Here’s the final part of our questioning of the three portals based on comments and queries from our readers - thanks to everyone who’s taken part, including agents submitting their questions and the portals for giving their answers.
Earlier this week we looked at how portals can justify their fees (here) and how they are preparing to work with agencies and a house buying process that are both undergoing large scale change (here).
Today we look at technology, with a question based on several we received from our readers.
QUESTION: Some say portals have not fundamentally improved their technology for some years. Is there anything new on the way, such as machine learning, artificial intelligence or other technical enhancements?
OnTheMarket says: “We are focused on technological innovations which enhance and facilitate the role of the agent at the heart of property transactions and bring tangible benefits rather than those which are gratuitously ‘disruptive’.
“There’s nothing more frustrating than an ‘innovative’, ‘game-changing’ search that suggests you can enter, say, ‘2-bed penthouse flats with roof terrace in W1’ and no results are returned, even though you know there are plenty of these flats available on the market.
“The most valuable technology will make the business of buying and selling property easier, less labour-intensive, faster, less risky, more transparent and perhaps more enjoyable. It will create choice and empowerment to improve productivity and reduce costs for agents, who will have the opportunity either to charge their clients less and/or to offer an ever-improving level of service quality.
“That said, fear and insecurity are powerful factors which continue to encourage people to want primarily to work with people to buy and sell houses. We believe it will always remain fundamentally a people business, given that buying a house is one of the biggest decisions we make in life and one of the areas where expertise, advice and trust count for so much.
“So yes, for many people it will be a welcome advantage to be able to arrange the search, the mortgage, the legal work and the payment all in one place with the option to track progress online throughout.
“Portals already offer search results based on what they learn about user preferences, aiming to pre-empt their needs and wants. This is all good if it is the user’s choice that the portal helps determine ‘individual relevance’ and guarantees integrity in terms of personal data. For other users, they continue to prefer to be in the driving seat to keep revising their search criteria.”
Zoopla says: “We update and improve the Zoopla platform regularly and already utilise these technologies to improve the service for both agents and home hunters. That said, we recognise that everyone is hungry for further innovation, and that tech harbours almost limitless potential for agents in particular, as they seek to unlock further value in the market. In the immediate term, our ambition is to reduce risk and increase certainty in the buying and renting process, to increase agent profitability, to ease inefficiencies, and to provide a better experience for all.”
Rightmove says: “Over the past year there have been 900 changes made to the Rightmove platforms, some big changes like a complete overhaul of the Best Price Guide, through to smaller updates behind the scenes to keep the website fast and easy to use.
Rightmove’s CEO Peter Brooks-Johnson explains what the teams have been working on for agents and what’s coming up. ‘For Rightmove to be valuable, it has to be a long term viable proposition. It can only be a long term viable proposition if it continues to deliver for its agent customers. We are always trying to balance the needs and demands of both agents and home hunters to make sure we deliver value to both, for now and in the future. Rightmove continually upgrades its underlying technology encompassing advances in technology, and we make the changes gradual to make it easy for all to adapt and change with us. For example, a few years ago we moved our entire search to use a tool called Elastic Search to speed up searches and allow us to add new features such as Keyword Sort.
“‘When talking to agents there are three key things they say they want from us: more ways to win more instructions, quality leads, and tools and products that don’t take up too much of their time to use. So that’s what we continue to focus on. As there are so many different local markets with very different challenges, we always look at our products and tools to make sure they work for both over-supply and under-supply markets.
“‘We’ve been making improvements to our tools to make them quicker and easier to use like the recent upgrade of the Best Price Guide, and we’ve been creating new products that work without an agent having to manually do anything, like auto featured property. We have a new product launching in January, Sold By Me, that gives agents a prominent place within the search results pages to shout about the properties they’ve sold, which again works automatically. We’ve also created a new tool called Opportunity Manager, which is a way for an agent to prioritise the leads they receive by highlighting to them people who are the most likely to be selling their houses.
“‘Our teams work with agents continuously, helping them come up with new ideas for their marketing campaigns on Rightmove, making sure they’re kept up to date with the latest industry news and best practice through hundreds of hours of webinars available on the Rightmove hub, and showing them how best to use our tools to help them grow their business. We will continue to innovate for agents in 2020’.”