How the Business of Real Estate Has Evolved

If you’re buying, selling, or investing in Sydney’s Inner East, you have two main types of agencies to choose from. Agencies chasing market share, like Ray White Woollahra | Paddington, which are backed by national networks and deal in large volumes. And there are the true locals, like Local Agency Co., which are active community members and focus on working with clients that understand our strategy is different and not about quantity.

While our approaches may differ, agencies like ours and Ray White Woollahra | Paddington have a lot in common. Most significantly, both businesses reflect how much real estate agency, as a professional practice, has changed over the years. How we work also shows how quickly this has happened, and that the rate of change is only increasing.

Here we explore this by taking a walk down memory lane and examining how real estate agents used to work. We also take a closer look at what agents like us and RayWhite Woollahra | Paddington do differently now. In doing this, we’ll pay particular attention to how this evolution is impacting the property market in Sydney’s inner east.

How did agents operate back then?

Even as recently as the late 1990s, a real estate agent’s daily routine looked significantly different. While listing and selling properties was still the main aim, this process was a lot more manual. It was also quite localised, with agents heavily focused on marketing to those who lived and worked in the area.

Specifically, a real estate agent was traditionally responsible for:

  • Appraising properties: As the key custodian of sales data, local agents were regularly engaged to estimate the value of individual properties. Generally, this was based on the prices they had recently achieved for other comparable properties in the area. That said, as homeowners had no way of validating valuations.
  • Advertising available properties: Listing a property usually involved putting a short description of it in the local newspaper. Printed listings would also be placed in the front window of agency offices, which were usually located on busy streets. As such, advertising rarely reached beyond the local area and most buyers lived in neighbouring streets and suburbs.
  • Finding potential buyers: Word-of-mouth was critical to an agent’s success, and many relied on fellow agents to help promote their listings. This resulted in many “conjunctional sales”, where agents referred buyers to listings with other agents, and shared the commission. Many agents would also take individual buyers on tours of their listings, acting as both driver and guide.
  • Answering potential buyer questions: As agents were the main source of information on a property, they were often a buyer’s only point of contact. This meant spending a lot of time in the office, on the phone, answering questions. It also meant it was easier to pitch properties to buyers, as they couldn’t really confirm the details agents provided.

How do agents operate now?

These days, agencies like ours and Ray White Woollahra | Paddington alike, still do many of the same things. We still plan sales campaigns, coordinate advertising of available properties, and answer questions from potential buyers. However, technology has changed how we do these things, with both buyers and sellers now more informed and empowered.

The rise of the internet has had a particularly significant impact on the role of a real estate agent. With multiple websites now dedicated to providing property data, we are no longer the single source of market insight. And while we are still seen as providers of unbiased advice, buyers and sellers can now do their own research.

Advertising also looks quite different, with listing properties on the major real estate websites now standard practice. While some agencies still display listings in their windows, this is becoming less common. Similarly, newspapers have become a secondary marketing channel, and advertisements now need detailed descriptions and professional photography to stand out.

There has also been a notable move away from having offices in shopping strips and other high traffic areas. This reflects the extended reach of advertising (thanks to the internet) and increasing interest from interstate and overseas buyers. It also acknowledges that agents no longer need to be local, or even know the area, to sell a property.

What about the rental side?

Property Management also looks quite different now to what it did even just a couple of decades ago. Much like with property sales, the key activities – listing properties, setting up leases, collecting rent – have largely stayed the same. However, exactly how they are done has evolved significantly, mostly in line with advances in technology.

Many property management activities in the past were manually done. However, tasks have been digitised and, in many cases, automated. For example, maintenance requests used to involve multiple phone calls and careful coordination by the property manager. Now, many agencies use applications that allow requests to be submitted, assessed, approved, and actioned, all online and automatically workflowed.

Similarly, rent used to be paid in cash, and property managers often visited tenants at home to collect payment. This created significant safety issues and required substantial paperwork to track and administer, making the process susceptible to error. Nowadays, most agencies prefer payment via EFT and have systems that automatically send reminder notifications and record received payments.

These changes have reduced the time it takes to manage individual properties, particularly once a fixed-term tenancy has been established. This has allowed agencies like Ray White Woollahra | Paddington to assign more rentals to each property manager. True local agencies, like Local Agency Co., generally still prefer delivering a high-quality management service over maximising their rent roll.

How does this work in Sydney’s Inner East?

As one of Australia’s most sought-after locations, the property market in Sydney’s inner east is highly competitive. This means that there’s usually strong buyer demand and quality properties can generally secure great sales results. It also means the area is quite popular with real estate agents, as some see it as an easy market.

Interestingly, the move away from physical offices in prominent locations is particularly pronounced in this area. Here, larger agencies, like Ray White Woollahra | Paddington, are swapping expensive shopfronts for more affordable traditional office spaces. Some are even choosing to make the most of remote working technologies, with agents mostly operating from home offices.

In suburbs like Paddington, RayWhite Woollahra | Paddington and other similar agencies are also championing social media use. Seeing it as more than merely a marketing channel, their posts both promote the local lifestyle and advertise available properties. This helps reinforce the area’s sense of aspiration, while extending the reach of individual sales campaigns.

However, this approach somewhat overlooks what real estate agents are still valued for – local knowledge and strong local contacts.

In Sydney’s inner east, an experienced local agent can be the difference between a good result, and a great one. They will understand what buyers looking in the area are after and can advise on preparing properties for sale. They will also know how to leverage the strong interest in the area to maximise the final sale price.

The best local agents will also have a database of buyers who are actively looking for properties in the area. This means they should have a few warm leads and can quickly generate interest in a new listing. It also means they can develop tailored advertising campaigns targeting the exact type of buyer the seller wants to attract.

Want to discuss this further?

If you would like to learn more about the evolving role of a real estate agent, call Local Agency Co. Over the last 20 years, we have watched the industry develop as technology changed and new players entered the market. We have also developed strong ties with the inner eastern suburbs community and maintain our office on Oxford St, Paddington.


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