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Portal challengers

The importance of the key listings portals isn’t in doubt, but their continued dominance may be, says Lisa Isaacs.

Lisa Isaacs

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If you needed a distraction during lockdown, the jostle among portals has provided a welcome sideshow. As the dominant brand, it was inevitable that much of the spotlight fell on Rightmove – after all, it’s a very visible vehicle whose every move is scrutinised.

As the mother of all UK portals, many agents are comforted by its presence and soothed by its level of social awareness. Like all relationships, however, it is possible to cut the apron strings and venture away from the nest.

Can agents survive without Rightmove? Well, that’s not the question we’re setting out to answer. Can agents survive without paying Rightmove fees? That’s a topic up for debate.

If you weren’t already rethinking your listing strategy, you should consider the new analysis of traffic and leads by OnTheMarket, which showed really serious buyers are looking at all the leading portals to ensure they experience the most comprehensive property search. Then there is the issue of fees, together with the often uncomfortable notion that some agents have complete dependence on a particular portal.

Post-COVID costs versus lead generation

Can agents survive without Rightmove? Well, that’s not the question we’re setting out to answer. Can agents survive without paying Rightmove fees? That’s a topic up for debate.

Link to Data Technology feature“We know no two agents are the same, which is why we don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to pricing” comments Andy Marshall at Zoopla. “Our rate card depends on a number of details including geographic location, size of business and stock, and length of term.”

We know that for agents leads are what really matter, so we are continually investing in market-leading products to help increase engagement with agents’ listings. Andy Marshall, Zoopla.

“It’s important to note that, recognising the unprecedented difficulty caused by the pandemic earlier this year, we offered our agent partners up to nine months of Zoopla for free. This represented an investment of £30 million in our agent relationships and is a clear sign that we want to build long-term, mutually successful relationships with each of our agent partners,” adds Andy.

Zoopla’s stance has seen results, with 400 new branches joining the portal since the end of March 2020, and over 90 per cent of branches signing up to a long-term deal of at least 17 months. “While traffic is important, we know that for agents leads are what really matter, so we are continually developing and investing in market-leading products to help increase engagement with agents’ listings,” says Andy. Alongside exclusive access to its rich data via ZooplaPro, Zoopla agents also enjoy unrivalled insights and expertise from its market-leading research and insights team.

Are you being ‘owned’ by your portal?

Coming back to the point of dependence, OnTheMarket is unique as the portal is approximately 65 per cent majority agent-owned: “OnTheMarket aims to put ownership into the hands of agents who use it, as well as deliver an exceptional user experience for consumers,” says Link to Marketing featurethe portal’s Helen Whiteley. “We are seeing the agency community becoming increasingly vocal and championing change since COVID – they are rallying against a return to the ‘old normal’ and rightly so.”

The allure of OnTheMarket is the ‘welcome shares’ given to each agency owner who signs up, with over 500 branches deciding to join against the difficult backdrop of COVID-19. “We’re about agents coming together to create a portal that brings competition and more control of their broader spend,” adds Helen.

The agency community is becoming increasingly vocal and championing change since COVID – they are rallying against a return to the ‘old normal’ and rightly so. Helen Whiteley, OnTheMarket.

As well as its status as an ‘agent-owned’ portal, OnTheMarket also offers members a ‘new and exclusive’ listings facility, which Helen feels offers a real competitive edge. These listings appear on OnTheMarket 24 hours or more ahead of Rightmove or Zoopla. “They hold significant appeal among home movers who are active in the market and who are our priority target audience. It’s this strategy that provides our agents with the highest quality leads,” concludes Helen.

Shoulder-to-shoulder, not head-to-head

When asked whether there was room for another property portal in the market, Link to Marketing featureSam at Homesearch commented, “In the traditional sense, where an agent pays an expensive fee to list their properties on a classifieds site, no. That idea and model hasn’t changed in 20 years – and because it hasn’t changed, but consumer and agent expectations have, it doesn’t serve the industry or the consumer nearly as well as it could and should.”

That idea and model hasn’t changed in 20 years – and because it hasn’t changed, but consumer and agent expectations have, it doesn’t serve the industry. Sam Hunter, Homesearch.

Homesearch – a free-to-list site currently in beta testing and yet to officially launch – has been created not to compete with any other ‘portal’ but to modernise the way a consumer and an agent understand and interact within the market. “We are a property information platform first and foremost,” adds Sam.

Homesearch provides information on every address in England and Wales, not just what is currently for sale or for rent. “We allow homeowners to track the market directly comparable to their own home, connect a buyer with the homes yet to sell that suit them most, and link a seller up with potential buyers for their property – and we recommend the best agents to movers to get it all done for them. Homesearch is a tool for savvy consumers and smart agents, and we bring them together.”

