Leaked emails dating from 2013 and seen this week by Estate Agent Today appear to show a number of estate agencies discussing when they could leave Zoopla and join what was then referred to as “an alternative portal.”
Most of the emails are written by representatives of Knight Frank and Chesterton Humberts (as it then was - now Chestertons). Representatives from Savills, Strutt & Parker and Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward estate agencies are copied in.
Many of the emails concern negotiations these agents were at the time having, collectively, with Zoopla Property Group regarding fees and contract duration for 2013/2014.
The agents hired a third-party negotiator from a marketing company to act on behalf of what was called at the time ‘the consortium.’
This collective negotiation was apparently the norm between these agencies and ZPG from about 2011. The consortium came together to leverage the best possible deal for its members with ZPG.
Many of the emails discuss specifics of the subscription rates these agents were to pay per branch in 2013/14. However, some emails also discuss the duration of the contract, which some agents wanted to be nine months rather than a more conventional 12 months.
There were also comments which appear to refer to options to leave ZPG and/or join an alternative portal.
For example, the first two paragraphs of an email written by a Knight Frank representative to the third-party negotiator on February 26 2013 - and copied to named agents at Savills, Strutt & Parker, Chesterton Humberts and Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward - were as follows:
Thanks, I met with [Savills agent] and [Strutt & Parker agent] yesterday PM. Our considered view is that we don’t want to pay more but we don’t ultimately want to come off this year since we don’t have the alternative portal in place.
We realise that capping the [ZPG] increase ... is unlikely to be agreed by Zoopla and that we would need to give you instructions that we would come off to give your negotiations bite which we don’t feel we can do, frustratingly.
Another email, dated February 28 2013, was written by a Chestertons representative to a Knight Frank agent and the third-party negotiator, and copied to representatives from Savills, Strutt & Parker and Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward. It says:
My gut says we should try to hold out for a 12 month contract. Better to be locked in for the extra three months than be fighting another 12 month contract in Jan/Feb next year. If we are not ready by then (and I have my doubts) we are then faced with paying for perhaps 6 to 9 months of a contract we don’t want.
The agencies involved in the 2013 emails went on to become prominent supporters of OnTheMarket.
In a statement last week, on April 21, the Competition and Markets Authority said: “The Competition and Markets Authority became aware that some estate agents may be making joint decisions to join the OnTheMarket portal and to remove their business from competing portals, rather than reaching these decisions independently of each other. The CMA has also contacted some agents that it suspects may have been directly involved in such activity.”
On Monday of this week, Estate Agent Today asked for comments from Knight Frank and Chestertons on the emails contained in this story and written by their representatives.
Knight Frank says: “Our various commercial negotiations with Zoopla all took place well before the start of the OnTheMarket portal. We have at all times acted completely independently of other agencies in the choosing of our second portal.”
Chestertons says: “Our portal choices are made wholly independently, something that was clearly demonstrated in January last year when Chestertons chose to remain with Zoopla due to its then-position as a strong London-centric portal, while many of our competitors dropped it. As we anticipated, the property portal landscape changed dramatically over the following months and in September, we made the decision to resume our presence on Rightmove.”