Tech companies are often perceived as outsiders trying to solve problems that don’t exist within an industry they’ve never worked in. At Hystreet, we’ve always been proud of the fact that several of us in the Hystreet team have been estate agents or worked in estate agency (myself included!) at some point in our careers. As a company, this has helped us shape the choices we’ve made so far. This, combined with the research we undertake to find out what estate agents want next and the live user testing we carry out for upcoming features, has always given us a great perspective to ensure that the products we’re building will be important to your business and valued by the people using it. Very early on in the development of what later became known as Hystreet, we ran our own hybrid estate agency from our office just south of Birmingham, covering the whole of Worcestershire, and parts of Birmingham and the Black Country. We figured that the best way to find out what our system needed to do was to use it ourselves, and we ran an entire business from a very, very early version of the system for an entire year. As with any small start-up, this was an incredibly stressful time for everyone on the team, but we learned a lot! As part of our customer success programme, we use what we found to help our customers achieve success, with information we learned in the real world…
Who uses online agents?
One thing that came as a huge surprise to us what the kind of person who used our agency. Like many online-focused agents, our upfront fee and 24/7 portal was our main selling point. Because of this, we expected most of our customers to be tech-savvy younger people with busy, frantic lives who were able to manage their sale at any time of day or night, but much to our surprise, our demographic wasn’t much different than a high street branch. In fact, we found the service was seemingly even more popular amongst older people! They loved the fact that they could submit documents, ID checks, and review their offers from their own home, without having to travel into town to visit an estate agent office – in fact, properties in retirement developments, park homes, and bungalows were amongst our most popular types of properties! Of course, we still sold a wide range of other properties, from being instructed by a developer selling multiple new-build properties, to trendy city-centre apartments. There wasn’t just ‘one type’ of person that used an online or hybrid agent – after all, people have all sorts of reasons for wanting a more convenient service.
How do people find out about online agents?
To find out which methods of generating leads would work best for our future customers, we dedicated a large budget and a considerable amount of time to trying a wide variety of marketing ideas, including online ads, newspapers, radio ads, canvassing letters, videos and radio ads. At one point we even considered an inflatable blimp! Although, that never got off the ground… With a large focus on ROI and seeing what worked amongst different demographics and areas (i.e. rural, suburban, urban) one kind of method always came out on top – traditional, old-school estate agent marketing. The stuff you probably already do. Door-to-door marketing with canvassing leaflets, sold-on-your-street letters, and small brochures/booklets through doors, gave us, hands-down, the best return on our investment. We spent many weeks trying to optimise and refine all our online advertising and still, the traditional methods came out on top. It just goes to show, you may be offering a cutting-edge service, but for the most part, people still preferred the old ways.
Do people still trust agents that offer an online service?
Let’s not beat around the bush – it’s no secret that as estate agents (even with high street offices!) have all had to work hard to be trusted by their local customers, because despite the hard work many agents put in, a lot of the wider public still see us as outdated stereotypes. When only offering an online or hybrid service, we found that we had to take this an extra step forward, and really bring the people involved with the estate agency to the front of our marketing. This is still reflected in several stages in Hystreet, such as right at the start of the ‘Book a valuation’ process, when we introduce the valuing agent to the user with a photo and biography. When we featured names and photos of our agents in the forefront of our marketing, e.g. on newspaper ads, leaflets, personally signing off letters, etc. We found that people were much more likely to get in touch. After all, people buy from people. If you already have a local high street agency office, you’re already ahead of a lot of agents, but it’s still good to feature the people behind the online service.
So, in summary we learned that fundamentally, running and working in a hybrid, not-on-the-high-street estate agency wasn’t entirely different than a traditional high street operation. We still had to look after our customers, deal with any issues personally and promptly, and make sure the quality of service was always the absolute best we could be. Sure, some things were different, such as not having to sit in a public-facing office and be aware of walking in, but for the most part, the experiences were the same, and we realised one thing – no matter if you’re online, hybrid, or a traditional agent, there’s still always one thing that matters the most to customers – having the knowledge of a genuine, reliable, local expert they know they can call on. When an agent uses Hystreet, you’re making sure you’re giving customers that option, whilst still providing a more convenient service.