Agents using Homesearch’s upgraded Pro service can also access deeper data and analytics on every home both on and off market in England and Wales. There’s also the ability to use direct mail to prospect these addresses, produce branded reports and link their agency to relevant off-market homes in their local area through a public platform.

The disruptors

Link to Marketing featureBabek Ismayil at One Dome agrees with Sam that other portals can join the fray – if they offer something different or they’re not rolling out a Rightmove replica. “We hate the word ‘disruptive’, but in this instance, disruptive is a positive as it represents a solution to a previously unsolved problem,” he says.

One Dome provides consumers and agents with a free-to-list home buying platform described as “an Amazon like experience for the property market”. The goal is to connect an agent’s network of associates and better manage the lead flow between agency, conveyancing and mortgages, so the transaction time frame is reduced to eight to nine weeks and conversion rates significantly improve. “Agents using all of OneDome’s benefits do not pay for listings and leads. Instead, they make up to £350-400 per branch via our platform.”

We don’t see room for another pay-to-list player… there is, definitely room for a challenger portal if the proposition is radically different for both consumers and agents. Babek Ismayil CEO, One Dome.

Interestingly, One Dome is a listing partner of Facebook Marketplace – perhaps the biggest potential disruptor in the portal arena. “Facebook Marketplace will have a serious impact on the portal market going forward,” says Babek. “It brings property listings to where consumers spend most of their time and it has much stronger brand awareness and larger number of users than any portal in the UK, or all of them put together.”

New on the residential block

Residential People is a new portal, created as a result of frustration, inflexible pricing structures, and a lack of compassion and understanding – particularly during the pandemic. “Agents are currently facing price hikes, lack of control, being forgotten about and the most severe of all, having their data exploited,” says its founder, Chris May. “Many are unhappy and feel that they have been given a raw deal.”

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“We are passionate about providing long-term solutions to be fully supportive of agents’ needs, adds Chris, “and we’re actively looking for more to join our ‘disruptive crusade’ as we look to launch in 14 countries with a target of 3 million listings by the first quarter of 2021.”

This innovative service, offered free of charge, will put agents at the forefront of our thinking and will enable the consumer to tell us all of their property requirements. Chris May, Residential People.

As well as being free-to-list, Residential People is currently developing a powerful database marketing tool that will give consumers the best possible journey when looking for their dream home. “This innovative service, offered free of charge, will put agents at the forefront of our thinking and will enable the consumer to tell us all of their property requirements, thus allowing agents to do what they do best – help consumers find their dream home,” concludes Chris.

Boom time coming?

Link to Marketing featureBoomin.com is, as far as anyone can tell, a new portal about to explode on to the housing scene. It is the brainchild of the founder of Purplebricks, Michael Bruce. He has assembled an impressive executive team to launch the new project (until now known as Link to Marketing feature‘LaunchB’). Based in Birmingham the new venture has Gary Barker, ex-CEO of Reapit heading it up.

We have attracted world-class talent and are creating a powerful new brand, supporting agents, generating new revenue for them, and engaging customers. Gary Barker CEO, Boomin.

Another interesting challenger, presenting an original angle on niche marketing in property search is Mutual, the brainchild of Max Fuller. “Mutual provides estate agents with qualified vendor leads with qualified buyer leads attached, and also provides a genuine market appraisal buyer funnel as it grabs prospective sellers weeks or months before they would consider engaging with an agent for an appraisal,” he says.

Can anyone else claim the default search crown?

The behind-the-scenes wrangling and jostling means nothing to home-moving masses – their engagement is the measure of success for portals. Ultimately, other portals need to displace Rightmove as the instinctive site to search for a new home.

So how do other portals shape up on the promotional front? “It is essential that genuine home movers are aware of a portal, have a reason to visit it because of its USP and actually engage with the site on a regular basis,” comments Helen at OnTheMarket who, along with Zoopla, invests heavily in live and catch-up TV advertising campaigns. “The challenge of building that level of awareness should not be underestimated.”

But is prime time viewing the only route to portal success, especially if you are a lesser-known or start-up looking to break the Rightmove spell? Social media is a recurring theme. Like Babek, Chris at Residential People feels there are fresher ways to reach audiences. “Portals need to keep building and working with multiple aggregators, such as Facebook Marketplace, as social media is now more important than TV advertising.”

Sam Hunter at Homesearch agrees; “Generating consumer awareness is absolutely essential to drive traction and leads for the agents using the platform but there are multiple ways to achieve this rather than simply burning cash on a TV campaign.”

Agents’ options

The portal world and options for agents are changing rapidly as interlopers take advantage of opportunities and angles which new technology is enabling. Can the market dominators keep up with this onslaught of alternatives or will their dominance be gradually eroded and overwhelmed? Technology and time will tell.

 

 

September 14, 2020

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