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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

OnTheMarket still aims to be top portal - and ponders next move on fees

OnTheMarket says it still aims to be the number one portal, but the acting chief executive has revealed a far more nuanced route to success than previously suggested.

Former CEO Ian Springett said in May 2015 “we remain confident in becoming the number two portal by the end of January 2016” and then pledged to overtake Rightmove and become the biggest portal as a “medium term objective.”

However the current acting chief executive - Clive Beattie, who joined OTM as chief financial officer - says the portal has in his eyes only been providing strong returns for agents and other advertisers such as house builders in the past year. 

And now, having achieved that, it’s ready to make further progress.

“In our early years we were failing to generate enough consumer leads to our advertisers, even when we were spending millions and had a third of the market [in terms of agent members]” says Beattie in an interview with Estate Agent Today.

But he says that in the past year, notwithstanding problems caused by the Coronavirus crisis, OnTheMarket has made significant progress. 

“In January and February when the market was going strongly we reached 8,000 paying branches. Then, even in lockdown, we got another 1,000 or so taking us to 9,000. And for the first time we’re giving our advertisers a fully operational, functioning portal” he says.

The portal achieved its busiest ever day for leads on June 10 - that’s Wednesday of this week - and that was despite curtailing discretionary marketing spending.

Other signs of success he identifies include high proportions of leads for agents and builders; making the portal truly differentiated from its major opponents by insisting that it wants to make a profit but not by disadvantaging members; by having fair fees not increasing unreasonably; and by innovation such as last year’s deal where OTM took a 20 per cent stake in PropTech platform teclet and an option in its parent company. 

Beattie explains that the cash burn of the portal over the past financial year - seized upon by critics who suggest it indicates a future crisis for the company - was actually incurred early in that 12 month period and was then more than replaced by increasing revenues. 

“As a result, I’m not worried and there’s no threat to the group” he explains.

On the topical subject of reduced fees for hard-pressed agents during the rest of the Coronavirus period, Beattie says the portal is not committed to extending its current offer to members - but nor is it committed to abandoning it if agents are still in need.

From the start of April OTM has implemented a 33 per cent listing fee discount for agents on full-tariff listing agreements. “We’ve still got a month or so of that to run so we’ll review it and see if it needs to be modified or continued or some other option” says Beattie.

He says he recognises that while there is pent up demand now, the situation may be different come the autumn when furlough finishes, a wider economic recession may be taking root, and unemployment rises - all hitting the housing market.

Beattie is himself a candidate for OTM’s chief executive position, formally open since the sacking of Springett was announced on March 9: an announcement on who takes the post permanently is likely in the coming weeks.

His approach is far less confrontational and more subtle than that of Springett, with what some may consider a much greater understanding of the need to promise only what can be delivered. 

Nonetheless he remains ambitious for the portal, and he asks. “What is our objective? Of course it is to be number one portal. Why would we aim for anything less?”

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