With more house-hunters than ever now starting their search for a new home by typically looking online on one of the major property portals, a growing number of residential sales and letting agents are understandably spending a greater share of their total marketing budget on the internet.
Recent research revealed that usage of property portals in the UK is now at a record high with 47% of the population having used a property search website in the last 12 months.
What’s more, 62% of those questioned claimed that the portals an agent advertises on would factor into their selection of an agent when selling or letting their home.
So which portals should your firm consider listing properties with?
In recent years, the market has been dominated by two main players. Rightmove is by far the most visited property portal in the UK, while Zoopla, part of the Zoopla Property Group (ZPG), has consolidated its position as the number two portal, having made significant ground over the past few years.
Some 2.6m people browse the likes of Zoopla or Rightmove at least once a day and 38% admit they checked the price of someone else’s home online in the last year, according to a recent survey by Direct Line Home Insurance.
“Property sites are a source of information and inspiration and browsing these sites has become something of a past-time for millions of people,” said Katie Lomas, head of Direct Line Home Insurance.
However, the dominant duo are increasingly being challenged by OnTheMarket (OTM), the property portal set-up 18 months ago by agent-run collective Agents’ Mutual with the aim of breaking the so-called ‘duopoly’ held in Britain by Rightmove and Zoopla in order to help reduce the cost of listing properties on these portals and ultimately taking back control of the homebuyer audience.
Ian Springett (right), CEO of OnTheMarket.com, commented: “We have provided consumers with an alternative search platform which is clean, clear and responsive. Consumer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. There are no third party adverts cluttering the pages and the properties are displayed in the best possible light. Our progress is impressive, which other portal has made a fraction of the impact that we have done in this short space of time?”
Many agents are not only advertising their properties on the OTM website but also launching new-to-market homes there in advance of advertising them on any other portal: typically 24 to 48 hours ahead.
“This provides an extra and compelling reason for serious property-seekers to visit the portal and to return,” he added.
The challenger brand
OTM, which does not accept listings from housebuilders or online-only agents, recently announced that it had recruited the support of 7,000 agent offices. But this figure includes agencies that have signed a “letter of intent” to switch over when the total reaches the 7,500 milestone.
Springett noted: “As a challenger brand, OnTheMarket.com has made fantastic progress since the start of the year. More than 6,250 UK estate and letting agent offices are now listing their properties on the portal. This is an increase of more than 1,650 since our launch.”
OTM had a major early impact on the market with its ‘one other portal’ rule requiring their member agents to cease advertising on either Rightmove or Zoopla helping the new website win greater market share, mainly at the expense of Zoopla, which lost almost a quarter of its agents within months of OTM launching.
The launch of the newer website has sparked off a major debate in the industry, especially between OnTheMarket and Zoopla, with plenty of spin, derision and contempt on both sides.
Nevertheless, traffic to OTM continues to grow and hit a record high of 7.25m visits in April, which is admirable given that the site only launched in January 2015.
“OnTheMarket.com again reported record traffic, leads and property alert set-ups in April. We achieved more than 7.25m visits, an increase of more than 100% compared with April 2015 when we recorded 3.5m visits, according to Google Analytics,” said Springett.
However, OTM’s traffic level remains a drop in the ocean compared with the big two property portals, with Zoopla attracting close to 50m average monthly visits to its website and mobile apps, while Rightmove receive more than 120m visits each month.
Springett accepts that it will “take time” for OTM to attract as many consumer visits as the market-leading portals, but believes that the website is on the right road to delivering more online traffic and leads that agents increasingly rely upon to help deliver the best deals for their clients.
“Our direction of travel is clear. We are already established as a major portal and we believe it is only a matter of time before we overtake Zoopla as the number two player in terms of UK available residential listings. Zoopla was heavily impacted by our launch, losing 23% of its UK member agent offices and a substantial proportion of its property stock.”
