According to the latest Real Estate Business straw poll, 72.9 per cent (350) of 480 respondents said they do not think real estate offices will always require a shopfront to be successful, while 27.1 per cent (130) of respondents said they remain important.
Speaking to Real Estate Business, Century 21 chairman Charles Tarbey said he strongly disagreed with the findings, adding that he hoped the 72.9 per cent of respondents "hurry up and move upstairs, so Century 21 can stay down in the office and control the market."
"If so many agents are suggesting an office shopfront is not important to the success of the agency, than why are there so many shopfronts and franchisees emerging?"
"The reason is 90 per cent of home buyers still rely on agency shopfront and window displays as a point of contact, and the majority of sellers expect to see thier property in an agency window display."
Shane Evans, principal of Finesse Property, which operates solely online, said he was not surprised by the findings, given the lack of sales generated from office shopfront window displays.
“In my five years operating with a shopfront I cannot remember my last sale generated from a window enquiry, but I certainly remember with distinction the high number from one-on-one inspections sourced from the internet,” Mr Evans told Real Estate Business.
While Mr Evans does acknowledge, however, that there are benefits from having a shopfront, such as improved local profiling and branding.
Yet, he said having an online ‘office’ has played a pivotal role in keeping his company’s “overheads low and margins high.”
“Prior to launching Finesse, we identified that it was more cost effective for us to invest in online service provider contracts that would guarantee our clients consistent and powerful exposure rather than signing a shopfront lease,” Mr Evans said.
“We also have one less headache in managing office politics, fluctuating emotions and moods and contractors endeavouring to sell us office products.”
“We are able to spend more quality time focused on ‘selling the next listing’ rather than being bogged down by non-dollar productive activities.”
But prior to selling the office and starting a new business online, Mr Evans does admit he has run into a few problems since making the switch.
“Admittedly I have lost listings because we do not have a shopfront and [have] not been invited in to some homes to present our product. That is to be expected and I am okay with that,” he said.
“At Finesse, we are committed to making sure that that 98 per cent of our listings in the search online, are within the first 10-20 [properties] they view, increasing the likelihood of enquiry and then subsequently an offer.”
But not all online real estate professionals agree with Mr Evan’s views on agency shopfronts.
Petra Sprekos, general manager of online property listing site realestateVIEW.com.au, told Real Estate Business in October that an agency shopfront will always play a vital role in servicing a client.
“The real estate is a service industry and will always be one, so I believe shop fronts are still important to effectively service the client,” Ms Sprekos told Real Estate Business late last month.
Rather than closing the traditional real estate office, Ms Sprekos suggests agents are now integrating their shopfront with new technologies and online enhancements.
“Technology is driving evolution in the traditional shopfront experience,” she said.
“Here we are seeing digital being integrated into the traditional experience, [that is] leveraging digital screens to promote listings and other relevant information.”
“In addition, whilst it’s still important today, impressions are paramount online as well as in the traditional shop front sense.”
“Spend is starting to shift to be more equally distributed to ensure that their virtual shop front is also as appealing and visible on the web as their physical shopfront.”
These comments were largely echoed by Tony Blamey, general manager – real estate, at Fairfax Media (owners of Domain.com.au).
Mr Blamey said agents need to increase the connection between online and the physical office, which they can do by to put their physical address on their listings online listings.
"I do think there's still a role for the shopfront. I think it's important for an agent to have a brand that can connect to the local area or community, and a shopfront is perfect for that," Mr Blamey told Real Estate Business earlier this year.
"At the end of the day, that buyer, vendor, agent is a relationship, it's a personal relationship that's supported through having a shopfront.”
"What we're seeing now is technology built for that situation. Digital window displays are becoming more prevalent and our online listings feed into those displays.”