Tesco moves back into online estate agency with isold.com
The reach of the major supermarkets into different aspects of our lives continues to grow apace, particularly when it comes to Tesco. This process has now taken a further step forward, with the UK's largest retailer throwing its hat into the estate agency ring - more specifically, the online estate agency ring.
Tesco and estate agent chain Spicerhaart are going into partnership to form iSold.com. Initially aimed at sellers and buyers in the Bristol area, the service aims to offer a halfway service between a traditional high street estate agent and an online service. Its principal USP adheres to the familiar e-commerce theme of saving its customers time and money in comparison with high street counterparts. "In the last 10 years", the site's promotional pitch states, "a lot of things got easier, simpler and better value. But estate agents certainly haven't...until now".
In fact this is Tesco's second foray into online estate agency. In 2007 the retailer launched Tesco Property Market but quickly came up against industry rules stipulating it had to verify the accuracy of its property descriptions. Faced with having to send someone out to check the thousands of homes on its books it opted instead to sell the business just four months later (to Spicerhaart).
Tesco will advertise the iSold service on its own website and properties for sale on iSold will, it says, be advertised on all major property search engines as well as in local press.
iSold is particularly keen to draw customers' attention to the thousands of pounds in agents' fees they might avoid, offering instead three home selling packages ranging in price from £999 to £1,299. Typical estate agents' fees are between 1% and 2% of the value of the property (equating to about £5,000 on a £250,000 home). All dealings between sellers and buyers will be conducted online or via phone.
As part of its fee iSold provides a negotiator to act as a central point of contact between the seller and potential buyers. Customers opting for the middle-priced package (£1,199) also receive more prominent web postings, video tours of their house plus an 'open house' event to showcase their property. For the 'all bells and whistles' package (£1,299) a member of the iSold team hosts the event.
Additionally, users can log on to their own area of the website, arrange viewings with buyers and email interested parties. Even before the full website is launched - there is currently a pre-launch site available - iSold already has plans to expand to Reading, York, Portsmouth, Southampton, London, Crawley, Kent, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham in the future. This is the kind of confidence born out of a business with Sir Terry Leahy's backing.
Some industry observers see the evolution of businesses such as iSold as a potential watershed for the manner in which properties are traded in this country. Almost no-one in the UK currently uses expert negotiators to help with the sale or acquisition of property, whereas in the US almost 70% do so.
Whether the emergence of innovators such as iSold will shift the British paradigm closer to the American model remains to be seen. But with an increasingly unpredictable and fractured housing market, not to mention the confusion over what is required with Home Information Packs (HIPs), the demand for personally retained expertise in this area stands a good chance of increasing.
Some years ago there were those allegedly in the know who predicted that online fashion would never take off because customers would always want to touch the clothing before buying. Those predictions proved inaccurate as the legion of hugely successful e-fashionistas would attest to. Believe it or not there are some who are claiming that the UK public might prefer to deal with their estate agent face-to-face than dealing with the anonymity of a web-based operation. As unlikely as this may sound, it is not inconceivable that the personal relationship vendors can form with individual agents might armour the traditional high street market against newcomers such as iSold.
But it is equally likely that a proportion of house-sellers would welcome nothing more than to be free of their estate agents clutches. Either way it is a brave soul who bets against a Tesco-backed enterprise.