Despite its early success, various agents have voiced their discontent at the low number of leads being provided by OTM, with a number of firms expressing an interest to extricate themselves from membership to OTM.
Zoopla claim that they have seen many members who left them to trial OTM return. But Springett insists that OTM continues to grow its membership and points to ZPG’s own trading statements (dated 12 February 2015 and 25 February 2016) which apparently shows that Zoopla did not grow its listing UK agency offices in the year following the launch of OTM.
“At 31 January 2015, Zoopla listed 12,902 UK agency offices and this had fallen to 12,841 UK agency offices by 31 January 2016,” he added.
Nevertheless, with the audience on the ZPG brands, which also include the likes of PrimeLocation and SmartNewHomes, still significantly greater than OTM’s it would appear that some agents are not prepared to play the long game and are therefore considering their options when it comes to property listings.
“Our audience remains approximately ten times the size of OTM’s and we charge similar fees which makes our proposition incredible value relative to OTM,” said Lawrence Hall, spokesman for ZPG.
ZPG responded to the challenge posed by OTM in 2015 by acquiring online price comparison site uSwitch for £160m in a move designed to differentiate it from its main rivals by providing a greater number of additional services for both consumers and agents.
Earlier this year, the company continued its buying spree by snapping up the Property Software Group, enabling it to offer a compelling range of additional services to agents from CRM to hosting their websites as well as their consumer targeting product, AdReach.
They also offer the likes of MoveIT, which helps agents generate additional revenues from selling financial, legal and other services, as well as a new platform, MyPropertyFile, which enables agents to materially improve customer engagement.
Hall (pictured) continued: “With our new revenue- generating services we are offering via MoveIT, this is a real win for ZPG partner agents. We are all about offering the most effective marketing proposition through our portals, the best tools to manage an agent's business via our range of market leading software systems and the most effective additional services to help agents maximise their business performance and marketing ROI.”
ZPG’s diversified strategy has meant that it has been largely unaffected by the “welcome competition” provided by OTM, according to Hall.
“We certainly hope to and are focused on differentiating our proposition from our competitors and providing a great service to consumers which in turn allows us to provide great value to our partner agents.”
But Hall believes that OTM’s ‘one other portal’ rule is neither in the interests of homeowners wanting to advertise their property or agents seeking to serve the best interests of their customers. “So, ultimately the rule has made things worse for both consumers and agents.”
“We are focused on making sure that we provide the most useful resources for consumers when finding, moving or managing their home and are the most effective partner for agents. The launch of OTM has not changed this in any way.”
ZPG’s rather impressive array of marketing tools helps to deliver a higher level of appraisal leads and instructions, according to Hall.
He stated: “ZPG offers the best value marketing available to agents and far more."
"We deliver dozens of applicant leads to each agent every month and help them win new instructions by generating tens of thousands of valuation leads every month.”
Zoopla point to a high level of brand awareness and usage for helping it deliver a high level of both applicant and instruction leads for their members to take advantage of.
A recent study by Harris Interactive, on behalf of ZPG, claimed that more people had heard of Zoopla than any of the other UK property portals, including Rightmove.
The research, conducted in April by questioning 1,000 consumers across the UK, revealed that Zoopla’s national spontaneous brand awareness amongst all adults stood at 45% versus 40% for Rightmove and just 4% or OTM.
“We’re delighted that our investment in both our product and marketing is delivering record levels of brand awareness and exposure for our members. Consumers increasingly recognise that we're the most useful resource when looking to move home, resulting in record levels of enquiries and instructions for agents listing on Zoopla,” Hall concluded.
Despite all the changes that have occurred in the market over the past 18 months, Rightmove continues to hold a dominant position in the online property search market after increasing its market share to 77% last year, up from 74% 12 months earlier, despite fresh competition from the arrival of OTM at the start of 2015.
