Jim Duffy comment: Human touch remains key in property market

I just cannot see an artificially intelligent robot dealing with an irate seller. Picture: Ian Howarth.
I just cannot see an artificially intelligent robot dealing with an irate seller. Picture: Ian Howarth.
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We live in a world where we are being led to believe that robots, artificial intelligence and tech will solve all our problems, make our lives easier and at the same time replace human beings in the jobs market.

Of course, the tech world will tell you that. It’s their plan to make even more money, while they hook you into their mesmerising web of future potential. The tech world needs you to believe that without them, you will be disenfranchised and miss the boat.

They are selling a vision where your very existence will be made easier as their ­algorithms and creations will, in effect, create less hassle and more free time for you, while saving you money. As for the current areas under threat – cars, taxis, estate agents, GPs and a whole lot more, they will cease to exist if tech has its way and you let it have its way. But, that is never how it will be… despite tech’s fairy tales.

I recently sold my home using a well-recognised estate agent in Edinburgh. Estate agency is what you might call a traditional business model. One already under attack from tech with the likes of Purple Bricks entering the market. But, I would argue, we will always need the human touch to make house sales function well.

Estate agents can take a clobbering in the media at times. Money for old rope, some might argue. Easy money, as the market is there and all they do is get in the ­middle. It’s an easy commission that involves a bit of slick sales talk, a “for sale” board and not much more. So, it’s ripe for a robot to take it over and conduct the whole sale online. Not so, I would argue.

The humble estate agent has built up a wealth of experience and knowledge in many areas. It is a multi-faceted discipline that requires a knowledge of real estate for sure. But, it needs more than just an appreciation of an “offers over” price. An estate agent needs to know people.

If the old adage is true that the three most stressful events in our lives are moving house, divorce and death, then one can see why the human touch is so important in estate agency.

Buying a home is an emotionally charged decision, while selling a home can be even more stressful with all the ­memories that flood through our minds as we sign over the deeds. A computer cannot and will not be able to cope with this level of human complexity.

As you put your home on the market with an estate agency, as professionals, they get to know you. Will you be easy or difficult to deal with? Are you flexible or high-maintenance? Will you be amenable to an offer or determined not to budge? As the process moves forward, viewers will ask you questions.

They will perhaps want to know more from the estate agent. The estate agent will seek feedback and build this into the marketing and management of you, the seller. This requires tact and finely tuned negotiating skills. The process has to be handled with sensitivity, especially if, for example, a loved one has died or you, the ­owners, are separating. I just don’t see how a robot could properly deal with this. Do you?

Of course, more challengers will come into the agency market and continue to mildly disrupt it. That can certainly have a positive effect and keep everyone on their toes. But tech will not replace many of these traditional business models. I just cannot see an artificially intelligent robot dealing with an irate seller on the phone who has been waiting for three hours while the viewer failed to turn up.

Our world is changing. But be assured that human beings will always be needed to intervene and manage any tech that is introduced. Every now and then we need someone – a live being – to vent at, commiserate with, answer our queries that come from an emotional place or celebrate a great offer on our property.

We are a long, long way from the utopia that the tech world paints for us. I’m glad I used a trusted and traditional business model on my sale. I, for one, will not be knocking estate agents any time soon. Nor will you…

Jim Duffy MBE, Create Special.