Opinion column: Malcolm Cannon
Solicitor estate agents should use their local property centre websites rather than other marketing portals
Over 40 years ago Scottish solicitors got together in a collegiate manner to share a marketing service (in those days shared showrooms) in order to sell their clients’ properties faster and in a more efficient manner. So was born the Solicitors’ Property Centre (SPC), a model which evolved perfectly through the addition of newspapers, websites and mobile phone platforms as time and technology marched on.
That model continues to work extremely well and is the envy of many organisations and professions. Where the SPC proposition has been supported by local firms and where the brand strength has been built upon, solicitor estate agents (SEAs) command upwards of 90% of the residential property market.
What’s more, the SPCs help maintain and protect the Scottish tradition of selling houses through a trusted and regulated solicitor firm as a one-stop shop to do the marketing as well as the conveyancing.
Why then is the profession in a portals arms race to win instructions while this adds little real value to marketing the property?
The likes of Zoopla, Rightmove and s1homes offer healthy competition, certainly, but strip away the shiny packaging and they offer a lot less than an SPC. They can be more expensive for the solicitor, push their own conveyancing lawyers, and some recommend and offer a service which cuts out the selling agent altogether.
I do not believe that any solicitor estate agent wants a future dominated by these players, stealing their core business from under their nose.
In Scotland, with its well-established SPCs and where eight out of 10 property buyers buy locally, the new portals are also, arguably, unnecessary. But if allowed to grow and therefore undermine the existing solicitor-led marketing channels, the market will also open up to the better funded non-solicitor estate agent rivals.
This, therefore, is a time to play to our strengths – not marginalise them. It is a time to support and build on what has proved to be the most powerful weapon in the solicitor estate agent’s armoury over many years, by staying relevant, dynamic and ahead of the game. It is not a time to sideline it.
A survey of almost 650 consumers across east central Scotland showed that Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre holds market dominance, with brand awareness of 95%, up from 81% in 2011. It remains the principal portal of choice for both homeowners and first time buyers (FTBs), with 81% of homeowners and 72% of FTBs saying they would consult ESPC in their search. And for those planning to sell, espc.com is the first preferred property portal for nine times more house hunters than the nearest rival.
It is often argued that the decision to use the new property portals is “client driven”. Yet, we know that non-solicitor estate agents win instructions from clients who say they need to be on the SPC.
Therefore, we must learn to shout about what we have and sell this to our clients. For example, on average a property on espc.com will be viewed over 500 times in the first week it goes online; the website has more than 650,000 visits each month and, each year, ESPC helps to sell around £1bn worth of residential property in the capital alone.
Another challenge is the perceived need for national exposure. SPC Scotland, the umbrella organisation which aims to co-ordinate the activities of all SPCs in Scotland, has recently launched its own portal (spcscotland.co.uk) which lists (for free) over 15,500 properties for sale in Scotland, all being sold by solicitor firms.
Solicitor firms have at their disposal an exclusive, much coveted and highly trusted system through which to sell their clients’ properties. Independent research shows that an SPC is where the public look first and that properties on SPCs receive many more hits than on their competitors. The SPC has been designed and built not as a listed company looking to return value to shareholders, but as a business to promote the solicitor estate agency proposition and plough profits back into that cause.
Competing against other solicitor firms by subscribing to and offering more and more portals is not an advisable long-term strategy. Better to fight from a position of strength and build on the advantages we already have. Future generations of property solicitors will thank us.
Malcolm Cannon is CEO of Edinburgh Solicitors' Property Centre and chairperson of the Scottish Solicitors' Property Centres