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Mead on property: How the net sucked the soul out of home buying

by Deleted Subscriber Content
7th Feb 12 8:26 am

Does the internet serve buyers well? And has it pushed down standards amongst estate agents?

Without wishing to sound too old fashioned here I’m not entirely sure the advent of the net has necessarily been a good thing for property buyers, and it has certainly lowered the standard of those who sell it.

The web permeates everything we, and certainly our kids, do, but anything you buy with your emotions is not well suited to its use. Yes, you can research buying a new car, coz you know the spec and can track down the cheapest. But the moment you try and track down a second hand one the idea it’s a bargain suddenly leaves you horribly vulnerable to human [emotional] error.

Property is bought, for most of us, entirely on emotions, so where does using the web leave us?

Let’s look at how buying a property has changed over the last thirty years.

Back in the 80s if you wanted to buy a property you’d obviously have had some rough idea of what you wanted to spend, and where you wanted to be but otherwise were clueless as decent photos and floorplans were still a decade away.

If you were sensible you’d call three or four estate agents and work out who you thought was making sense. The agent would suggest you came in and had a look around, maybe take a couple of hours out one afternoon to see a few things.

Once you’re out in a car the agent would hopefully start to get a pretty good idea of what you actually need, not what you think you want, and adapt the search accordingly.

This process usually meant you’d ended up buying something completely different from what you originally wanted, and it was usually the human being in the process and their local knowledge that enabled you to find what you really needed.

For modern man the usual modus operandi for looking for a property, is to register with the main websites. And in doing so, visualize more or less exactly what it is they want. This often narrows their search to a blinkered degree that precludes them seeing any leftfield, and sometimes better, alternatives.

More often than not the idea of actually getting out and physically seeing a property is anathema. This leaves us with alerts, direct to the inbox, opened at lunchtime for a twenty second perusal, as the usual way.

Estate agents become simple keyholders insofar as when webman actually calls he has a list of properties he wants to see. The human interaction is therefore lacking, relying instead on a one dimensional exercise, lacking the rich diversity that exists in body language and voice.

Any request by an eager agent to open up the purse strings or suggestion that an upcoming family might require a bigger property rather than what’s ostensibly being looked for, becomes far too much for your average buyer to contemplate…because it means starting a whole new search online.

So it’s no wonder that modern estate agents often lack the intuition required to deftly direct a buyer in the right direction.

Moreover those who are looking for property have come to rely on the internet rather than those [often real] experts who actually know their market intimately and could genuinely help them find what they’re looking for.

As for buyers, obsessive poring over online property might mean they’re better informed, but as is often the case, a little knowledge is not always a good thing.

Ed Mead has been an estate agent in Chelsea for over 30 years. He sits on the Board of the Property Ombudsman and has written about property for the Sunday Times and the Telegraph. He’s never afraid to say what he thinks and is a tireless campaigner for higher standards in estate agency.

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