The only story that has come remotely close to pushing coronavirus – and its various knock-on effects – off the top of the property news agenda is the emergence of the challenger portal market, which has gathered significant momentum in recent months.
The two are linked, of course. The pandemic, and the reaction to it, has led to a significant backlash against the main portals, in particular Rightmove. The Say No To Rightmove campaign has been the most obvious manifestation of this, but Zoopla and OnTheMarket haven’t been free from censure.
Who are the main portal challengers, though, and what do they offer? Here, I bring together some of the biggest names in this growing sector, to find out who they are, what they’re offering, and what their goals are for the future.
To quote Ant & Dec, in no particular order…
When was OneDome founded? And by who? The OneDome Group was founded in 2016 by Babek Ismayil, former Senior Vice President of credit trading at JPMorgan.
Why was it founded? "Portals did a good job in aggregating all property listings in one place for consumers. While the experience of property search improved substantially over years, the property transaction is still a disjointed and chaotic process for consumers and property professionals," Ismayil says.
"Buying or selling a property is a complicated, long and stressful process for everyone involved. Property portals failed to remedy the situation and improve the process."
OneDome launched to challenge the overall process for good. "Not only does OneDome offer a completely free listing service to all estate agents, but it also works hard in enabling faster transactions by bringing all parties together for greater collaboration and transparency," Ismayil adds.
What does OneDome offer and why is it different from other portals? Listing properties on the OneDome Group’s websites, onedome.com and nethouseprices.com is free of charge. OneDome is a Facebook Marketplace listing partner, so agents have an option to list all their properties on Facebook Marketplace at no extra cost.
"At OneDome, we believe that there is a major misalignment of interests between current ‘pay-to-list’ portals and their customers: estate agents. Pay-to-list portals are only interested in generating traffic and leads, while agents need more transactions - as quickly as possible - for cash flow purposes. No portals could exist without agents’ listings, but agents are charged to provide their data and pay for the privilege of listing."
A 'viable alternative to existing portals', OneDome offers agents a 100 year free-to-list contract to help reduce costs in a challenging and competitive marketplace.
“OneDome is growing fast thanks to the support we see from the industry. In the last three months, over 1,500 branches have started listing on OneDome," says Ismayil.
"We expose our agents’ properties to millions of viewers per month and at the moment, we generate over four property enquiries a minute or more than 170,000 leads per month at no charge. We expect to reach 10,000 branches and close to 500,000 leads per month by the end of 2020.”
When was it founded? 2014
Who was it founded by? The international free-to-list property portal was established by Christopher May and Nahim Rahman, with over one million listings added since launch (March 2019).
Why was it founded? The concept for Residential People initially began when its founders became frustrated with effectively being priced out of the market by the extortionate fees charged to list their agency's properties.
What does it offer? Residential People supports a variety of data feeds including API, BLM and XML - and has also struck up partnerships with various CRM firms including Dezrez and Reapit.
It boasts listings from over 8,000 agencies across the UK, UAE, Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa.
Residential People has a USP of being free-to-list, enabling agents ‘to upload an unlimited amount of properties, completely free of charge, forever’.
“While other portals market themselves as 'free-to-list', Residential People is the only one that values its agents, service providers and business brokers as a partner rather than merely listing clients; as such, Residential People has a clear and concise mandate that listing as an agent will remain free,” Christopher May says.
“Along with the optional marketing suite, our customers also gain exclusive marketing rights through localised banner advertising within their chosen area, helping them to stay ahead of competitors.”
What are the plans for the future? “Investing heavily to further develop our offering, so that we can deliver more to agents,” May adds. “We will be helping agents by delivering key insights such as renewal dates for mortgages, potential moving timeframe and much more.”
“To further enhance the search for finding a home, we’ll be introducing a bespoke service that will allow the home-seeker to find their perfect property without having to spend endless hours searching.”
Enquiries of this nature will be passed directly onto the agent to help them monetise additional revenue streams.
“We’ll be improving the user journey by surfacing key information at the right times. This will include giving them tailored mortgage rates and insurance products for their needs,” May concludes.
When was Homesearch founded? 2017
Who it was founded by? Giles Ellwood and Sam Hunter.
Why was it founded? Sam Hunter tells me: “Giles had another business, Address Intelligence, which uses property and demographic data to market specific properties to groups of people by direct mail. In 2017 he started to think about being able to use similar sets of data to create a property record for every home in the country.”
“I was an agent in Australia before moving to the UK with my wife. When I started working as an agent here, the areas were all new to me, I had no idea what a leasehold property was, nor had I ever valued anything by pounds per square foot. When I asked for market insight, my then colleagues pointed me to a drawer containing the office's sales records for that branch alone and that was about the extent of the research I could do.”
He said it dawned on him pretty quickly that, if you were to build a database where agents can understand everything about their market, it would save all of this frustration and time.
“Our public platform has evolved over the last 10 weeks out of a clear need we saw from agents for a more cost-effective way to both market their stock and get access to real-time market data and insight.”
Why is Homesearch different? “Homesearch is a platform where property professionals (and now the public, too) can go to buy, sell, rent, invest, or just conduct research about the market.
