In many cities in Scotland, marauding non-solicitor estate agency chains entered the Scottish estate agency market in the early 1970s and mounted a very serious challenge to the traditional dominance that solicitors had in the marketing and sale of property in Scotland. For those of a younger generation, particularly in areas dominated by these national or international estate agency brands and chains, it’s perhaps inconceivable that it was ever any other way. However, in response to this, solicitors clubbed together and did one of the most commercial-thinking and customer-friendly things that the legal profession has ever done: they created ‘Solicitors’ Property Centres’ (SPCs). In Edinburgh, for example, there is an Edinburgh Solicitors’ Property Centre (ESPC) and in Aberdeen there is an Aberdeen Solicitors’ Property Centre (ASPC). These two are probably the largest and most dominant SPCs and others exist in other areas throughout Scotland.
These solicitors’ property centres (SPCs) did something that the internet has subsequently made far easier: they brought information about properties that were for sale together in one place. At the time, Edinburgh solicitors were marketing perhaps 90% of all properties that were for sale in Edinburgh. But, if you were a property buyer, how did you find out what properties were for sale in the geographic areas that you were interested in? You had to trawl newspaper adverts (only effective if the person was spending money to advertise in the newspaper) or go around your local estate agents’ offices and have a look in their windows or spend time sitting with somebody in the office going through what was new on the market. The problem was of course worse if you were not actually based in the place where you were looking for a property.
However, by treating these solicitor firms as one brand, as if they were a large chain of competing estate agency branches covering nearly all of the market in a geographic area, these SPCs managed to bring their member firms’ properties together in one place. This made it infinitely easier for property buyers to find details of properties that were on the market.
In Edinburgh, the ESPC has a showroom in a central location where you can go and get details of around 90% of the properties that are on the market in Edinburgh and the surrounding areas. The same goes for Aberdeen. The ESPC and other SPCs also produced newspapers or brochures that listed every one of the properties that were being advertised through them. And now, as times have changed, they have created websites that contain all of these properties too.
In Edinburgh, certainly, the ESPC is a better-known brand than most of the individual solicitor/estate agent firms that are members of it. The same could probably be said of most areas where there is a Solicitors Property Centre. Property buyers love the convenience of having such a large proportion of the properties for sale in that area all in one place, of being able to search for properties either online, in the showroom or in the weekly newspaper.
Of course, the rise of the internet has started to challenge these dominant Solicitors’ Property Centre brands. Another challenge for them has been the emergence of more commercial-thinking estate agency firms which have eaten into and, in some cases, overturned the dominance of solicitor/estate agents in certain areas. The SPC is only as useful to the property buyer as the proportion of the total number of properties in a geographic area that are actually advertised in it.
In some areas, such as Glasgow, the majority of property sales are by estate agents. Nearly all of these estate agents advertise on Rightmove which is the UK’s largest property website. Other large, UK-wide websites at the time of writing include Zoopla, FindaProperty, Primelocation. Others are more localised, such as S1homes which focuses its attentions only on Scotland as a geographic area. These large property advertising websites are known by many people as ‘portals’.
Rightmove, and some of these other websites, have managed to do what the SPCs did in the 1970s. They have brought together the majority of properties that are for sale in a geographic area in one place. This makes the property buyer’s life easier and of course they go there as a first port of call when looking for a property.
In Edinburgh and Aberdeen, property buyers and even other solicitors will tell you that a property is not ‘on the market’ and that they can’t find it on the internet if it is not advertised on the local SPC website or newspaper. For them it is the first port of call and indeed, for many, it is the only port of call when looking for a property.
In other areas, many property buyers will consider that you are either not on the market or at least not marketing the property correctly, if you are not advertising it on Rightmove or one of the other nationally-famous websites.
I have found over the years that many property buyers and sellers are very used to the customs of the geographic area of the UK that they are moving from or that they are accustomed to. As a result, they don’t consider that different forms of advertising might dominate in different areas.
Clients from London might assume that, as long as their property is advertised in Rightmove, it is getting the best possible exposure to the market whereas clients from Edinburgh might assume that if their property is advertised in the Solicitors’ Property Centre then it is being exposed to the maximum number of property buyers in Glasgow. Likewise, property buyers in Aberdeen might only look in the Aberdeen Solicitors’ Property Centre because it is what they are used to, but they will be missing out on the properties that are advertised by non-solicitor/estate agents in Rightmove.
If you are looking to buy or sell a property in Scotland, it is worth taking advice from somebody who really knows the local market, or at least doing some research on a major internet search engine, to ensure that you are looking for properties in the right places and/or advertising your property for sale in the places where the majority of buyers are looking.