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Countrywide rejected invitation to buy 10% of eMoov says agency chief

Countrywide’s former senior management rejected an invitation to buy 10 per cent of eMoov for £100,000 five years ago, according to the online agency.

“To think that in 2011 I offered Bob Scarff, then managing director of Countrywide, 10 per cent of eMoov for £100,000. That may well prove to be their very own Blockbuster moment” says Russell Quirk, eMoov’s founder and chief executive.

His reference was to the US video rental firm’s decision 16 years ago not to buy streaming company Netflix - then a fledgling firm experimenting with new technology - for a snip. 

Quirk reveals the approach to sell part of eMoov - and the rebuff he received - in an article on networking site LinkedIn. In the piece, he describes the recent decisions by Countrywide to close 59 branches and substantially rebrand its London offices as “the disintegration of the UK’s largest estate agent.”

“What Countrywide and its insane multiple of brands are experiencing was inevitable as of a while back” he claims, describing the group’s appearance in recent years as being “a bloated organisation with less than optimal customer service and an ever increasing push for higher fees at the expense of the consumer.”   

But he is equally critical of the steps taken by Countrywide’s new management in a series of reforms announced piecemeal over the past 18 months.

“Countrywide's initial answer to the 'Amazonificaton' of the estate agency industry was to kick their experienced team members out on the street, badge themselves as some kind of 'retail' organisation (they are not) and to reorganise the UK into labelled zones as if such re-ordering would in itself make them a more efficient proposition or indeed a more attractive one toward the public” writes Quirk.

He then reveals eMoov’s more recent dealings with Countrywide.

“I have twice met with Countrywide executives to extoll the virtues of the digital model and, save for shaking them by the lapels to make them understand it and indeed the inevitability of its growth, have been met with mere apathy and scepticism both times. 

“My suggestion to them was that Countrywide should invest in eMoov to then get the inside track on our customer focused technology platform (built and optimised ages ago now), the cost reduction and customer empowerment that such technology allows; our rather unique approach to marketing and, obviously, owning a chunk of a business that has now gone on to grow from a £1m valuation to very arguably £40m to £50m now (our valuation in September 2015 when we raised £2.6m via Crowdcube was £21.6m).”

Now - as revealed earlier this year on Estate Agent Today - Countrywide has committed to offering a pared-down hybrid sales and lettings service from a quarter of its surviving network by the end of 2016.

Quirk believes this will not cut the mustard in an increasingly digital-friendly customer base.

“What [Countrywide chief executive Alison Platt] has instigated by ignoring us and rolling out a misconceived low cost option alongside traditional brands is no more than an accelerated cannibalisation of her shareholders' business and which will speed up further as we now hear that her hybrid 'platform only, no people' model is to be expanded across more branches. 

“To use a Titanic-inspired analogy, today's 59 office closures are not only the tip of the iceberg but an iceberg that the ship itself is navigating ever closer to” concludes Quirk.

  • Fake Agent

    "That may well prove to be their very own Blockbuster moment” says Russell Quirk, eMoov’s founder and chief executive."

    Steady on, Russ! Interesting story, nonetheless.

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    Remind us again Russell, how much profit does your online offer show and how much does Countrywide show?

    Let me answer it for you Emoov has not even broken even and Countrywide has made millions. Which one is the "insane" business?

    Algarve  Investor

    Haha! Fair points. Can't really argue with that.

    I think Mr Quirk is guilty of over-egging the basket somewhat, not for the first time. eMoov clearly run a decent operation - they wouldn't been around for this length of time if that weren't the case - but for Quirk to try and compare eMoov to CW is taking things to the extreme (and then some). I think CW - the biggest agency in the country, let's not forget - hasn't lost much sleep or further business because of its decision not to invest in eMoov. Delusions of grandeur from Mr Quirk or just more clever PR?

     
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    Very much over egging!

    I would question Mr Quirk getting praise in running a decent operation. He is very good at spending other peoples money. He has boasted in the past getting friends, family and even members of staffs families to invest. He has secured millions in funding (and spent it ) He also was at the Virgin investors plea for funding (was turned down on that occasion).

    He is without doubt a great fund raiser (how long can this be carried on) but in over 5 years yet to break even i would question if it was a well run operation with millions spent on it.

     
  • icon

    I think someone is a bit upset that all the agencies around him are getting snapped up by the big boys...

  • Algarve  Investor

    Didn't know about Blockbusters refusing to buy Netflix - would be interesting to read a bit more about the background behind that.

    To be fair to Blockbusters, back in 2000, no-one could have predicted how big the internet would become or how big a thing online streaming would be. It's only in recent years that the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime have really taken off. 16 years ago video still ruled the roost. DVDs were becoming more popular, but I seem to remember most people still using videos - and having a video player - back in 2000. It is amazing to think how much has changed since then.

    As they say, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

  • Rookie Landlord

    Russell Quirk engaging mouth before brain again, I see.

    His analogy also doesn't work. As far as I know, traditional agencies (or Countrywide for that matter) aren't facing an existential threat, as video stores were a number of years ago. The likes of eMoov and the other online agents aren't going to be taking over the market - in the same way Amazon Prime and Netflix took over from Blockbusters and the other video rental firms - so what he says makes no sense. I know there's been a fair bit of activity and upheaval with CW in recent months, but they are still the country's biggest largest estate agency group. They ain't gonna be withering away and dying anytime soon.

  • Trevor Mealham

    I see on another agency forum that there is now a budget 'sell your home service' for £99, which could save sellers hundreds from the budget agents charging £699, £599, £499, £399, £299 etc

    VCs would be stupid to put another penny into stack em high sell it cheap models.

    Tides are turning. Roll on ground £zero fees from jokers and 1.5% to 2.5% fees for proper full service agents

  • Terence Dicks

    You must admit that Russell is always good for a laugh though....

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