The young entrepreneur behind Doorsteps, the estate agency that deliberately avoids the huge marketing razzamatazz of other online companies, says his operation has enjoyed its best ever month and is now one of the largest digital operators.
In an exclusive interview with Estate Agent Today, Akshay Ruparelia says his agency - which he founded two years ago when he was only 18 - has around 2,500 homes for sale after a record-beating month of May in which it added around 400 listings to its inventory.
During the month it sold “around 200 properties” according to Ruparelia.
In addition, during May Doorsteps was for the first time included by consumer group Which? in its comparative list of online agencies produced on its website; it joins Emoov, Hatched, HouseSimple, Purplebricks, Tepilo and YOPA in that list.
To top the month off, Ruparelia was four weeks ago named as the youngest person in this year’s Sunday Times Rich List.
He set up the site in late 2016 using a £7,000 loan from family members. He raised over £500,000 last summer in a crowdfunding exercise, and offers packages priced from £99 to £199, making his one of the cheapest online firms operating today.
Ruparelia says that in 2017 his business sold around half a billion pounds worth of property and in the final quarter of the year - based on listings - was the third largest online agency in the UK. “But that was pre-merger” he says, referring to the joining forces of Emoov, Tepilo and lettings platform Urban, announced last month.
Doorsteps now employs 25 (soon to be 30) local representatives based from Brighton to Glasgow; they cover around 90 per cent of the listings on the agency’s website, which also accepts properties for sale from other parts of the country so far unrepresented by staff.
One of its more unusual characteristics in the crowded online field is that “we don’t spend a penny on marketing” according to Ruparelia.
“Many other online agencies spend substantial fortunes on marketing, including TV advertising. But the fact that most of our clients pay only £99 is because, unlike many other online firms, we don’t have to claw back all that marketing spend” he says.
The investment he has attracted to the firm is spent entirely on technology and staff he says, “to improve the customer experience” rather than fund billboards or TV ads.
Instead of through advertising, he insists Doorsteps gets most of its business - including repeat business - based on word of mouth recommendations and the integrity of its local representatives.
“Many traditional agents probasbly spend a lot of time telling their clients they shouldn’t use online firms. And the online agents spend a lot of time telling their customers how much they can save by using online. Well we don’t do that - we just try to champion the customer by giving them the best possible service” Ruparelia insists.
On the wider online landscape, Ruparelia accepts digital agencies have so far perhaps underperformed collectively: he accepts the now-dominant figure, first suggested by analyst Mike DelPrete, that UK online firms have around 7.1 per cent share of the market.
“Purplebricks’ vast expenditure has obviously made it very successful but it’s also been educational, informing the public of what a hybrid agency can do mixing traditional agents with technology” he adds.
But while Purplebricks and most others have been shouting their praises widely, Ruparelia insists he will continue to avoid substantial marketing. “In some ways we’re not as well known as some agents, but that’s fine” he says - “we’re delivering, which is what counts.”