Seven Great Property Ideas (that, er, never caught on)

I like new things and readers of my stories may well sense admiration in reports of innovations emerging from what can be a conservative industry.

But a perk of being a seasoned hack, with 15 years of residential property journalism behind me, is that I can see remarkable innovations that are now central to our everyday lives... and those that became the house-selling equivalent of Betamax cartridges.

(If you don’t understand that last comment, ask your parents).

So hats off to those who came up with the laser measures, property portals, various property management software systems, online TV services, bright-light window displays and all the other innovations that have made selling and letting a better industry - and better for the public as well as for insiders, in most cases.

But there are a few innovations that have belly-flopped, delivering something less than their publicists promised at the outset.

Good on the property industry for trying new things but here are seven reminders that this year’s heavily-funded great idea might just be next year’s embarrassing turkey.

1. City Centre Living: It’s over a decade since the property industry forecast that so many people would want to rent in regenerated city centres that an infinite number of buy-to-let apartments could be built (almost all of them, it seems, in Leeds and Manchester). It’s great living in a city centre, of’s just not for as many as some agents told us.

2. Online Auctions: Do you remember websites where you could see rival bids, allegedly from investors snapping up buy-to-lets without even bothering to visit them first? I wrote many online auction stories over the years - possibly more than the number of homes sold this way. Of course online bids are a valuable part of the auction process but the ‘promise’ that one day we would spend £250k through a click and without a visit never materialised.

3. Gated Estates: After some years of data showing declining crime in most areas of Britain, a few PRs still try to sell what’s left of the new-build gated concept - even though planners these days tend to avoid actually using gates and instead designing walkways to create the illusion of privacy. But these schemes are now considered socially divisive, which most come as a blow to those who like keeping poor people at bay.

4. 3D Floorplans: Just last year I was told by one of Britain’s poshest estate agencies that this was the way forward. I heard that soon no agency would be describing a property by using only the number of bedrooms and certainly not by saying how many square feet it had. Instead, cubic feet and cubic metres were the way forward. I’ve just checked that same agent’s website - 3D floorplans and cubic measurements are nowhere to be seen.

5. Fly-throughs: These were the 3D floorplans of their day, promising to transform our house-buying process online with CGI footage of how new homes would appear (but which somehow never conveyed the smallness of the rooms). Some are still about but most have flown away, replaced by far superior videos.

6. Tepilo: It’s still going but this website, which caused waves in 2009 and led to sexist abuse against Sarah Beeny by a few male estate agents, has hardly caught the public’s imagination. It’s changed, Dr-Who like, from a sale-by-owner platform to an online estate agency. But despite celebrity ownership and high levels of publicity, it seems a poor relation even within the online agency niche. It’s also got a small inventory: try scouring for homes in my postcode, EX3 .... there aren’t any.

7. Iraq: Yes, I said Iraq. The head of one high-end agency’s international department promised me back in 2003 that within five years there would be holiday homes widely sold in what was then the planet’s major troublespot. Well, five years on (and now, 12 years on) Iraq is still a tragedy for its residents, who do not include second-homers. That senior industry figure wins the Tony Blair Prize for Getting Things Right In The Middle East.

A version of this article first appeared on the Industry Views section of Estate Agent Today.

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