You're about to miss out on the biggest development in estate agency since the invention of the Camera.
I'm sure some of you have heard about 'the secret', otherwise known as 'the law of attraction'. The idea is considered to be mumbo jumbo by many, Einstein however was a believer. The fundamental concept is based on the idea that you can literally imagine something into existence and that the universe knows what we really really want and it somehow gives it to us, good or bad.
Anyway, during what has been a tumultuous year for estate agency, I have become a major dissident voice in the great Agents' Mutual (AM) debate. One of the points I have tried to make is that signing yourself into an exclusivity agreement of any kind is madness given the speed of technological change. I think many of you agree with me but those who have signed up with AM may have underestimated how soon truly disruptive change will occur.
What I have said is that notwithstanding the bad press, the public outcry and the unwelcome regulatory attention, that something will come out of the blue that makes all other portals redundant and it looks like it has arrived in time for Christmas.
Before I tell you about 'Houser' in more detail, I feel I need to bring in a few other more pedestrian issues, so this is my attempt at killing several birds with one stone, never easy but Christmas is coming so needs must.
The other issues are the relationship the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) has with Agents' Mutual, the potentially collusive behaviour of AM supporters in agreeing, amongst other things, to dump Zoopla en masse and the transparency and motivation of the board members of Agents' Mutual.
Let's start with the NAEA
I tried to have a chat with Mark Hayward, Managing Director of the NAEA, about its support for Agents' Mutual. Surprise surprise, he wouldn't talk to me so on November 27 I wrote to Lansons - the NAEA's PR company - posing some pointed questions, this is what I sent:
As I mentioned on the phone, I have been trying to contact Mark Hayward in order to have an informal chat to get some background for an article I am writing which, amongst other things, will consider the NAEA's relationship with OnTheMarket/Agents' Mutual.
As Mark has refused to speak to me, or even to respond to my approach, as suggested I am writing with some questions I would like Mark to answer.
Firstly, can Mark explain why the NAEA and ARLA have a seat on the AM board
Does the NAEA support all the aims and goals of AM
How does the NAEA counter claims that the AM exclusivity rule is anti-competitive and creates a conflict of interest between the estate agent and their clients
What is the NAEA's response to recent negative press articles in relation to AM and in particular to criticisms of the exclusivity rule
How would the NAEA recommend AM agents go about ensuring their clients understand the effect of the restriction they have agreed to on the marketing exposure of their clients' properties Should this be recorded and open to scrutiny
Has the NAEA taken its own legal advice in regard to possible infringements of competition legislation
What advice can the NAEA give to members who are thinking of joining AM in relation to taking their own legal advice
Does the NAEA see any conflict between an AM agent and an asset manager who needs to show whole of market exposure to sell distressed property assets
Does the NAEA see any danger that the AM exclusivity rule could bring the profession into disrepute
What is the NAEA's reason for supporting AM when AM does not allow certain NAEA members (agents without high street offices) to advertise with them
What difference does the NAEA see in the service provided by high street and non high street agents
How can the NAEA claim to represent the whole industry and support an organisation which sees itself as a subset of that industry, out to protect its own interests, that of high street agents, over and above the interests of the interests of the industry as a whole and in particular of non high street agents
I am hoping my article will be published next week so an early response would be appreciated
All the best
Initially I was told that Mark Hayward was on annual leave but my questions would be prioritised for him to answer on his return.
Then on the 12th December I got this:
Apologies Simon, Mark Hayward is unable to comment at this time.
Make what you will of this refusal to comment but my bet is that the NAEA does not know how to answer my questions so it has taken the equivalent of the Fifth Amendment.
In terms of collusive behaviour, a source recently forwarded me an email which was circulated to a group of agents in the south west.
The update on the approach to OnTheMarket detailed that the consensus among the group was to keep advertising on Rightmove and for all the agencies to give notice to Zoopla.
The email went on to reiterate a plan that had previously been discussed by the group's members at a marketing meeting. The plan is to delay loading new properties to Rightmove until three days after they have appeared on the agent's site and OnTheMarket.
