It hasn’t been a great month for estate agents, what with the government announcing a ban on tenants’ letting fees in the Autumn Statement. While this was understandably welcomed by most citizens and homelessness charities across the country, the move triggered a wave of condemnation and despair from estate agents and landlords.
Agents are naturally concerned about any move that harms their bottom line, and landlords are worried that estate agents will seek to pass the costs on to them through higher property management fees, which as yet remain untouched by the government. The change has yet to be formally legislated and is pending a consultation process, but already the estate agent sector has seen a fall in share prices.
London-based Foxtons estate agents lost 13 percent of its value within an hour of the announcement, and this on top of a 23 percent slide since the Brexit referendum. Critics were quick to point out that administrative fees have been banned in Scotland since 2012, a move which the sector then absorbed without any serious problems. Nonetheless, industry blogs and forums were awash with consternation about the future.
Estate agent signage: an uncertain future?
Now, to add to these worries, proposals have emerged from Belfast City Council to ban the ubiquitous “To Let” and “For Sale” signs seen on almost every street in the country. The Council’s proposal is a response to complaints from local residents about the length of time that the signs are displayed and the effect that it has on the visual environment.
Estate agent signs are already regulated by the Planning Regulations (Control of Advertisement) 2015, a planning code which breaks down signs into three groups, each requiring different levels of consent from local planning authorities on behalf of the affected communities.
Nothing is yet set in stone, much like the announced ban on tenants’ lettings fees, and much discussion is likely to follow in the council’s consultation over which is more appropriate – additional restrictions or a blanket ban. Further restrictions may be the more palatable option with the potential to please all stakeholders, and proposals floating around include limits on the size of the signs, the amount of time they can be displayed and a rule that they must be attached flush to the surface of the building, instead of protruding.
Such a set of standards would, however, require continuous enforcement, which could be costly. There could also be additional costs for estate agents in seeking to meet the requirements of the new regulations. An outright ban, by contrast, would immediately lead to a visual improvement in the affected communities, but estate agents would likely require alternative channels for marketing.
The problem is reportedly a particular concern in predominantly student areas, where almost every house changes hands every year, leading to streets full of estate agent signage. If such a blanket ban were adopted and proved to be popular and successful, it could see widespread uptake across the UK.
In light of the arguments against its use, is estate agent signage an anachronistic and aesthetic blight on our communities or a vital and powerful marketing tool? In the age of Zoopla and Rightmove, do house hunters even look for the signs anymore? The question is divisive, no doubt, but finding an answer is particularly important, given the above pressures facing the estate agent sector at an uncertain time for the wider housing market.
Signage: a powerful and multifaceted marketing tool
To evaluate the future of estate agent signs, we first must consider its purposes. The primary function of ‘To Let’ and ‘For Sale’ signs is to drive interest in a property by marking it out to all who walk and drive past. As such, the signs act as a beacon for opportunistic house buyers who spot a house that takes their fancy and telephone to book a viewing on impulse alone. This can work wonders with those properties requiring a little additional exposure, such as those that have sat on the market for several months.
Not only can such signage drive interest among potential buyers, but it also works in conjunction with word-of-mouth referrals to spread news of the property much further than the initial group of people walking past the house in question. It’s a given that most people encountering the sign won’t be looking for a house, but they will likely subconsciously notice and remember the sign.
Then, at a later date, anyone from a colleague to a neighbour or friend may mention that they’re looking for a property in a given area. The person who subconsciously noticed the sign then remembers it and mentions it to the house hunter. This ability to start conversations is where the real power of promotional signage lies.
And the sign alone is often more than enough to get people talking. We’ve all heard or said something along the lines of “That house down the road is up for sale again,” and these conversations as a result of the sign itself boost the reach of your marketing significantly. This is particularly evident in villages and smaller towns where people come into contact with each other regularly, but has the same effect in neighbourhoods in cities as well.
Here to stay
As we can see, estate agent signage is here to stay for the foreseeable future. With over two decades’ experience, we can comfortably say that ‘we know signage’, and we know the power that estate agent signs have to spread word of your properties and your brand. If you’d like to find out more about what we can offer your agency, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Call us on 01273 417057