OnTheMarket is declining to comment after suggestions were floated that some debts by its member agents could be deferred, or in some way lessened, if those agents choose to vote Yes to the float proposal by OTM parent company Agents’ Mutual.
Estate Agent Today and other trade press outlets have received claims from agents - some attending OnTheMarket roadshow sessions, some not - that members who have failed to pay subscriptions have in recent weeks received notification that legal action will be pursued against them.
This comes after Agents’ Mutual’s successful Competition Appeals Tribunal case against Gascoigne Halman.
However, it is alleged that at least some of the agents in arrears have also received separate correspondence from OTM suggesting that past debts could be deferred, or have their impact lessened in some other way, if the agents concerned were to agree to the Agents’ Mutual float proposal and sign up for five years.
One claim even suggests that one agent’s debt could be dropped completely, although it has not been possible to verify this.
No agent has yet been willing to go on the record about these claims.
When EAT approached Agents’ Mutual about the allegations, a spokesman replied: “We are unable comment on private correspondence with our members.”
There have also been questions raised over the apparent ‘free shares’ offer made by Agents’ Mutual to OTM subscribers; to be eligible for the maximum share benefit, subscribers must sign up to the service for five years.
Commenters contributing to the Financial Times’ FT Alphaville service - a daily online service for markets and investors - have queried how ‘free’ the free shares actually are.
One commenter writes: “The appeal of free shares is no doubt strong; however, how free are they? In order to receive the shares, agents sign up to a five year contract and single branch firms will have a 'base level' five year subscription cost of between £18,800 and £37,900 depending on location; bells and whistles will cost more. If a single branch is offered 12,000 shares the implied value is between £48,000 and £60,000, but the cost of these free shares ranges from £18,800 to £37,900.”
In the weeks since the news of the proposed float, the OnTheMarket Action Group - representing some agents facing actual or possible legal action from Agents’ Mutual, and others sharply critical of the OTM portal’s performance - has remained silent.
However, a newsletter set up by an individual agent opposed to OnTheMarket’s float proposal has been launched and is an attempt to kickstart the industry into taking action, according to its creator.
Graeme Lumsden, a gold member agent of OnTheMarket - who describes himself as a passionate supporter of OTM from its inception, and with 30 years experience of the industry - has contacted other members of the portal and has set up a website, www.theestateagencyindustry.co.uk.
“Whether we tackle the shortcomings of OnTheMarket, the unchallenged dominance of Rightmove or the convenient confusion created by Online Property Listers [online agents] claiming to be estate agents ... whatever we choose to do we need action rather than talk endlessly about what we are going to do... yet never actually do it” writes Lumsden in the newsletter.