Unlike other portals, it enables users to search for, learn about and enquire on any residential property in the UK, regardless of whether they are currently on the market.”
Hunter adds: “We're able to give the public access to more information than they've ever had before, and at the same time make sure that any time they want to act on their research, there’s a recommended local agent there to help them the rest of the way.”
“We’re also in a unique position to be able to offer agents not only leads of a potential buyer, tenant, landlord or seller, but deliver buyers and tenants the homes they may want to move into that are yet to hit the market; as well as match the would-be seller or landlord with the would-be buyers or tenants currently active in the market.”
What is the goal for the future? Information breeds confidence, Hunter says. “And confidence is what drives the market. When we started Homesearch it was on a belief that we could improve the market through information. Now, three years on, our vision is to create a more informed, connected and proactive property market for everyone.”
When was it founded? November 2018
Who was it founded by? Adam Piggott, CEO of OpenBrix, started his own lettings business in 1989. After 25 years ‘at the coalface’, he eventually sold to Countrywide in 2014 and later joined OpenBrix as a founder member in November 2018 after a meeting with Shahad Choudhury who was, at that time, a chief adviser to the government on blockchain and AI.
“I realised that blockchain would bring transparency, speed and efficiency to the property industry,” Piggott says.
Why was it founded? “I had endured all the financial pain, data tactics and lack of support from the portals during my agency years and I recognised the need for change,” Piggott states.
He says OpenBrix is built on a public community blockchain and this alone immediately decentralises the power all portals currently have over agents. “OpenBrix has already handed this power to the growing agent community. OpenBrix cannot collapse the platform, nor can any centralised power.”
What does it offer? Planned integration with suppliers and partners will allow the agent to pair a tenant or buyer with a property and their branch on the blockchain, and allow their chosen supplier (or one provided by OpenBrix) to upsell directly to the consumer.
“This reduces the cost per acquisition for the supplier,” Piggott claims, as well as dramatically increasing the sales of other income streams. “It also opens these streams to the agents’ managed portfolios and any buyers, leaving them to focus on their main job and see the branch commissions from these partners on their dashboards increase and redeem.”
He adds: “Our charges are only based on a monthly subscription of £100pcm per branch. Nothing more. In short, agents can place all applicants who are reserving a property onto the OpenBrix platform and watch their income grow.”
Furthermore, he says, OpenBrix offers tenants a “Sovereign ID”, the pre-populated Right to Rent, the facility to have an immutable record of their rent payments and to also have these payments added to Experian and Equifax to influence their credit histories and credit scores, a UK first.
“Our job at OpenBrix is to work for the agents, bring them increasing value and never allow a centralised entity to control the market again,” he concludes.
When was it founded? January 2014
Who was it founded by? Crevala Ltd was founded in 2013 and its free data aggregation and listing platform, PropertyMutual.com, was launched in January 2014. The platform has just under 100,000 UK listings from a majority of free-to-list members. With Crevala Ltd being a Mutual, there are no founders, shareholders or investors to ‘own’ the business.
Crevala Ltd was founded by Neale Owen-Davies, Andrew Goldthorpe and David Seacombe, who are all still active in the company. Goldthorpe is CEO and says: “Subscribing agent members (with full voting rights) fund, control and run the business. These members report their wishes or concerns to a Regional Representative, who reports to their Regional Board Directors, who instruct the executive directors employed on a five-year contract to run the business.”
Why was PropertyMutual founded? “To redress the distortion in the master/servant relationship between tech and agents,” Goldthorpe explains. “And to provide a PropTech listing and services platform 100% funded and 100% controlled by agents, for agents. Corporate portals reap super profits from the estate agents who built their businesses and are now the master in the relationship. Discounts are transitory, agents are locked into contracts, promises are broken, and prices keep going up.”
Why is it different from the existing portals? “We are ‘not-for-profit’, so all our services are delivered at the minimum affordable cost. All financial and technological benefits are retained within the Mutual for the sole benefit of its members. Any surplus revenue is distributed as directed by our balloted members, either as a member bonus, gifted to charity, diverted to cash reserves, or re-invested in the business.
When subscribing, members must opt into a Charitable Assignment Condition which guarantees that in the event of the business de-mutualising, any profits are distributed to charity. This is a public statement that the business is never for sale and has no concealed IPO strategy.”
What is PropertyMutual’s main goal? “We do not believe a ‘free’ portal or any non-mutual challenger can provide the necessary combination of revenue potential to successfully market a new portal to the consumer, as well as the appropriate ethical and legal checks and balances to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
The only way is for agents to emulate what the founders of the Nationwide and NFU Mutual did many years ago and collectively form their own mutual.”
Great answers everyone – thanks very much! Will be fascinating to see how this all plays out over the coming months and years. One to keep an eye on.
Before I go, it probably shouldn’t go without mention that on this day, five years ago (more or less), the first Property Natter was published. Since then I’ve covered everything from Brexit, coronavirus and the history of estate agency to the rise of the robots and when lenders got involved in property. You can see the very first Natter, with me being duped by a fake England captain, here.
Until next time…
*Nat Daniels is CEO of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.