OnTheMarket says in a trading statement this morning that as of May 31 only some 9,000 branches were on paying contracts with the portal.
And a footnote to the statement says a minority even of those paying contracts “include an initial free period before payment commences.”
Overall - including branches on more substantial discounts - OTM says its total number of advertisers, including agents and developers, reached 13,605 at the end of last month.
Since the housing market resumed in mid-May, OTM claims to have seen “strong increases in weekly new instructions, traffic and leads … despite a substantial reduction in advertising expenditure.”
The portal offered a 33 per cent listing fee discount for full-tariff paying customer invoices issued in the three months starting April, and today’s statement offers no word on whether that will be extended as agents struggle to establish pipelines and continuing income.
As of May 31 the OTM had net cash of £8.8m and - excluding deferred creditor payments of £2.3m - no borrowings. In the portal's financial year, which ended in late January before the pandemic hit, OTM had increased its revenues by 32% but recorded a loss of £11.5m, down £3m on the previous year.
Now it admits in today's statement that in the short-term “revenues will be reduced by the support we are providing our customers through the discounts we have offered them” while the Coronavirus crisis “has impacted our customer recruitment and slowed the ongoing conversion of customers onto paying contracts.”
But it repeats its long-held claim that “we remain confident that we have the right strategy to support our longer-term vision to become the portal of choice for agent customers and property-seekers alike.”
The search continues for a permanent replacement for Ian Springett as chief executive; the man acting in his place, Clive Beattie, issued a lengthy statement to accompany trading figures this morning.
"Since our financial year end [end of January 2020] the emergence of COVID-19 has affected all of us and I have great admiration for the exceptional resilience and dedication of my colleagues during these challenging times. We have taken swift and decisive actions to protect the health and safety of our team, to conserve cash and to support agents so that OnTheMarket is positioned to capitalise in the future on long-term growth opportunities.
"The year to 31 January 2020 saw the group deliver a strong operational performance, which was particularly encouraging given the challenging property market conditions.
“It was a year of progress during which we continued to invest in marketing and advertising to raise our brand awareness. We increased our paying agent base, broadened our customer markets with the introduction of new homes developers and achieved significant growth in portal visitors and in leads to our property advertiser customers.
"The current crisis has been a catalyst for many agents to review their portal choices and the value they derive from them. We have been encouraged by our performance since 11 May, which we believe reflects increased consumer awareness of, and engagement with, OnTheMarket.
“Being majority agent-owned, our interests and those of our agent customers are one and the same and there remains a clear long-term opportunity for OnTheMarket to gain market share. We look forward with confidence and a differentiated proposition that is highly valued by agents looking for sustainably fair pricing."