In some countries there may be a silver lining to the housing crisis – the realtors now losing their jobs may rethink how we buy and sell homes in the modern age. Data from the UK's Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors suggests the number of properties changing hands, between investors or owner occupiers alike, is the lowest for over 30 years and has dropped almost 50 per cent in just six months.
So far this year about 1,000 UK estate agency offices have shut and the Centre for Economics and Business Research think-tank predicts 15,000 agents will lose their jobs this year.
Meanwhile research from property websites – who of course have an axe to grind – suggests that 40 per cent of UK citizens spend one hour per week scouring the internet for property news on the wider market, house-hunting or investigating local prices.
Estate agents want us to believe people research an area and general prices online, but rely on estate agents' offices for information. That is why, in the UK and some other countries, agents do not put full property details online and instead merely use the web as a 'teaser' to draw potential buyers to make office visits.
But North America and Australia – through the pioneering use of multi-listing systems on the internet, providing full details of all homes on sale in an area – have shown that the web can help the public and the industry by providing more data online. The result is that realtors in these areas are more flexible; they work from home or mobile car offices, reducing overheads and providing a better service to customers.
If more countries follow this example, at least some good will have come from the current market woes.