The estate agent is often castigated as being the low life skimming money from the top of people's property sales. But in the current property market, it is our sympathy rather than our hatred that should be levelled towards the estate agent. Times are certainly becoming hard; it is estimated that 150 branches are closing a week and that by next year, 4,000 agencies will have gone down the pan. Similarities between the estate agent and the pub landlord have been drawn as both seem to be facing their hardest times ever.
While some may be jubilant at this news of the fall of the estate agent, it would be a foolish response. Many of us selling property have used an estate agent to our advantage; using their considerable talents to up the price we receive or reduce the price we pay. The service they provide, rather than harming the property market, in fact helps to grease the cogs in what is a complicated process at the best of times. Their existence is only secured by our greed; unfortunately for the estate agent this greed has pushed even them out of the market. As people want to sell privately and keep the profits from their house sale, the agent is slowly being pushed out of the process.
It is worth remembering that the fortunes of the estate agent act as a microcosm of society in general. If your average estate agent is not doing too well, it is usually the case that the man on the street will eventually suffer and find himself in the same position. While the agent is not completely blameless in his own downfall, there are a fair share of unscrupulous operators in the industry that have accelerated the process. One of the major complaints is that agents do not communicate effectively to sellers; the delivery of bad news is also an area of concern.
As property prices fall and fewer sellers enter the market it is understandable that someone has to be blamed. Unfortunately for the estate agent, the blame is being focussed their way, although not exclusively, no doubt property commentators and the large number of property shows on television will also be dragged into the quagmire of responsibility. In addition, the buy-to-let landlord may also find themselves involved in the blaming process, especially in terms of pricing first time buyers out of the market. The agent will be the major scapegoat though, being blamed for driving up prices. This can be seen as unfair however, there are still good agents out there, unfortunately the tar brush will reach them all, moral or not.
But what are the reasons of the downturn and closing of agencies? One of the major reasons is the increased use of private sales, helped along by the internet that has created an evermore popular option for sellers. With facilities such as online property valuations and huge lists of properties all contained on sites, it is understandable that more people will choose to negate the need for an estate agent. But will this trend continue or is it simply a symptom of the current property market problems?
Seemingly the agent will once again experience resurgence; when times are bad the public and media always need to find a scapegoat. The current trend may even improve agency services through a 'survival of the fittest' process, leaving only the best agents still operating. This is however conjecture, as the high street agent continues to struggle it is likely that the independents will suffer and the larger companies will be able to consolidate and weather the storm. We may see a complete homogenisation of the property selling process, or it may go the other way leading to increased diversity. Only time will tell on the fate of the estate agent.
Property expert Thomas Pretty looks at the dwindling fortunes of the estate agent and the media's need to find a scapegoat for market problems.