If you ask someone to name an ‘online estate agent’ there’s a fair chance they will say something like “oh, you mean like Purplebricks?” And they would be right – sort of. But strictly speaking Purplebricks isn’t an online estate agent – it actually calls itself a hybrid agent. A hybrid agent shares features of both online-only agencies and traditional high street agents, claiming to offer property sellers the best of both worlds.
Purplebricks is an online estate agent in the sense that it doesn’t have any physical branch offices in the high street (at the time of writing at least), preferring to run from a centralised office in the Midlands where it handles enquiries and also powers a sophisticated website that can partially automate much of the property selling process such as setting up viewings and forwarding offers to sellers. Also, like most online estate agents Purplebricks charges a fixed fee to sell, rather than a commission.
What makes Purplebricks like a traditional high street estate agent is its army of more than 200 Local Property Experts (LPEs). The LPEs are the company’s boots on the ground and can meet the seller, and potential buyers, face to face, assist with valuations, conduct viewings and advise on negotiations. How local are they really? This depends on where you are in the country as some LPEs have smaller areas to cover than others, and as such are more likely to have better local property knowledge.
What about alternatives to Purplebricks?
Purplebricks may not have technically been the first to offer a hybrid estate agency service – others including House Network and Hatched claim to have been delivering local expertise first – but undeniably they are the agency that have really proven the model works.
As with any industry, once a successful concept has been established, others will seek to emulate it and to compete on price and service, and one agency that is growing especially quickly doing just that is YOPA.
Co-founded by the son and grandson of one of the Barclay Brothers, owners of the Daily Telegraph, YOPA has grown in the space of under two years to having today more than 900 properties for sale on its books. Just like Purplebricks YOPA has a network of local estate agents, albeit far smaller in numbers at present, but with a recent investment of around £16 million in part from major agency chain Savills, YOPA is on course to be a serious competitor to Purplebricks in the coming months as the fixed fee agency industry grows.