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Comment: Are we heading towards our own ‘commisery’ moment?

Direct product transfers demonstrate how easy it can be to cut the broker out of the picture. This cannot be ignored

Estate agents should have seen it coming: charging their customers thousands of pounds for one transaction, even when a buyer was found immediately, and then either proving to be hard to contact during the process or passing the blame for delays on to others.

And that is just for the sellers. Any buyers out there have my sympathies. As in snakes and ladders, no sooner do you think you are at the top of the pecking order and have achieved the target price set by the agent, then out of nowhere someone comes in and you have to start negotiations again.

You may think I am being unduly harsh and critical of estate agents, especially as I worked for the largest for more than eight years. However, my point is that these are the views of a large majority of people and it is no surprise that estate agents are regularly rated highly in the top 10 most-hated professions.

Is it any wonder that the inability of the estate agent sector to convince the public of the value of the service they provide spawned the ‘commisery’ term on the launch of Purplebricks?

After working with many talented individuals within estate agency and witnessing first-hand the value and service a good agent can provide, I know this version of the truth is extremely misleading – but is it the fault of the advertising agency/ Purplebricks, or the traditional estate agent? I strongly feel it is the latter.

Why did it take an online estate agency start-up to shake up an industry and change the perception of selling a residential property forever? In my view, it comes down to complacency and taking the customer for granted.

Does anything I have mentioned so far remind you of a not-totally-unrelated sector?

Before I start receiving messages on Twitter from irate peers, I am not saying that thousands of fellow professionals (and they are, as, unlike estate agency, you do have to qualify and take exams) are universally hated by the general public. What I am saying is that I am not sure our customers always fully appreciate and understand the value of the service we provide.

For those in need of specialist finance, or who sit outside the norm in terms of employment, I am confident that the value of seeking advice is clear. Especially as many will have been turned away by their own bank/building society before they sought a broker’s help.

For those people who already have a mortgage and are not looking to move, but wish to refinance or seek a new deal, do they also value advice? We have already seen in the rise in product transfers that the ability to cut the mortgage broker out of the process is easy, and one wonders if those who have executed a transfer directly will ever use a broker again.

With a shrinking UK mortgage market, the retention of mortgage customers by both lenders and brokers will be a fiercely fought contest, although I am pleased to see some lenders working with the intermediary sector to ensure they stay part of the process.

However, it is up to the broker to maintain a relationship with the borrower. It is not the lender’s fault that the customer forgot to mention in the online product transfer the broker they used two years ago.

None of what I have said remotely raises the threat of a ‘commisery’ type of marketing campaign, so what is the point of all this?

In recent months, we have seen price comparison website aggregators appoint senior and experienced mortgage people because they have not cracked the problem of selling or providing mortgage information in the same way they have with insurance, travel money and other commoditised finance products.

These companies have customer reach and advertising budgets to put Purplebricks to shame. Now is not the time to put our heads in the sand. You have worked hard to get your customers, and you will have to work as hard again to keep them. Our world is about to change.

Paul Hunt is the owner of Paul Hunt Marketing


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