Veteran firm Jackson-Stops – which this month dropped the ‘& Staff’ from its name – is expected to announce an online strategy in the New Year.
The business, with 45 offices, is also undergoing a strategic review.
Chairman Nick Leeming told EYE: “It is a challenge for the industry as to how far agents position themselves between the extremes of an automated offering and a full service.
“We need to look at what the next generation want – and they are the self-serve generation. They want to do everything online – they don’t even want to ring people up to arrange a valuation.
“At Jackson-Stops, we are in the middle of making fairly radical changes which will make our services more accessible to this self-serve generation.”
Leeming, the internet pioneer who launched Propertyfinder in 1995 and remained with it until well after its sale to Zoopla, said Jackson-Stops is also looking at other aspects of its business.
He said: “We are looking where our options are for growth – whether that is in sales, lettings, new homes or something else. However, you should never grow for growth’s sake.”
Leeming said that he expects the housing market to remain slow, as has been the case for the last two years.
“That said, our July figures were up on every measure on July last year. New applicants were up, as were new instructions and viewings. Mostly importantly, our SSTC figures were at their highest since March 2016.
“That was a bumper month just before the Stamp Duty changes, but July was only just behind it.
“However, I would never look at just one month’s figures as a marker for the future.
“It has been tough for the last two years because of the referendum and the general election. In London, because of Stamp Duty, the market has been very difficult on prices above £1.5m.
“Next year, we will still have the uncertainty of the Brexit negotiations, so I can’t really see anything changing. I think next year will be the same as this, and that we may have to accept that the new normal is a market of low transactions.”
Leeming also said that because over-pricing is so rife, it is difficult for sellers to know what advice they should take.
He said that agents who over-price to win the instruction usually lose out: “Statistically, as Rightmove has said, 70% of properties are sold by the second agent.”
He said that he himself can illustrate the problem, as an executor of a house, where there are several beneficiaries involved.
Leeming said: “The house is outside any area where there is a Jackson-Stops agent, so there was never any question of being able to instruct them.
“Instead, I did what every good seller does, and asked three agents along to value the property.
“The first quoted £875,000, the second £825,000 and the third £650,000.
“With such an unforgiveably wide range of valuations, I called in a fourth agent, who gave a guide price in the mid to high £700,000s.
“If I were an ordinary vendor, selling for myself, I would probably have gone with this valuation. But because of my duties to the number of beneficiaries, I went with a higher one. The house has still not sold.”
Leeming has taken on a number of non-executive director positions since leaving Zoopla. He is a director at Belvoir, launched by Mike Goddard in the same year Propertyfinder began, and of Scottish firm Lettingweb.
He is immensely proud of both firms, saying that Belvoir has made some shrewd acquisitions. He remains also a fan of Zoopla, paying tribute to founder Alex Chesterman: “He has stayed true to his roots. He always wanted to provide the broadest possible service to the public and to agents, and he has. He is always switched on to the business – I’d find emails coming from him between 10pm and 3am, not that I always answered at that hour.”
One possible source of contention between Jackson-Stops and Leeming could have been over their portal allegiances: the Jackson-Stops offices are all with OnTheMarket. However, Leeming says he has never expressed an opinion one way or another in terms of his chairman role.
Leeming also told EYE he has been investing in a portfolio of new proptech start-ups. He himself is a veteran – and one of the most highly respected figures in the industry – but he does not begin to look like the retiring sort, rather the entrepreneur still keen on new ideas.