Agency chain Countrywide plans to rival Purplebricks with expanded hybrid option

Britain’s biggest estate agency group, Countrywide, has announced plans to expand its trial of a hybrid estate agency offering which competes directly with online sector leader Purplebricks.

CountrywideIn its half-year City report on its plans for the rest of 2016, Countrywide said the hybrid option involves mixing the services offered by online estate agents with traditional ones in a “multi-channel proposition.”

All property sellers will have a standard, personal appraisal with a Countrywide estate agent, but then the vendor can choose to either pay the usual commission for traditional sales services on a no sale, no fee basis, or a one-off fee of £795 inc. VAT for the sale to be handled solely by the online estate agents, with the bonus that they can upgrade to the traditional service afterwards if so desired.

Alison Platt, Countrywide’s chief executive, explained that the areas chosen for the hybrid estate agent deployment would primarily be by agency brand, to avoid having only some of the branches within a region able to make the online offer. However the target markets chosen are also in those areas where there is an existing hybrid estate agent at present, or online estate agents in operation. The roll-out is set to affect a quarter of Countrywide branches.

Earlier in the year, Countrywide selected three agency brands to pilot the scheme: Spencers, which has 11 offices in Leicestershire and Rutland; Austin & Wyatt, which has 24 offices in Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire, and Frank Innes which has 19 offices spread across the East Midlands. This combination of services offered by the traditional bricks and mortar agencies and online estate agents proved successful enough to prompt the larger roll-out, though Platt warned that the scheme was still in its “early days” as yet and wished not to make “any premature promises” about volumes.

However, when the pilot was run for just Spencers, Austin & Wyatt and Frank Innes, it passed all the top-level tests set by the Countrywide management group, which looked at whether the scheme would produce more market appraisals, whether the conversion to instructions rate would be improved and if income was increased by combining commission and fixed price fees.

The clear industry leader in the online estate agency sector is Purplebricks, which floated on the London Stock Exchange in December 2015, less than two years after launching.

Online estate agents to follow Purplebricks in branding themselves as ‘hybrids’ – meaning they have local property agents as well as centralised offices – include YOPA and Hatched.