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Property portal supremacy

Rightmove website imageIt’s a fact, most househunters now search online for their next home, and rather than first visiting local agents’ sites, they plump for the property portals – dominated these days by Rightmove and Zoopla. So it’s crucial that an estate agent maintains an online portal presence that goes beyond simply listing properties on their own website. However, it’s been an interesting year in the property portal market.

While Rightmove remains the most visited UK property portal, Zoopla has consolidated its number two position over the past few years, but in January the status quo was disrupted by the launch of Onthemarket.com (OTM) attempting to break the duopoly.

New challenger

The new challenger, OTM, came from Agents’ Mutual, a large consortium of estate agents, including big hitters like Savills and Knight Frank, aiming to regain control of the homebuyer audience.

OTM says that it is now on course to replace Zoopla as the number 2 portal by the end of 2016 – on its way to challenging the market leader, Rightmove.

OTM, owned by the listing agents, with over 5,000 estate agency offices now signed up, had a dramatic early impact with its ‘one other portal’ rule requiring member agents to stop advertising on either Rightmove or Zoopla, to attack their market share. This caused quite a stir, with arguments and legal threats for allegedly uncompetitive terms it imposes on agents.

The idea behind the new portal, which only features properties marketed by high street agents but not those with an online-only presence, was to create a low-cost alternative to Rightmove and Zoopla by fixing monthly listing fees for five years – providing agents who were fed up with increasing charges levied by Rightmove and Zoopla with a new platform on which to list properties.

OTM launched a multi-million pound marketing campaign on television, in the press and online. This helped OTM increase its market share, mainly at the expense of Zoopla, which lost nearly a quarter of its agents, who cancelled their subscriptions to join the rival website.

Moving up the ranks

Ian Springett OTM imageOTM says that it is now on course to replace Zoopla as the number two property portal by the end of 2016 on its way to achieving their medium-term objective of challenging the market leader, Rightmove. Ian Springett, CEO of OnTheMarket, is feeling optimistic after the latest data from Google Analytics revealed that the level of traffic and unique visitors to the portal hit a record high in July.

The growth in our traffic, engagement, property stock and agent membership is impressive.

The figures show that the property website recorded 5.4 million visits in August, up from 5.2 million visits in July, with more than 2.5 million unique visitors, making OTM a “must-view website for the key audience of serious property-seekers”, according to Springett.

OTM website“The growth in our traffic, engagement, property stock and agent membership has been impressive,” he said. “It took Zoopla three years to reach 5 million visits per month, even having acquired PropertyFinder, Hot Property and ThinkProperty along the way.”

However, despite OTM’s view of its growth, their figures are not verified by any external monitors, unlike their rivals – and their level of traffic and brand awareness remains a fraction of what Zoopla and Rightmove – are achieving, the Zoopla Property Group (ZPG)’s marketing team works overtime to highlight these facts.

ZPG, which also owns PrimeLocation. com and SmartNewHomes.com among other portals, has issued numerous press releases claiming that the volume of visitors to OTM has been in decline and that agents listing their properties on it are not receiving value for money, as part of a wider anti-OTM campaign.

But so far backing for OTM has remained firm, with many agents, including Jane Murray, Director of GoodMoves, speaking out in support of the portal, despite receiving fewer leads from it.

Quality not quantity

Jane Murray, GoodMoves imageJane Murray has taken the unprecedented step of dropping both Zoopla and Rightmove in order to list with OTM because she believes that many of the leads provided “by the two portals were non-starters.”

“Yes, I may have dropped Zoopla and Rightmove, but I haven’t gone out of business, we are still here”, she said. “OTM may not deliver as many leads as Zoopla and Rightmove, but the leads tend to be of better quality.” Jane Murray, GoodMoves.

Yes, I dropped Rightmove and Zoopla. OTM may not deliver as many leads but the leadstend to be of better quality.

On the other hand, there are tentative signs that some agents are becoming unhappy with the ‘low volume’ of leads provided by OTM.

None of the OTM leads resulted in a sale or letting; we couldn’t justify remaining with OTM and returned to Rightmove. Susan Cohen, Pastor Real Estate.

Susan Cohen, Pastor Real Estate imageHaving dropped Rightmove – keeping Zoopla as their ‘one other’ portal – to list with OTM, Pastor Real Estate has now reversed the decision following poor results. “We wanted to give OTM our support as an agent-run site, set up was to keep costs for agents down,” said Pastor Real Estate’s Acting Head of Sales, Susan Cohen.

But having only received a handful of enquiries, “none of which resulted in a sale or letting,” Cohen said that her company simply, “could not justify remaining with OTM” and therefore ended their contract in July to return to Rightmove, and it seems that Pastor Real Estate were not alone in their decision to leave the portal.

