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FNB recently launched its own online property portal called Property Leader, complete with deeds office information on suburbs, as well as valuation services and advice on buying and selling. While online portals such as Private Property have been around for some time, does the sector stand to lose or benefit from these new entrants? Far from viewing such online services as a threat, SA’s real estate leaders see them as complementing the role of the traditional agent.

Educating potential buyers and sellers

Andrew Golding, CEO: Pam Golding Properties, says that since the advent of internet property portals a number of new products have come to market that serve to educate and inform potential purchasers. “It seems that FNB’s Property Leader is a further example of this,” he says. “This trend of providing information is in line with global trends that have been around for a number of years now and which serve to further educate potential buyers in an online environment.


“However, despite the potential for disintermediation, the fact is that property purchases are still the biggest single investment most homeowners make in their lives. Very often these purchases have a strong emotional component to them, and while information is valuable and saves time, the role of the estate agent worldwide continues to add value to individual property transactions by providing, amongst other things, local expertise, knowledge, experience and negotiating skills.”


Technology has certainly improved the knowledge of everyone involved in the property transaction process — homebuyers, sellers and estate agents — and has made more price data and market trend information readily available to buyers and sellers.


Berry Everitt, MD: Chas Everitt International Property Group, says that this transparency is good for agents because it is always easier to deal with well-informed clients. “At the same time, however, property buyers and sellers still need agents to represent them and handle the negotiations between them. Property transactions often involve strong emotions and, perhaps, some legal complications, so it’s important that someone who is properly trained and experienced is involved, who can see past these and conclude a deal that is fair to both parties.”


Part of achieving this ideal lies in education, reading up and learning as much as possible about buying and selling property before taking the plunge. “An informed buyer or seller ultimately makes better choices,” says Lew Geffen, chairman: Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty. “They know the potential costs involved and they’re also better able to identify value when they see it. And the internet is obviously a very good place to do that sort of research. In an ideal world, every buyer and seller would approach a transaction with a thorough knowledge of the process, the market conditions and the area in which they’re transacting.”


New property industry paradigm

So how, then, are estate agencies providing value in this information-rich age? And what are they doing to hold the competitive edge? Seeff’s national marketing manager, Ted Frazer, says it’s entirely up to the professionals to provide value, as consumers have an increasing number of tools available to them. “In our industry, this means that agents need to up their game and ensure that they are suitably qualified to provide a professional service that adds real value,” he says. “This can only be a good thing, as it will see the overall standards across the industry improving as the bar is raised. Weaker and poorly trained agents will struggle to maintain their position in this new paradigm, which will see the industry becoming increasingly professionalised.”


It would seem that increased functionality in an online environment that brings buyers and sellers closer than ever before to their banks does not threaten the role of the estate agent. Perhaps it just takes us closer to an age in which informed sellers and informed buyers meet with professional estate agents to conclude the best possible deal for all involved – the nirvana of the property industry!

Words: David A Steynberg
Images: FNB

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