With the demise of the Australian operation of Purplebricks a few weeks back, there’s been plenty of speculation among the punters as to why the online real estate business never enjoyed the predicted purple patch in this country.
It seems there’s a consistent theme out there…and it’s this: while the online world is great and has its place, there’s nothing quite like bricks and mortar to provide the peace of mind we all crave when involved in any financial transaction.
That, the word around the traps is saying, was the major shortcoming of the Purplebricks business model. And much as the company crowed on its website that it represented “the future of real estate”, it failed to understand that the future, just like the past and the present, requires a mix of everything, including exposure on the high streets.
I’d have to agree, particularly after my experience a year or so ago when I purchased a motorcar online. I digress, but bear with me as it has some relevance…
When I enquired who the dealer was, all I got was a mobile number, which I duly called. The guy told me it was a wholesale operation, that they didn’t have a physical yard where I could view the car. But he was happy to bring it out to a carpark of a suburban Sydney hotel, where I could test drive it to my heart’s content.
The car was great, we subsequently discussed details over the phone and a few calls later, we had pretty much consummated the deal. I just needed to attend to some uncomplicated online paperwork and lodge it, together with a sizeable deposit.
I did. I was in love with the car. But love turned to self-loathing as silence followed. For 15 excruciating days and nights, my numerous calls went unanswered, my many messages on voicemail were ignored. The horror hit home when it dawned on me that I had no way of reaching him, I did not know where he lived or where his office was located. I had bought a car online and was seriously questioning my intelligence.
Thankfully, he finally made contact, I received the car, it has been a pleasure to drive and this particular episode had a happy ending. But even that happiness was tainted – and solely because we are sociable animals, we like to interact with people and talk with them.
I certainly am, and I’ve recounted this story to family, friends and colleagues on many occasions. I have shared the experience and waxed lyrical about the self-inflicted torture I endured during those long, silent 15 days and nights. And I know for a fact that many of those who heard my tale will think very carefully about buying a car online.
Imagine the panic, then, that’s associated with selling your largest single asset – your home – purely online.
You sign over your biggest asset to someone you don’t know, you have no idea where they are located and you wonder whether they will still be contactable in the morning.
It’s a cocktail that doesn’t sit well with the average Australian who, let’s be frank, is a pretty down-to-earth and sociable sort who likes to touch the flesh, shoot the breeze, feel good and comfortable about the person he’s entrusting the sale of his home to.
He wants to be able to stroll up to a bricks and mortar office, see property cards – or increasingly, property cards proudly displayed in static backlit LED screens like those offered by VitrineMedia.
He wants to ‘feel’ the organisation, inhale its corporate ‘personality’, and be engulfed in that special peace of mind that tells him he’s dealing with a professional and successful organisation.
He wants to sit down in the evening, take a hearty swig of his beer, turn to his family and say: “Yip, I feel good about this, we’re with the right mob!”
It seems Purplebricks gave him none of this – and that, the pundits tell us, is why they were left to resemble their colour, having been battered black and blue by a sceptical public.