It's adtastic

Felicity Cannell on direct selling
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The Independent Online
Is the middle man facing redundancy? Or does he simply need to lower his prices? Direct client-to-product contact now exists in a number of areas including the property market as consumers look for ways to keep the horrendous costs associated with moving house to a minimum.

Joining the growing ranks of private press advertising is Residential Direct, a new publication for the property market. Covering central and South-west London, it hopes to offer a serious alternative to the estate agent. For pounds 199 you will get an advertisement with glossy colour photographs in the pages of a "prestigious monthly magazine".

Leader of the pack in selling through the small ads is Loot (pounds 1). Loot took some time to enter the public consicousness, but now it has a significant place in the market. A standard advertisment is free, but for pounds 59.99 its private sale service includes a boxed advertisement for 60 days, a "for sale" board, information pack, and access to free legal advice for any problems.

Estate agents, however, do provide a buffer zone and a certain amount of protection. They will help to deter the casual Sunday afternoon viewer from bothering you and they can provide a safety net when it comes to those with thoughts other than a property purchase on their mind.

But Hugh Dunsmore-Hardy, of the National Association of Estate Agents, considers the biggest risk in private advertising is "missing the opportunity to reach the widest possible audience, by way of a good estate agent who has the market at his or her fingertips, and who can achieve the best possible price. Invariably, the difference an agent can make to the eventual selling price will cover any commission".

Another use is, of course, the agent's expertise concerning valuation, but with many offers of "free valuation - no obligation" dropping through front doors nationwide, there is nothing to be lost in simply using them for this service.

Mark Clayton, of Residential Direct, acknowledges that there is still a role for some of the big agents, but sees it diminishing in much the same way as financial services have moved over to direct telephone business in recent years.

But, argues Hugh Dunsmore-Hardy, "the whole concept of such a magazine is flawed, simply by its price. Why would potential purchasers spend pounds 3 on a magazine, when information is free from estate agents anywhere in the country?" But as one of the favourite pastimes of the home-owing British public is peering through estate agents' windows, not least to see how much their own home may be worth, to do so in the comfort of one's own sofa, with a glossy magazine, may just be worth pounds 3.