Agents return to Zoopla

Zoopla mobile screenshot imageAccording to its latest trading update, Zoopla, which earlier this year acquired online price comparison site uSwitch for £160million in a move designed to differentiate it from rivals Rightmove and OnTheMarket, attracted a net rise of 213 branches in the four months to 31 July, after winning back 100 agents – many from OTM – in recent months.

The news triggered a ratings upgrade for Zoopla in mid-August from ‘sell’ to ‘buy’, with Broker Panmure Gordon suggesting that shares in the portal look undervalued.

Panmure Gordon analyst Jonathan Helliwell told the press that “near-term, OTM’s growth appears to have stalled.”

Zoopla’s 45.6 million monthly visits, tower above OTM’s 5.2 million and the website claims that it delivered a record high 135,000 appraisal leads potentially worth £100 million in fees to its members over the first half of 2015, up 40 per cent year-on-year.

The record level of appraisal leads and instructions we are delivering highlights the exceptional value we offer agents. Jon Notley, Zoopla Property Group.

Jon Notley image“The record level of appraisal leads and instructions we are delivering once again highlights the exceptional value we offer our members,” said Jon Notley, Commercial Director.

Brand awareness

Zoopla pointed to a high level of brand awareness and usage for helping it deliver record levels of instruction leads for members. A recent study by Harris Interactive, on behalf of ZPG, claimed that more people had heard of Zoopla than any other UK property portals.

The research, conducted in July by questioning thousands of consumers, revealed that Zoopla’s national spontaneous brand awareness amongst all adults stood at 38 per cent versus 34 per cent for Rightmove and just 2 per cent for OTM.

“This research reinforces how the Zoopla brand remains front of mind with consumers when thinking of property search and research,” said Lawrence Hall of ZPG.

Tepid growth

Despite Zoopla’s return to growth, OTM’s Springett said that ZPG’s latest trading update only served to “underline the success and progress” of OTM in continuing to disrupt the property portals market.

“Its tepid growth of 213 agent branches since its April 2015 update is a drop in the ocean in the context of its 23 per cent loss of agents, which equates to 3,812 agents, between 30 September 2014 and 31 March 2015,” he added.

Even as recently as September of this year, there were major agents announcing their withdrawal from Zoopla, with Chestertons the latest firm to quit the portal to list homes on Rightmove and OTM.

Nevertheless, with 16,000 agency advertisers still on their site, Zoopla have treble the volume of advertisers on OTM. This suggests that OTM will have to be patient in their efforts to increase their listings – and visitors – as neither can be built overnight. But will the agency owners and advertisers be prepared to play the long game?

Rightmove strengthens

Some commentators believe that Rightmove has been the real beneficiary of the war of the online property portals.

Last year inquiries from homehunters on Rightmove rose 19 per cent to 42.8million, and yet despite increased competition, it still has 19,000 agents listing their homes on the site.

Rightmove, ranked in the top 20 websites in the UK by visitor traffic, has recorded growth across the business, with site traffic up 13 per cent in the first half of the year (H1), fuelling a 14 per cent jump in leads.

Their advertiser numbers also rose in H1 2015, up 1 per cent, while its share of traffic increased from 77 per cent to 82 per cent, cementing its place as the UK’s leading property website, with the group now offering 50 per cent more residential properties than any other portal.

“Rightmove generate by far the highest number of leads for our firm,” said Yasser Elkaffass, Director of Adam Hayes estate agents. “The website puts us and our properties in front of a high level of househunters, giving us the best chance possible of staying ahead of the local competition.”

Best of the rest

Martin Wilkinson imageDespite the industry dominance of these portals, there are others with an alternative focus, specialist criteria and different search facilities that agents may consider listing properties with.

“Specialist niche players are the way ahead for property marketing,” said Martin Wilkinson, Founder of Buy2Let.com. “There is not only ‘room’ [for other portals], but also demand and a need to have specialists based on regional and types too, including retirement, new build, buy-to-let and owner-occupier.”

Specialist niche players are the way ahead for property marketing, there is not only room, there is demand. Martin Wilkinson, Buy2Let.com

Buy2Let.com

Buy2Let.com lists Buy to Let properties by yield – giving buyers a clear understanding of their return on investment. Property buyers can seek and compare property by annual rental return, in addition to the price location and selling agent.

Houser.co.uk
Founded by Canadian entrepreneur Rocky Mirza, the portal, which uses estate agent website data and web crawler technology, was launched earlier this year.

Propertini.com/uk
Propertini.com, the international property search engine, launched the UK version of its website in 2014.

Citylets.co.uk
With over 4million visitors annually, Citylets, established over 15 years ago, occupies a strong position in Scottish residential lettings.

LocalPropertyIndex.com
The portal currently only lists properties in and around Hampshire but eventually plans to roll out its service nationwide.

Home.co.uk
Established in 1996, Home.co.uk has links to over 700,000 homes for sale and to let across the UK.

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