The prospect of technology transforming the selling and buying process, including more power for portals and especially online agents, dominated parts of the mainstream media over the weekend.
Following two shock announcements in recent days - the sale of ZPG to a US Tech fund for £2.2 billion, and a possible £100m merger of online agencies Tepilo and Emoov - one newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, even went so far as to say the property industry was on the verge of a digital revolution.
“Expensive, cumbersome, restrictive and unpopular - it’s hard to think of a major sector that is more ripe for disruption” the Telegraph says of the agency industry, warning: “It is hard to believe that the local estate agent can survive much into the next decade.”
Matthew Lynn - a financial expert who writes for the Wall Street Journal, The Spectator and Money Week as well as The Daily Telegraph - wrote in the latter that the two deals suggest “serious money” is coming into the house buying sector with a view to transforming how the public buy and sell.
He predicts websites “will take over [the role of] traditional high street agents” - but he insists that’s merely the starting point.
“Add-on services will be taken over by artificial intelligence systems. And after that the tech giants such as Amazon and Google will inevitably move in” he says, adding that “At the end of the process the property market will be a lot more efficient - and there will be a lot of turmoil along the way.”
Lynn believes that with £9 billion invested in PropTech ventures worldwide in 2017 - much of it in the UK - it’s surprising more technical innovation hasn’t already been introduced into how we buy and sell.
He is particularly praising of online agents. “Most operate on a fixed fee rather than taking a percentage of the final sale price, making them radically cheaper. They don’t need lots of offices and they don’t need many staff, giving them a far lower cost base.”
Lynn doesn’t hold back with his revolutionary vision, saying tech-led transformation will also completely change how systems for mortgage provision and the “fairly repetitive” work of conveyancers are so routine that they are “making it easier for robots” to do tasks.
He says there will be many casualties along the way, including PropTech start ups that fail to make the grade, but he warns that change will come - and rapidly.
“For the customer, the market that emerges at the end will work a lot better” he claims.
The Daily Mail - owned by DMGT, which has a 31 per cent stake in ZPG - writes that the portal sale will focus attention on how the public start their house buying.
“Zoopla and rival property listing website Rightmove have become a fixture of the UK house hunting experience, with buyers heading straight to the portals to look for properties for sale. Estate agents pay to list properties on the websites and, as home owners cannot directly list there, the portals are also benefiting from the rise of online agencies” it says.
Meanwhile financial analysts Bloomberg says the ZPG deal is all about extracting more profit from data and says Twitter is the model for this - its sales jumped 21 per cent in the past quarter even though user numbers rose just 1.8 per cent in the same period.
“While [ZPG] has bought small tech companies such as Hometrack and Calcasa, ZPG’s data business makes up only eight per cent of its £245m of yearly revenue. Should the UK housing market fall further, the smart targeting of buyers will become essential” Bloomberg says.
It also claims to know how that will be done: “ZPG has vast pools of data on the housing market and buyer behaviour but its ability to squeeze the most value from that data is limited. Machine-learning techniques could, for instance, make it easier to identify why a property sells. Silver Lake wants to pair ZPG with Red Ventures, a North Carolina startup that specializes in big data analytics.”