The group members are also planning to have only a basic Rightmove subscription, with no premium listings or additional extras. The strategy behind this is to be in a position to dr Rightmove completely in 12 months. The message concludes by encouraging other agents in the group to cease promoting Rightmove in offices and to focus solely on advertising OnTheMarket, in order to build its profile.
So decide for yourself what you think of this behaviour and how the Competitions and Market Authority is likely to interpret it.
Even assuming you still think that 'something has to be done' about the existing portals, let's look at the issue of motivation and transparency of Agents' Mutual.
It has been rumoured that Ian Springett's salary is £500K. I texted him asking him to confirm or deny this rumour, he didn't respond. How would you feel if the leader of a start up using your money was earning that salary when £100K would be more like it in the open market More to the point, shouldn't you know what his salary is without having to ask or speculate
It has also been rumoured that a disproportionate amount of Agents' Mutual's marketing budget is going to go on upmarket publications like the Telegraph, is this true I have also heard it rumoured that Knight Frank won't be coming off the Country Life website, is this true If so, what's the difference between the property section of the Country Life website and a property portal
It has also been rumoured that when it was suggested that premium advertising positions on OnTheMarket were going to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, there was a near revolt by members leading to a swift retraction of the whole idea.
The question is though, what does this tell you about the real raison d'tre behind Agents' Mutual Is it really a way of elite agents securing their hallowed turf using money from non elite agents, after all And, where in any of these opaque machinations is there any consideration given to the interests of the consumer, like why they should use the new portal in the first place, given that all the properties will still be on Rightmove and Zoopla
Moving back to the main point of this article: rapid decisive change. A few weeks ago I was approached by Rocky Mirza, please Google him, he is an interesting character. Basically Rocky is a serial entrepreneur and maths genius who made his money initially from registering thousands of domain names at the dawn of the Internet. Since then, he has forged a reputation as a disruptor of established businesses and an innovator who uses data in ways that we mere mortals cannot even imagine.
A tech maths genius who is also an entrepreneur, a rare combination indeed and one which is, in my view, going to create the perfect storm for change in estate agency portal marketing.
Rocky has turned his attention to the property portal market and will be launching his challenge to the status quo called 'Houser' in early January ahead of Agents' Mutual's own launch.
Having been shown Houser, I felt it is vital that given the timing of the AM launch that agents have a chance to see it first, as it may well change their point of view completely. To this end I have persuaded Rocky to make his site accessible to anyone who wants a preview, that way you can judge for yourself if I am blowing smoke or not, take a look at: http://demo.houser.co.uk/, using the login: demo and the password: d3mo@hous3r (only the first 500 people will be able to view the demo).
Bear in mind there is additional functionality that will be added at launch, which is currently too sensitive to make live right now. Nevertheless, you will be able to get the flavour of what is to come.
The look and feel as well as the functionality is only the tip of the iceberg, the real magic will come in the way this new site will be able to generate traffic. If what I have been shown is true, it will literally be ahead of Rightmove and Zoopla within three months, no that's not a typo and almost immediately, Houser will be the must-have, go-to site for property for all of our clients.
So how much is this magic going to cost us agents Well, the answer is it is a 'freemium' service so we will get everything we currently get and more for nothing. All Rocky wants is our inventory. Also, we don't have to do anything in order to be listed, by default we will be, if we want to come off, we can. After six hours with Rocky, throwing every conceivable objection I could think of at him, I don't think any agents are going to want to come off this site.
Of course Rocky wants to make money but initially that is not his main priority, he knows that once you have traffic and engagement, the money follows, or as he put it: Creation, Consumption Conversion. Oh and by the way, he is looking at a global solution, he just happens to be starting with the UK in January just before the launch of AM, food for thought over the turkey this Christmas.
Article written by Simon Shinerock, Chairman of Choices Estate Agents. For more information on Simon, see his LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/simonshinerock.