The launch, over the weekend, of new Proptech platform ViewRabbit has sparked some interesting discussion in the property trade press and on social media alike. The start-up, launched by a former Savills Residential Surveyor, allows buyers to pay £30 for a ‘priority viewing slot’ – a guaranteed viewing with a named agent that cannot be cancelled.
The Negotiator has picked this story up this week and, earlier today, published comments from the Head of Redress at the Property Redress Scheme that called into question the legality of ViewRabbit’s charges: “Agents…could fall foul of the Tenant Fees Act which prohibits any charges made as part of the lettings process”.
Andrew Stanton, CEO of Proptech-PR and influential industry commentator has long been a champion of the potential for new tech solutions to improve and modernise the industry. His take on this situation, shared today on LinkedIn, is that it can only be a good thing for buyers, vendors and agents alike: “Obviously, The Negotiator is a forum for property professionals to comment on news in the sector, and I would defend every person’s right to do so. But, what is being lost is the voice of the end user – has anyone asked the…public if they feel…the best way to ‘get a viewing’ is to ‘hope’ that an agent will come back to them?” (Original post).
"...has anyone asked the public if they feel the best way to 'get a viewing' is to 'hope' that an agent will come back to them?"
Whatever happens, I think that ViewRabbit have a great solution to a very real problem, and one that sits across both Residential and Commercial property – both lettings and sales. Timewasters and tire-kickers, the property equivalent of retail’s perennial “just browsing” customers are a huge problem for agents. In a buoyant market, meanwhile, with enquiries coming in quick and fast, agents have to make snap judgements about which prospective tenants are more-or-less likely to see a transaction through to the end.
The quality of the initial enquiry received by agents through portals like RightMove and Zoopla is often frustratingly poor, with “I am shop”-type enquiries being all-too-common. But why are there so many enquiries of this type? And how can agents deal with them and increase the quality of enquiries that they receive?
Tenants Use a Scatter-Gun Approach
When conducting their property search, most commercial occupiers use a scattergun approach to finding their perfect space. The “spray and pray” mentality pervades because so many properties on listing sites are out-of-date and no longer available. I spoke with one commercial occupier in the retail space who said “it’s really hard – by the time you’ve enquired on Zoopla, the property’s probably already under offer or let, and so I usually spend an hour or so just submitting loads of forms until I find [and agent] who gets back to me”.
We conducted a survey and 78% of occupiers said they submitted multiple enquiries on platforms like Zoopla, even if they thought the space wouldn’t be particularly relevant for them.
Tenants Aren’t Always Sure What They Need
In general, occupiers are terrible at self-selecting for space. This is particularly true of those occupiers who are less experienced in the world of commercial property. And so, rather than be hyper-targeted with their search, they do the opposite – they then go silent or ghost agents, wasting everyone’s time when they realise the property is not for them.
Even When They’re Keen, It’s Difficult To Get The Information You Need
Often, even when a tenant shows an initial enthusiasm and engages well it can be difficult to get full, technical information out of them. Some of the Commercial Surveyors we spoke to said it can take weeks to get information from tenants, and that it comes in in drips and drabs. The reasons for this are manifold: occupiers are busy; they often don’t know how to answer questions; and there’s no easy way to submit the information – it’s requested usually over multiple emails / email chains.
To summarise these problems, there’s an issue with tenants’ level of knowledge and with the way that information is submitted and stored. These issues exist across the industry and are true of every use class. They’re ingrained into the expectations of tenants and agents alike and the industry has adapted to accommodate the problems, rather than solve them.
One outcome of this industry-wide response is that agents end up favouring either corporate occupiers or those who are represented by acquisition agents. This is entirely understandable, but no longer sustainable – landlords are increasingly expecting agents to bring in strong, independent brands to their properties.
And so agents need to find innovative, new ways to adapt their working practises to cope with these issues. Many agencies are already adopting new technologies that help them provide excellent service to occupiers and applicants, but many are struggling with the pace of change required and expected.
We’ve built Qualifyr to help agents build a central source of truth for occupier requirements. Our industry-leading software connects to agents’ marketing channels and centralises all the enquiries they receive. We’ve built a screening form, specifically designed for Commercial Real Estate, that turns those basic enquiries into detailed property requirements with an incredible completion rate – over 70%!
We also connect agents to our unique database of occupier requirements from across the market, with over 1,500 requirements gathered from acquisition agents and direct from tenants. It’s an amazing system that will save every agent more than 20 hours each week by automating the processes that are usually enormous time sinks.