Recognising the fact that its website remains a must-see destination for buyers and renters, the number of agents listing on Rightmove rose by 2% year-on-year to 19,752 over the year to the end of December.
Rightmove boss Nick McKittrick (right) said: “The digitalisation of the property industry and the efficiencies these tools bring helps to reduce cost per office and has also enabled the growth in the number of agents. Over the last 12 months our membership base has grown by over 2%.”
The rise in the volume of agents listing on the portal helped boost Rightmove’s revenue by 15% to £192.1m in 2015, while pre-tax profit was up 12% to £137.1m.
In total, Rightmove attracted a staggering 1.3bn visits to its website in 2015, up 18% compared to a year earlier.
Rightmove, which recently started testing a virtual reality viewing platform which will allow prospective buyers to view properties without leaving their own home, saw its underlying operating margin also increase from 74.6% a year ago to 75.1%, according to its latest trading report.
Rightmove’s growth has been supported by a wave of market share analysis tools to help their customers drive further business efficiencies and make better informed decisions.
The portal’s software allows agents to compare properties, upload a new vendor’s property onto Rightmove almost immediately and in the same instant alert relevant homemovers from
Rightmove’s database of millions of registered users, monitor the level of interest in a property, provide clients with independent market feedback, monitor market share and lead activity, among a host of other benefits.
“A recent independent survey found that 49% of agents said our software was ‘crucial’ to their business and would be hard to switch from with a further 39% saying it was ‘helpful’,” McKittrick added. “Over 50% of agents also cited that our software makes them more efficient not just in marketing but in other areas of their business too.”
He continued: “The new functionality and data, greater flexibility and unique ‘whole of market’ view has doubled agent use year-on-year.
“We are also delighted that the survey found that nearly 60% of agents place their trust in us and only use Rightmove portal software for their insights.”
The head of Rightmove insists that building strong relationships with customers’ is vital to support their business success, especially in light of the significant digital changes taking place.
“To that end we are spending more time with customers than ever before by expanding our account management team and increasing the team’s efficiency through better tools. We also continued our popular agent seminar programme which covers concepts such as brand building, targeting sellers and customer service in a digital world.”
Over 2,000 agents attended one of the 35 seminars Rightmove ran across the UK in 2015. To help all agents and developers realise the full benefit from Rightmove they also set up a telephone training team and expanded their webinar offering.
“Our webinars provide customers with an efficient way to learn about Rightmove and our software without leaving their offices. We ran over 80 webinars in the year with 2,500 agents and developers attending with popular topics including Winning Landlords and The Ultimate Property Listing,” he added.
Best of the rest
Although the industry is now dominated by the three main portals, there are other websites that provide an alternative focus, specialist criteria and alternative search facilities that you may wish to consider listing properties with.
Properstar, via parent company ListGlobally, is connected to over 80 property portals around the world.
“Agents are using Properstar to promote their properties to an international audience,” said Shameem Golamy, managing director of Properstar.
“The benefit for an agent is that they can put their properties on the portals foreign buyers are already using and they are displayed correctly in the local language,” he added.
With more than 4m visitors a year, Citylets, established 17 years ago, occupies a strong position in Scotland’s letting market.
Founded by Canadian entrepreneur Rocky Mirza last year, the portal’s website data and web crawler technology controversially ‘scrapes’ listing from individual agencies’ websites. However, objections from some agencies - fuelled by concern that a listing on Houser may contravene OnTheMarket’s only-one-other-portal rule – has led to several agents asking for their properties to be removed.
The portal mainly lists properties in and around Hampshire but it is starting to roll out its service to other parts of the country.
Established in 1996, Home.co.uk has links to thousands of homes for sale and to let across the UK.
Buy2Let.com lists buy-to-let homes by yield, offering purchasers a clear understanding of their return on investment. Buyers can compare property by annual rental return, in addition to the price location and selling agent.
Propertini.com, the international property search engine, launched the UK version of its website in 2014, with limited success so far.