Whatever else you say about OnTheMarket, you can’t say it’s not consistent, consistent in treating its core membership shabbily.
We already know how it has dropped all the principles it attracted its members with in the first place: high street only, not for profit, cheaper fees for founders etc., etc.
But the recent float has revealed a new and sinister level of ruthlessness in relation to the one other portal rule (OOP). The most controversial aspect of OTM has always been the OOP, now famously subject of a successful court case in OTM’s favour, albeit that the other side has won leave to appeal.
The OOP no longer applies post-float, but only in the case of new joiners like Purplebricks, should it choose to join (perhaps with the enticement of free listings and free shares) and those existing members who have been persuaded - some may use more pejorative terms - into signing up for a new five-year contract. However, contrary to the impression given in the mainstream press, the OOP rule still applies in full force to original agent members who refused to sign the new contract.
So, what I want to know is how many signed up for another five years? I think this is information any potential investor would be swayed by and may account for the woeful outcome of the float.
My guess is that many existing members are literally waiting at the exit counting the days to the end of their original contracts, hellbent on escape. However, it may equally be that a large percentage have signed for the full five years, either knowingly or not. What is ironic is that the ones who haven’t signed still get their shares and are apparently free to sell them whenever they like! Again, we see a consistency in treating loyal supporters less well than disloyal ones.
What leaves me slack-jawed with amazement is how the management of OnTheMarket think this deliberate alienation of core supporters is a good strategy. Surely even they must realise the amount of antipathy they are creating and what the inevitable outcome must be in two short years?
I really am struggling to see why any new agents will sign up without hugely uncommercial incentives being given. Without a compelling reason, the public won’t give up using Zoopla and Rightmove. Why would they suddenly start using a portal with less listings and less functionality? What’s perceivably in it for them?
Of course, taking this kind of aggressive stand might be considered a commercial decision if OnTheMarket had any kind of plan to offer agents or the public something new and compelling in the meanwhile. This is, however, about as likely as a snowball quenching the fires of hell or the even less likely scenario of replacing Ian Springett with Alison Platt.
Oh well, I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. After all, I did start this piece with the observation that if OnTheMarket is nothing else at least it is consistent. So no, I won’t be buying OnTheMarket shares when it floats - I think I’ll wait until next Christmas and buy a real turkey instead.
*Simon Shinerock is Chairman of Choices Estate Agents. For more information on Simon, see his blog or his LinkedIn profile.