The Independent Network of Estate Agents has written to the Competition and Markets Authority, raising the issue of the NAEA’s managing director serving as a director of Agents’ Mutual, the parent company of portal OnTheMarket.
Trevor Mealham, the INEA’s chief executive, says Mark Hayward has a potential conflict being a representative of the NAEA which acts on behalf of all agents, and yet being on the board of Agents‘ Mutual which excludes some agents from listing on its portal.
Mealham has emailed Ann Pope, the CMA’s senior antitrust director and one of the authors of last week’s open letter to agents from the authority, warning them of the danger of colluding to choose portals to support or ‘drop’ in line with OTM policy.
Mealham has also met with the CMA in the past, to discuss his belief that Agents’ Mutual and OnTheMarket are structured as separate companies which may act in concert against some commercial interests.
The INEA operates a multi-listing business-to-business service for sales and lettings agents allowing them to upload properties to a central pool of listings which can be accessed by members who then operate as ‘sub-agents’.
Mealham says this does not make it a portal. But OnTheMarket last year told agencies that listing on the INEA - if they already listed on a major portal as well as OTM - would contravene the ‘only one other portal rule’. An email sent by an OTM spokeswoman to INEA said: “OnTheMarket has decided that the INEA is a competing portal.”
Meanwhile OTM has been criticised by business newspaper City AM as a result of the Competition and Market Authority’s open letter.
An editorial in the paper has likened OnTheMarket to Luddites “eventually overwhelmed by power looms” following the release of the CMA’s open letter.
City AM - which in the past has published columns written by Agents’ Mutual leaders - wrote: “Anyone with even a passing interest in technology and its history could have predicted this one: just as the Luddites were eventually overwhelmed by power looms, online property portal OnTheMarket was destined to stumble” says the newspaper.
It went on: ”And lo, ... it came to pass: the Competition and Markets Authority effectively took a sledgehammer to the site’s business model by warning online property portals which prevent those listing homes on them from also listing on rival sites that they could be breaching competition law.”
At the end of the editorial it concludes: “It is hard to avoid drawing parallels with black cab drivers’ reaction to Uber: rather than innovating, the cabbies chose the Luddite approach, complaining vociferously, launching a vicious Twitter campaign and lobbying for Transport for London to introduce onerous regulations.
“[The] warning from the CMA may as well have been a warning to anyone reacting to advances in technology with denial and bullying tactics: protectionism doesn’t work. Innovation will always win out.”