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Why does OnTheMarket ban online agents?

Online agents are making headway in the UK but, says Adam Day, Director at hatched.co.uk, they are roundly rejected by OnTheMarket. Why?

Adam Day
Adam Day - Director at hatched.co.uk

Adam Day – Director at hatched.co.uk

OnTheMarket is being set up to challenge the duopoly of Rightmove and Zoopla, and their fees.  One condition is that members can only advertise properties on one other portal, forcing them to drop Rightmove or Zoopla. Another puzzling strategy is their rejection of the sign-up of ‘online’ estate agents to their exclusive ‘club’.

Ian Springett, the chap in charge, called online estate agents ‘a bit of a con’. He’s wrong. I invite Mr Springett to my office; he would see that we offer a complete estate agency service, as do many other online agents. What is he is discriminating against? What is his definition of an ‘online estate agent’ that assumes a clear differentiation between a company like Hatched and a high street estate agent?

KEY CONSIDERATIONS

Almost all elements of a high street agents’ business are carried out online. Properties are listed on portals; online enquiries emailed to agents; agents use websites, Facebook, Twitter, clients fill in online forms for viewings. All agents are ‘online’ they all operate on the World Wide Web.

People call Hatched an ‘online estate agent’, but the description doesn’t do us justice; it leads people to believe that we offer a less personal service or work solely behind our screens. That’s entirely untrue. I prefer: 21st century estate agents, the key differentiator being our fee structure. We have fully trained employees that meet clients at their properties face to face. They measure up, take photos, arrange viewings, get feedback, negotiate the best price for the client, see the sale through to the end. We just charge in a different way, saving clients around 80 per cent compared to ‘traditional’ agents.

My suspicion is that Mr Springett is vetoing ‘online’ agents because he considers us to be ‘too cheap’… but what do fees got have do with him? The fact that we offer a complete estate agency service should be sufficient for them to allow us to list. We can prove that we offer a complete estate agency service – look at the recent ASA ruling that we WON: http://tinyurl.com/kk2sook

I’ve been looking for properties, viewing three with separate high street agents, my experience has been dire, one week on, not one has contacted me for feedback. It’s scandalous. But Mr Springett embraces these agents and others like them, despite their lax service, because they charge high fees… that is fundamentally what these ‘old men’ are trying to protect; exorbitant and unjustified fees.

The NAEA – of which we, and other ‘online’ agents, are members – backs Agents Mutual,. Surely they shouldn’t be alienating us by backing a site that refuses to be inclusive, just because our fees are low? We are recognised as estate agents under the Estate Agents Act, so the fact is that Mr Springett and his merry-band-of-expensive-estate-agents are only interested in protecting their fee, profiting at the expense of property sellers.

Most ‘online’ estate agents provide the service expected of them by the customer, in line with the governing bodies and acts. I doubt the NAEA or the dinosaurs at Agents Mutual will recognise that. They are unwilling to acknowledge a rapidly growing market sector and rather than embrace what could be a better experience, they try to stifle innovation.

So how will OnTheMarket perform? Will it take buyers from Rightmove and Zoopla and stifle the growth of 21st Century estate agencies? I don’t think so… It will never gain traction because it will never be a site that the public go to find a property. Rightmove and Zoopla have that tied up. If anything, we’ll witness a host of ‘old fashioned’ estate agents disappearing because they do list with OnTheMarket.

Armed with a list of agents who have committed to ‘OnTheMarket’, we are informing potential sellers of the possible consequences of listing with them: “You do realise, Mr Seller, that the agent you’re considering using, is going to drop Rightmove or Zoopla? This could halve the amount of buyers viewing your property. By listing with this old fashioned estate agent, you’ll dilute the marketing of your home and reduce your chances of selling. Are you happy to pay thousands of pounds for half the exposure, or would you like to pay £270 for full coverage on the two most recognised property sites in the UK?”

IT’S A NO-BRAINER

Why would any seller dilute their marketing when Rightmove and Zoopla have all the buyers? Why risk selling their biggest asset at a lower price because they’re not getting maximum exposure online? With fewer instructions for agents with OnTheMarket because those people are going to agents who are on both Rightmove and Zoopla, there will be fewer sales, less stock visible, so buyers will stick with Rightmove and Zoopla to find properties.

This is the beginning of the end for estate agency as we know it. It’s a huge opportunity for agents who decide not to sign up to ‘OnTheMarket’, because they can pull in more new listings and increase their sales and margins. That includes us and other colleagues spurned by Springett’s squad. The obligation of OnTheMarket agents to unsubscribe with either Rightmove or Zoopla will work to make ‘online’ estate agents stronger.

I thought there was a way to go before estate agency was truly revolutionised. But it may come sooner than we think.

To be honest, it’s about time the estate agency market had a shake-up. And it’s about time the old men in their shiny suits, flash company cars and fat tie knots step aside.

There’s a new 21st Century wave of estate agents around that provide the value-for-money offering that the public craves. And regardless of how many old school agents ‘club together’ or of the NAEA’s disregard for alternative models, we’re not going anywhere… we’re going to grow quicker than ever.

September 6, 2014

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