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Portal wars: ‘OTM was never a truly mutual organisation’, says challenger

Andrew Goldthorpe of PropertyMutual says too many portals including Rightmove and OTM start out promising to be solely for the benefit of agents, but soon lose their way.

Nigel Lewis

OnTheMarket.com has not ever been a truly mutual organisation, despite its claims to the contrary, a leading industry figure has claimed.

Challenger portal founder Andrew Goldthorpe (pictured) says that although OTM’s parent company was originally called Agents Mutual and that it still touts itself as ‘agent owned’, he believes the portal could never have been a true mutual due to the way it was set up.

Goldthorpe launched PropertyMutual in 2014 as a both an ethical and 100% mutual property portal but, during an interview with Chris Watkins published today, says he takes a dim view of OTM’s mutuality claims.

“I believe that mutuality is an opportunity for business to do well and to do good, but PLCs [like OTM and Rightmove] have an inherent conflict of interest that stops them working solely in the interest of their members,” says Goldthorpe.

He says PropertyMutual has a clause written into its articles of association that prevents it being launched on the stock market.

Assets returned

This clause says that if the mutual status of the organisation is discontinued, then all the profits and assets are returned to the members.

“Obviously OTM didn’t have this kind of clause, which enabled it to float back in 2018,” he says.

“But it was clear to many agents that it wasn’t a legitimate mutual and it’s why I went to great pains to create an exclusively mutual structure for my portal.”

During the interview, which is available exclusive to watch below, Goldthorpe says his portal charges agents £10 a month and asks that they sign up for a five-year deal.

Then, he says, if he can achieve a critical mass of 5,000 estate agents, this will give PropertyMutual enough cash to begin marketing itself to consumers.

Read more about portal wars.

Watch the interview

May 20, 2020

4 comments

  1. Rightmove is a success financially and with the public because it is the most comprehensive data aggregator and most efficient connector, but it is now exploiting its revenue source without conscience.

    As the boss of a Mutual portal, I consider it to be ethically wrong for me to offer a transitory financial inducement to agents to join my portal on condition they veto other portals. This is why we don’t have any contracts and certainly not five year lock-in contracts as this article incorrectly stated. Such behaviour would mean I could not work solely in the best interests of my members which, in turn, would put my agent members at odds with working solely in the best interests of their clients.

    Some would say the above behaviour is good business, but that is a decision that the leaders of PLC’s and listed by share challengers find themselves driven to make, as every one of them is legally responsible for running their businesses solely in the best interests of their shareholders. I belive lowest afforadble pricing, agent only control of marketing costs and data, not for profit, never for sale, that only a Mutual can offer should all speak for itself.

    Some industry figures still belive that the traditional route of succumbing to external investment and backing from financial institutions is the only way a challenger portal can succeed nowadays. I believe society is changing with far greater interest being taken, particularly by “Generation Rent”, in Mutuality as they are businesses that can do well financially as well as socially.

    The timing is now right for agents to repeat what they did 20 years ago with Rightmove 1.0 but, this time, with the legal and structural safeguards of an ethically run Mutual platform to ensure it will only be open to property professionals and can never be floated for personal gain.

    Collective action, like the SayNoToRightMove movement, could easily deliver whole of market inventory and the second essential that no “free” portal can ever deliver – a multi £m market budget to support the business from start up, through to sustainability to get it in front of the British public. Then, and only then, when firmly established as a successful business, would it be responsible to explore other revenue streams like data monetisation (exclusivley controlled by the Mutual) to possibly transition to a genuine free portal that is always funded, owned and controlled exclusively by agents.

  2. A portal is a portal, is a portal. There’s plenty of choice. Both for consumers and agents. So one has to ask why don’t agents ditch RM?

    Answer, because it a lifeline. It saves them the apparent bother of establishing themselves so strongly in their local community that buyers/vendors know where to find precisely what they’re searching for.

    Why then do buyers stick with RM? That’s more obvious – it’s where the most properties are listed. Buyers have no allegiance to any portal. They go where the homes are listed.

    The challenger portals haven’t come up, yet, with a unique way of making agencies dependent on them. Cheaper doesn’t work because Free doesn’t work. Fair value doesn’t work, either. Neither does 24 hour exclusivity.

    • An agent has to be free to work solely in the best interests of their client. It is exactly the same principle with a portal. As CEO, it is ethically unacceptable for me to bribe agents to use my portal and not others with transitory discounts as that is not working in my members best interests, and certainly not in the best interests of the consumer.

      The public love Rightmove because it is the most successful data aggregator and connector. My view is that the only way to compete with this success is for agents to do again what they did with Rightmove 1.0, before agents accepted bad advice, got greedy and sold control to the stock market.

      However, how do we prevent agents falling into the same trap that limited by shares businesses, even if they claim to be “free”, keep tempting agents with? After all, agents fell for the same bad advice with Zoopla and then again with OTM?

      The answer is an ethically structured Mutual, supported by an accountable Board and whole of market inventory, along with a charitable assignment condition, to ensure only charity, and not agents or founders, can profit from an unforeseen termination of the business.

  3. Dreary me. What a load of old BS. Come on, stick to to the story. This is fishing in the pond in the woods.

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