Purplebricks saga [UPDATE]: slugging it out with the traditionals

Some good indications on the PB platform for lettings which, in summary, is that it really does make a tedious process easier BUT it’s not clear who is getting in the best potential tenants which is all that really matters. PB needs

PB needs to intensify LLE coverage before I’ll believe they’ve nailed it – they’re clearly not experienced enough in my area. My experience of the PB platform is that it’s good but not perfect as you’ll get from this update.

So the for the first PB open day, I could see through the app that two couples were scheduled. On time, the LLE knocked on the door but said both had cancelled. He gave reassurances that they’ll work hard for the next open day and signed off with that great letting agent promise “Don’t worry, we’ll get this place rented at your asking price with no voids”. He did advise that a viewer might actually turn up as cancellations can be the result of confusion. I was disappointed at that warning – I understand that the PB platform is trying to herd a huge number of cats (and capricious viewers) but if the LLE warned me of confusion on the first open day, it must be a regular thing. I hoped the PB platform had nailed the mundane organisation but it doesn’t seem like a completely solved problem yet. It is, however, much better than the traditional service I’m getting which is exposed as painfully manual, archaic and expensive (because labour is expensive). I’ll tell you more about that in a moment. With PB I like that the platform keeps me up-to-date and I can know about the viewers beforehand if I want (eg name, job, whether smokers, if they have pets) and I can message them through the PB platform so I can contact them directly. That’s a huge difference to the traditionals where I literally have no information (have not even seen) the viewers they’ve shown around. I like the PB platform.

Back at the (cancelled) open day, the LLE left and a couple did indeed turn up as per his warning. They didn’t know why PB thought they had cancelled – perhaps they were just uncontactable – so I showed them around. They left and the LLE returned in a rush to see if he could catch them – which is the right effort at least. Later, the LLE contacted me to say they loved the house and were discussing how much above asking they wanted to bid. Curious considering the viewer told me it stretched their budget and to date no bids have been received.

In another twist, the PB platform has repeatedly emailed to say it is asking the viewer why they didn’t turn up. Fine, except it’s asking the viewer who did turn up and not the one who didn’t so it seems like one viewer has been lost from the system and the other is stuck in that kafka/catch 22 hell of not being able to continue with the process as ‘the system’ thinks they didn’t turn up. I mentioned it to the LLE and the emails stopped but I’ve heard no more from the viewer.

For the next open day – a mid-week evening – another couple booked to view and the LLE arrived on time and it went smoothly. For the next, the LLE arrived on time but the viewer cancelled and rearranged with him at that time. Fair enough, the process continues smooth enough. I’d like PB to get more people through the door.

To the traditionals. Foxtons didn’t turn up to collect the keys as arranged, didn’t call about a viewing then called to ask why they couldn’t get in. They do call me frequently to ask how I am and seem not to want to text me despite my repeated requests. They have left some strange and unprofessional messages eg “today’s viewing is cancelled for a really, really weird reason. I’ve never heard anything like it”. That reason was never told to me and obviously I’d have preferred a simple ‘viewing cancelled’ (by text, preferably). It’s typically unprofessional but harmless enough behaviour most of us expect from agents. Foxtons has since got its act together and shown four viewers around – crucially that’s more than PB’s two so far. I have spoken to at least 4 different agents from Foxtons and it’s often someone new who calls so there’s no getting comfortable with one agent. Orchards (who I’ve also appointed) also didn’t turn up to collect keys but they have since and showed one viewer around.

Fun and games. No serious offers yet which of course is the bottom line. The PB process is nicer than the traditional even if there’s room for improvement and given it is nicer, the lower price is really compelling. With the traditionals I feel I am paying more for a less pleasant, more inconvenient service (and weird messages). I say paying more but that’s obviously only if they actually find the tenant. Agents clearly have trouble organising themselves and their impulsive clients. The power (and value) of the PB platform is in organising that sort of information systematically and reliably and it’s on to a good thing but as is hopefully clear, it will be winner takes all and it’s unclear who is going to get the successful tenant in. Let’s see.

Unless something interesting happens or I have more pointers on the PB platform I’ll next update you when a tenant has been reeled in – the viewings are fine but a grind to get through. Incidentally, right now I’m organising movers which is also either a touch expensive (about £2,600) or inconvenient for the family (I estimate £600 if I hire and drive the truck myself and unpack. The £600 get me the truck, packing materials and two insured packers). Michael Bruce has told me he’ll look to add moving to the PB service at some point and I suspect I’d take him up on that if it were available today. There’s simply a lot to do moving a family and I’ll pay to help with it. So more potential revenue for PB once it has settled its core businesses and intensified its LLE/LPE coverage. I have some thoughts on that which I’ll share next week as good indicators of the direction of PB’s value.

There have been a few other developments in the space – including growing attempts to reverse Osbourne’s 2nd home SDLT increases – but nothing looking imminent.

So have a great weekend (and be pleased you’re not moving!)

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