Fake Agents’ misleading marketing is crippling independents’ reputations and livelihoods
Opinion piece by Charlie Wright, Founder of CIELA
Think fake agents are no threat to your business? Think again. The rise of online agents – dubbed ‘fake agents’ – are costing every single business in the industry without exception. Below explains why.
For as long as Estate Agency has existed there have been people setting up novelty businesses which seek to cut out or undermine estate agents.
Without exception, they have all failed, but not without doing some damage to the industry on their way down, as they all make the attack on incumbent businesses the main thrust of their marketing. “Nobody really needs an estate agent” is always the underlying pitch.
Their existence is not a problem but their marketing is our biggest problem.
These quirky, flash-in-the-pan, sometimes very well funded ventures (easier.co.uk in the late 90’s spent £13million and easyProperty rumoured to have spent £18m) always attract great publicity on the back of the notorious public loving-to-hate estate agency.
This fact only serves to underline how even those who consider themselves successful, wealthy and experienced business people can completely fail to understand what good agents really do, and get their fingers burnt or lose their shirts in the process.
So, I agree with the commentators who ask why people are wasting time worrying about the increasing number of ‘fake agents’, i.e. companies calling themselves estate agents but in reality offer nothing more than an up-front paid advertising service.
Their existence alone is no more a threat to the industry as a whole than private sellers used to be in the pre-internet days. There will always be a small portion of people who will choose not to use full service agency, and either try to sell privately, or pay for an advertising service, almost always something they regret afterwards and hence it’s never taken off.
But, the marketing by these fake agents and the consequences of it are an altogether different matter.
It is the most damaging phenomenon the industry has experienced in the 20 years I have been involved, and directly impacts every single remaining company in the business, especially independent agents.
The obvious example of the worst offender is PurpleBricks’ advertising which is misleading-to-the-point-of-being-fraudulent campaign.
Everyone has seen these adverts. Most people who have seen the ad mistakenly believe that Purplebricks sell for free, or only charge a fee if they sell. The result is, the public now think that it’s cheap and easy to sell. This undermines the perceived value of the industry as a whole, and accelerates the downward pressure on fees.
Even if you believe that your business is so strong in its reputation for outstanding service that you will continue to win as many instructions (and not lose any to fake agents), you will have local direct competitors who have been affected, who will have lowered their fees as a result, which in turn means further downward pressure on your fees.
Every single independent agent in the country, without exception, is experiencing harder conditions as a result of the marketing campaigns of fake agents.
Purplebricks Marketing Director, James Kydd, has a background of 15 years doing marketing for Virgin Group companies, including Virgin Atlantic. That’s 15 years in consumer-facing marketing role for one of the most successful brands in the world. This is a fact that we ignore at our peril. It doesn’t matter how low quality the Purplebricks service and experience is, hiring a big gun like this means that their marketing will work, is working, and will continue to work.
James Kydd, Purplebricks Marketing Director
Their marketing working means the continued destruction of public perception of estate agents, with such tricks as the utterly offensive survey they released recently and that equals fees falling faster than ever before.
There is no single independent agent who has the firepower, profile or resources to combat the industry-defining power of the Purplebricks marketing juggernaut. The existing corporate agents, rather than fighting the threat, are jumping on the bandwagon and buying fake-agent businesses. Shame on Savills, once the paragon of first class estate agency service, for buying YOPA. Almost a tacit admission of defeat. Disappointing and spineless (and I say this as someone who has both friends and family who work at Savills).
This is why a group of leading independent agents have joined forces to create an organisation that, with the support of all independents, will have the firepower, resources and teeth to fight back against this destructive marketing which is damaging an already-poor industry reputation further.
CIELA exists solely to promote the collective interests of Independent Estate and Letting Agents by forming a collective voice, correcting public perception and lobbying government on behalf of the group of businesses who make up more than 80% of the industry, and more than 95% of the brands.
Without it, and in the absence of any other organisation representing exclusively independent agents, the industry is powerless to defend itself against the effective marketing by the fake agents.
The powerful and relentless marketing continuously drip feeding from the fake agents is destroying the industry and agents must unite, or face the inevitable further damage to their reputation.