Online lettings as told by a former owner of a high-street agent

online lettings’s General Manager Jane Hill joins us this week to discuss how after over 20 years as a high-street stickler – she found herself venturing into the world of online lettings.

Letting like it’s 1999 

When I began my career in the property industry, we took outside shots on an old Nikon, extracted the film reel, and sent it off to Quickipics for processing. Approximately, five days later (if you were lucky) a dozen slightly blurry snaps would come back, out came the Pritt Stick and the pictures were attached to the hand-typed paper details and slipped in the window display. The good ol’ days – or so I thought.

After a few years in a corporate agency, my partner and I decided to start our own lettings company.  

I must admit, this decision may have been influenced by several large gins. But once the seed was planted, it kept growing until we bit the bullet and opened our doors in June 1999. 

It was hard. And terrifying. But after a considerable amount of hard work and dedication, we grew to be one of the largest letting agents in South Warwickshire. After 16 years of terrific business with a fantastic team of 25 – a corporate agent took an interest in us and ended up buying us out. The feeling of achievement was immense, to say the least.

Read more: Online Letting Agents – What Are They And Should I Use One To Let Out My Property?

New kid on the block

When the prop-tech revolution began around 15 years ago, I – like many of the high-street sticklers – did not take them seriously.

I laughed at the thought of these ‘all the gear and no idea’ cowboys being anything more than merely a flash in the pan. 

For us on the high-street, traditional methods were still thriving. Landlords were very happy to stick with what they were used to – perhaps even more so than the agents. “How can you possibly let my property without advertising it in the paper?” they would cry. Or, “If you’re not in The Courier, I will give my property to someone else!” 

Of course, we conceded to our landlord’s demands and continued to spend thousands over the years on newspaper property advertising, despite knowing that it was – quite literally – tomorrow’s fish and chip paper. 

Even with the reluctance of our landlords, this old hand could see the advantages of the birth of property portals like Rightmove and Zoopla. Reaching millions of prospective tenants, lower costs and easy-to-read information at your fingertips: the benefits were obvious – but even then, I’m not sure I was totally convinced.

Read more: Why High-Street Agents Dislike Online Lettings

An unlikely turn of events

Fast forward to 2020 and four years after selling up, I was eager to get back to the workplace. With a new vigour and readiness for a challenge, the hunt for a suitable position for a woman of a certain age with ample experience was well and truly on.

After sixteen years of co-owning a successful high street agency and trying – with varying degrees of success – to keep up with technology, it came as a total shock that I ended up as General Manager of a Prop Tech company. 

Was I a bit scared? Yes. Did my old high-street colleagues think I was a little mad? Also yes.

Naturally, it was hard to shake my cynicism towards online lettings. Even after we’d sold up in 2016, I continued to favour traditional agents over their tech-based counterparts. I thought, there’s no way an online agency could provide the same quality of service offered by the high street.

It didn’t take long for me to find out just how wrong I was. My view of the digital model had been completely warped by age-old competition and a ferocious need to protect high-street territory.

Old dog, new-ish tricks

Online lettings is not the joke I thought it was – by any means. I soon realised that it was possible to give landlords everything they need to let their property online for a lower cost, but without cutting any corners.

Not only that, but I found that everything I valued in my own company – exceptional customer service, forward-thinking management and genuine passion – were top priorities here too.

If someone had told me a year ago that I’d be working for an online letting agent – I would have probably laughed in their face. Now, I’m over 6 months into my role and have a totally different perspective. 

Do I think that ‘traditional’ lettings is dead? Absolutely not. However, I do think it’s time for the high-street to take their online opposition seriously. 

Do I think that online lettings will take over the world? Not quite. Well, not yet anyway…

Next month we’ll be discussing why high-street agencies seem to hate their online opposition. Let us know your thoughts below!

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