Is flexibility the future of estate agency?

The events of the last 12 months have potentially shaped the future of our sector for years to come.

There has been a lot of disruption in that time and understandably, there have been real challenges for estate agents and letting businesses right across the UK.

One of those challenges (even with government support) has been retaining jobs as revenue took a significant hit – especially when the housing market was closed.

There is so much talent in the industry but due to the pandemic, it has been estimated some 28% of those working in estate agencies were furloughed, with a number of established firms announcing the start of redundancy consultations during the last six months.

While this isn’t good news and is worrying for all those affected, the impact of the last 12 months on the industry has helped us to realise opportunities for now and in the future – which can support some of those affected. Here’s why flexibility is going to be key…

Choice and freedom

At Century 21 UK, we spotted an opportunity to ensure the market can retain the knowledge and skill of as many of those affected by redundancies as possible and we wanted to give them a viable option and pathway back into the industry.

So in December last year, we launched three new franchise models. Our three new models, Century 21 Flex, Solo and Max, give property agents and entrepreneurs the choice and freedom to run their own agency how they wish to.

Whether it’s operating an estate agency from the comfort of their own home, running a traditional high-street branch or a mix of both – the choice is completely up to them.

The new models have been designed to reflect changes in both how agents want to run their businesses and how people choose to buy and rent properties.

With the impact of the pandemic on our lifestyles, many property professionals have realised that they can do most of, if not all, the responsibilities from their own home, eliminating the costs of running a high street branch.

We also know that Covid-19 has changed how many people make purchases, if not through choice but through necessity – with more and more consumers shopping online.

Whether that’s their weekly shop, a new outfit or even their next home, habits have accelerated by at least a few years as people want a more straightforward experience.

So, you can understand why some property professionals see the future of estate agency as being online.

Not the end of the high street branch

Saying that, we don’t believe this is the end of the high street estate agency at all, even if the high street’s struggles have been well documented.

However, we do expect to see a real mix going forward of agents who run their business from home solely online and agents who continue to be successful with high footfall branches.

This is proven by the fact we have had a number of sign ups which are set to be announced for both our Flex and Max models.

The market in particular areas, and the agent’s work philosophy, may dictate how they wish to set-up their business. We have a franchisee in Birmingham who is soon to open a new high street branch – something which will probably surprise agents in other areas of the country.

That’s why we felt it was important to have models that truly reflect the evolving market and cater to the structure and personality each business owner wants.

We have even had a lot of interest from entrepreneurs who don’t necessarily have a property background, but have local knowledge and experience of running successful businesses.

Customers want their agents to be able to demonstrate their understanding of the area they are buying or renting in, market conditions and their needs – all part of that personal experience.

In Preston, one of our latest sign-ups to our Flex model, Sandeep Shukla, was a convenience store and Post Office owner for 13 years. He spotted a gap in the market in the area and with his knowledge of the location, he saw it as a perfect fit for his skills.

The future is flexible

Flexibility is going to be key for the market moving forwards, which is why we believe the franchise model will grow in popularity among agents who desire the support to set up an agency that reflects their priorities and workstyle.

Large estate agents who have one rigid structure that is rolled out across the nation – will likely find they need to rethink their strategy.

The impact of the pandemic and remote working has meant British people are placing more emphasis on wellbeing and work/life balance to ensure that they not only perform as best they can for their business, but are also happy outside of work. It’s these kinds of priorities that will have a big impact on how estate agency businesses are run, and I think we will see a more diverse, more experience-focused market in the years to come.

Special feature article with Estate Agent Today