The internet has become a useful tool to advertise pub properties. Michelle Perret reports.
Ten years ago no-one had any idea what the internet was, but now it seems to be revolutionising the way that people run their lives and, more importantly for the pub trade, how people buy a property.
While licensees are sometimes characterised as being suspicious of new technology it seems that increasing numbers of them are becoming computer literate and getting online.
In The Publican Market Report 2002, a survey of 750 publicans, 64 per cent of licensees said they used the internet, a dramatic increase from 1998 when only 21 per cent of respondents did.
Licensed property agents are reporting large increases in the number of would-be buyers using their websites. With licensees working long, unsociable hours the internet means they can get access to information during all hours of the day or night.
The internet is likely to be the first port of call for people to browse and check out the properties they want to view although websites are not replacing the traditional face-to-face service offered by agents.
Over the past few years agents have realised that the web is a great way for them to advertise, deliver news and give information to potential clients. It provides them with a new tool for marketing pub properties and it means that potential licensees can easily access information on pubs for sale. It is also proving a useful way for new people looking at moving into the pub trade to research the potential costs of entering the industry.
Property agent Fleurets, which launched its website just over two years ago, has seen requests for information through the internet spiral. The site enables licensees to search properties on a database which provides sales and letting particulars.
Yaser Martini, director at Fleurets, said: "We are witnessing a fairly steep rise in the number of enquiries we are receiving through the internet. It now accounts for 60 per cent of all our requests."
Last year fleurets.com dealt with 103,091 requests for properties but this year that has already risen to 153,225 - an increase of about 50 per cent.
These figures are being reflected across the sector.
Christie & Co's website, which has been developed at a cost of £1m, has seen use of its site increase dramatically over the last year. People requesting viewings through the site have increased by 44 per cent and the company estimates that up to 20 per cent of its property transactions are now being driven by the web - double the figure of a year ago.
The site is registering 500 to 700 new users a week, has 70,000 registered users and 270,000 sales details are viewed every month.
But it's not just the bigger agents that are getting on the bandwagon.
Property agent Humberstones launched its website six years ago as a basic company information page but now gets 50 per cent of its sales enquiries through the net.
"When we first put the website up six years ago we looked at it as more of a company brochure but three to four years ago we realised it could be a good tool for selling properties," said director Konrad Szymanski.
He agrees that an increasing number of people are using the internet to access information.
"We are now getting far more responses from our website than our direct marketing," he said.
"The web makes buying a business more available across the board including to people who are not already in the industry."
Agent Robert Barry & Co has just relaunched its website following the award-winning success of its original.
Andrea Ramsey, Robert Barry & Co's marketing manager, said: "More than half our buyers now receive sale particulars via the web rather than by post, so it is a vital part of our service."
The company has also found that it is a useful tool internally, as it means that its agents at different offices can communicate with each other about properties by using the website as a first port of call.
But the success of these websites really depends on their ability to provide information on pubs that is up-to-date, immediate and correct.
"It's no good if the info is out of date and we can amend ours instantly," said Yaser.
But the rise in users has not been magical as agents are having to promote their websites to potential users through various means, including the trade press and other internet sites such as thePublican.com.
Fleurets also promotes its website through its own newsletter Fleurets News in addition to the trade press.
"In the past two years response to the website has been great but only because we promote it," Yaser added.
"Maybe not everyone promotes in the same way but search engines don't work very well."
Agents are not just using their websites to get people to view sales particulars of properties. Many are offering other services such as financial advice, news, valuation services, research and in some cases even email updates.
And it's not just property agents that are using the web to promote sales of pub properties. Pub companies such as Punch Pub Company, Unique Pub Company, the Union Pub Company and Greene King all advertise their leased pubs online.
Virtualpubs.com, the online property company, aims to cut out the costs involved in dealing with agents. Its service is free to buyers, the website is updated daily and as well as pubs to buy in the UK it offers sites for sale abroad in counties such as South Africa and Spain.
But while licensees and new clients are using the internet to find out details about particular properties, they will still need to phone to talk to the agent and put a call in to complete their enquiries.
As Yaser says: "People learn a lot by shopping on a website."
ThePublican.com has its own "/properties">property section, allowing you to search for a potential property and find the latest news on the property sector.
In the first three months of this year alone over 15,000 property details were viewed through the site.
You can also enter your requirements into the I Want a Pub section. Your details will be forwarded to various pub companies for potential pubs on your behalf. They will then get in touch with you should they have anything meeting your requirements.
The site also includes information about freeholds, tenancies and leases as well as features that provide advice for licensees.