no pun intended); it was something else that drew my attention. The announcement hidden among the “review of their footprint across the UK”, don’t you just love corporate-speak? (translated here as ‘we’re $%^*&*’) was that it has scrapped its digital offering. The associated job losses are nothing to mock (as shown by the level of vitriolic indignation and blatant contempt for the Countrywide executive on various internet forums), but it does focus attention on something that we have blogged about before. It is the belief of this bald (but still devilishly debonair-form an orderly queue ladies) estate agent of some score years and more, that you are either an estate agent or an online agent. If you are the former than you need to use to maximum effect all that modern technology offers and if you are the latter, then you dispense with the service traditionally offered by an estate agent. What isn’t advisable is to try and ride two horses in the same race. Countrywide decided that they would offer a digital online presence to compete with the likes of Purplebricks and the fellow residents of the internet stable block. Adopting the characteristic endemic to the breed, they chose to charge up-front and then if the property fails to sell, the vendor has the option of switching to the the “traditional method” whereby the already paid up-front fee is deducted from the standard fee when the property is sold. That seems like a good deal, but of course the standard fee is around 2%. Let us have a quick look at the numbers. You as the vendor pay £1000 up front to sell your £200,000 home. It fails to shift, so you switch to no sale, no fee at 2%. The house sells so the fee owed is £4,000 less the £1,000 already paid, leaving a net £3,000. However, if you are a seller who has paid the £1,000 and end up disappointed at the lack of success and lack of service, how would you feel when the company assures that there is nothing to worry about, but how about trying the traditional service at 2%? Are you going to look about the market place for another ‘traditional agent’ who may charge 1% or less? The result in money terms may be the same, but the initial expense with no result other than putting your hand back into your pocket, may well have put you off.
It seems though that some things-despite all the phenomenal technological advances made-never change: it is always someone else’s fault. Countrywide’s chairman Peter Long offered, “The under-performance of our business over the last three years has resulted in us making significant management change in the group” (interpret that as ‘You’re fired, but I’m alright Jack). The accompanying report rips apart the efforts of the previous management and the retail model that it adopted, including, “our foray into digital”. Hmmm, who oversaw the previous management, okay-ed the directives introduced and undoubtedly broke bread with them at various corporate get togethers? One final question that will only mean anything to those old enough to remember when I wasn’t bald and Agent Corbyn was rattling around East Germany on a scooter with the Big D; did somebody mention The Halifax and its spectacular implosion after a retail model was introduced that was built on quicksand, resulting in a mass exodus and those left saying, ‘it wasn’t my idea’?