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Exclusive interview: Has Coronavirus changed everything between agents and their portals?

The Negotiator put this, and many other key questions preying on agents minds at the moment to Zoopla’s commercial head Andy Marshall.

Nigel Lewis

zoopla

The Coronavirus pandemic has created new challenges for estate agents and intensified or reignited many of the existing debates within the industry.

Will the portals keep discounting their charges if the pandemic and the associated recession grind on past June? Has the crisis changed the way agents market properties for good? What happens to existing stock after the market restarts? And most crucially, how long will the sales and lettings markets take to get back on their feet?

We put these and other questions to Zoopla’s Head of Commercial, Andy Marshall.

Will Zoopla extend the offer if the lockdown carries on longer than expected or the economic downturn afterwards proves more severe than forecast?

“While we wait to see exactly what will happen, there is speculation that the lockdown could soften in early May, at which point we hope that the property market is able to operate once more.

“With that time-frame in mind, both free periods are set to outlast the lockdown, with nothing to pay for portal use until October for those on the five month plan, and early 2021 for the nine month plan.

“It’s our intention that both plans don’t just sustain agents during the market suspension, but also beyond, as they revive their businesses and rebuild their sales and lettings pipelines.

“That said, we will keep both offers under continual review to ensure they meet the needs of agents.”

Has the competition between Zoopla and the other portals signalled a fundamental shift in attitude among agents to marketing, and how many agents did you persuade to take up the ‘leave Rightmove’ offer?

“Competition in the market is only ever a good thing. That said, we are here to run our own race. We are agent-centric; our agent partners are at the heart of everything we do and every decision we make.

“We are there to help agents address challenges head on, unlock new opportunities, and deliver the utmost value for money, which is why we came up with two payment plans to support agents during this unprecedented time in the market.

“We have had or continue to have active conversations with 70% of our branches regarding one of our two new agent payment plans – the first offering five months free followed by between 12 and 36 months of a fixed price contract; the second offering nine months free followed by between 12 and 36 months of a fixed price contract for those who are willing to make Zoopla their primary portal.

“To date, 50% of branches have agreed to sign up to one of the new payment plans. Without doubt, more and more agents recognise the Zoopla advantage.

Will the crisis really change the way agents do business, as some people have suggested?

“There will be some changes both in terms of consumer behaviour and how agents are used.

“We think virtual viewings, something we have already seen a sharp increase in, will become more common and will perhaps take the place of the first viewing that home hunters often make to a property.

“The period of reduced activity also might encourage the industry to more quickly adopt other new technologies that make the purchasing process easier and quicker.”

Won’t the estate agency stock on Zoopla ‘go stale’ eventually?

“It’s important to remember that 2020 had the strongest start to the property market for four years.

“The election along with increased clarity on Brexit released a backlog of pent-up demand, and that doesn’t just evaporate.

“The statistics bear this out. In the week ending 12th April, the number of homes for sale, per agent, was just 1% lower than on 7th March. This shows vendors are keeping properties on the market, which will ultimately facilitate a bounce back once the market reopens.

“Vendors who keep their properties live have an unrivalled opportunity to drive more views on their listing.

“The initial fall in demand has now bottomed out and is consistent with levels recorded at Christmas 2018, with home hunters continuing to express interest in properties even though they cannot view them at present.”

How long will it take for the market to revive once lock-down is lifted?

“It takes a while for agents to build a pipeline and the average sale takes between two and three months to mark as ‘sold subject to contract’.

“This leads us to anticipate that the market will show a return to health approximately three months after the social distancing restrictions are lifted.

“Importantly though the strength of demand at the start of the year means we could anticipate a bounce back come Q3 or Q4.”

April 16, 2020

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