Some estate agents who received a letter from lawyers acting on behalf of Agents’ Mutual say they will still not upload their properties to OnTheMarket and will not pay alleged arrears, in defiance of the threat of legal action.
Two agents - Nick Crayson, from Crayson in London’s Notting Hill, and Mike Heath of the family-run Kings agency in Tunbridge Wells - have contacted Estate Agent Today to say they are at this stage ignoring the OTM letter.
Last week we reported that lawyers acting for Agents’ Mutual, the parent company of OnTheMarket, had written to a number of OTM members. In the letters these agents were described as having taken down listings, and/or allegedly not paid their subscription fees, and/or were advertising their inventory on more than one other major portal in contravention of OnTheMarket membership policy.
One recipient of a letter was Nick Crayson, founder and managing director of Crayson, an agency in Notting Hill. Crayson became an early Gold member of OTM, dropping Rightmove and retaining Zoopla/Primelocation to abide by the new portal’s rule.
However, last October Crayson told Estate Agent Today he could no longer support OTM because its leads were “more than disappointing” and “pretty much non-existent” and the portal had a total membership “well behind the promises” made when it launched.
Now Crayson has written a defiant letter to OTM’s chief executive Ian Springett in response to the threat of legal action.
In the letter, a copy of which has been seen by Estate Agent Today, Crayson says: “I think that you are being supremely foolish in pursuing this action. Agents threatening to sue agents is not a good look.”
He goes on to say that legal action against individual agencies or agents is opening a can of worms which will create “an even more negative vision” of Agents Mutual.
Crayson then writes: “This sincerely looks like the action of a failed portal which is now going out of its way to further damage agents who were willing to give it a go but were severely let down.”
He adds: “I know that I am one of very many who tried to support you, but that it was your own failures, false promises, breaches of contract and then trust which eventually forced us out of OnTheMarket. All that you have managed to do is create a monster in Rightmove – an unassailable giant – which I certainly could not afford to not be using.”
Crayson claims in the letter that OTM’s one other major portal rule has failed. “It is uncommercial and uncompetitive and your focus on destroying Zoopla has skewed the market, creating an artificial marketing terrain.”
Crayson concludes his letter this way: “I will be happy to go all the way if you have the time and inclination to take to task a hoard of agents on the basis of a deeply flawed contract.”
Mike Heath of Kings estate and lettings agency in Tunbridge Wells has also contacted us.
He joined OTM over a year ago as a Silver member with a five year contract of £500 per month. He dropped Zoopla and retained Rightmove at the time.
“I gave OnTheMarket a full 12 months, plenty of time for it to gain traction. But I can honestly say in that full year we didn’t get one sale nor one tenant from the portal. No one had heard of it. I eventually said enough was enough when we lost an instruction because the potential client said he wanted to be on both Rightmove and Zoopla, and decided to go to another agent to achieve that” explains Heath.
He says he cancelled his £500 monthly payment to the portal at the start of this year and wrote a termination letter to OnTheMarket but received what he described as a standard reply that wasn’t addressing his specific points. Eventually he resorted to Twitter to get the portal to answer his questions, but they did not accept that he could terminate.
Heath has now contacted his local Citizens Advice centre and written to the Competition and Markets Authority about OTM. “Citizens Advice says OnTheMarket could be considered in breach of their own contract because they haven’t done what they said they would do” he says.
Heath says he is not going to pay his alleged arrears which currently run to under £1,000 and has contacted OTM to ask why some recently-recruited agents have allegedly paid subscriptions of only £50 a month “or perhaps nothing at all” to become members.
“I feel really let down. No one wants to pay the fees to Rightmove or Zoopla but they produce good quality leads” he says.
He concludes by saying: “The bottom line is I’m not prepared to see our family-run business go under.”
OnTheMarket last week told EAT that it was standard practice for any company to seek outstanding payments from customers in arrears. “We work to ensure that everyone in contract with us meets their obligations for the benefit of all members of Agents' Mutual" said a spokesperson.
Also last week a real estate analyst for the bank Credit Suisse predicted that legal action by OTM agents challenging the portal’s contract may be possible in the near future - although he said this remained an expensive option for many relatively small agencies.
Estate Agent Today asked OnTheMarket for its view on the claim that some agents believed recent £50 subscription fees may invalidate earlier contracts struck at higher monthly rates. The portal’s response last evening was: “No comment.”