Readers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today were given an exclusive opportunity to pose questions to Zoopla Property Group founder and chief executive Alex Chesterman.
After a full week of readers' questions, it's now time to hear from the man himself. Here's what he had to say:
Andrew TT: I personally would like to know if Zoopla would consider purchasing OnTheMarket at any price?
AC: As a digital media business our goals are to provide the best experience for users and deliver the best value for professionals who advertise with us. Our acquisition strategy serves to enhance those goals and it is not clear that OnTheMarket would do so as we appear to have very differing strategies and views of the role of portals. Consumer engagement and efficiency of marketing spend for agents are at the heart of everything we do and that makes it hard to see how any deal with OnTheMarket could come about.
Paul Davey: Are you going to do anything with uSwitch or was it a move just intended to impress the City / attract investors?
AC: We see the role of portals to attract and engage consumers interested in property and then connect those consumers with professionals to help them achieve their property goals. We do a great job of that, engaging with tens of millions of consumers and delivering millions of leads to professionals each month in a very cost-effective way. Our acquisition of uSwitch and the integration of its products over time will enable us to engage more consumers more frequently, ultimately for the benefit of our members.
Simon Bradbury: Hi Alex - Are you able to categorically confirm or deny that Zoopla will never accept private listings. I simply can't imagine that it would make financial sense for you, but a number of "conspiracy theorists" think that you might!
AC: Indeed our industry appears to enjoy a good conspiracy theory and this is one of the more popular ones. I can categorically state, as I have before, that we never have, do not now, nor have any plans for the future to accept listings from private vendors or landlords. This is not for lack of opportunity as we get many dozens of enquiries daily to accept these…and we point them straight to one of our local member agents. Our business is about connecting property consumers to local professionals and helping agents win more business. Period.
Alex Mais: With more property portals appearing and a company like OTM causing shockwaves throughout the industry, do you think Zoopla will always be able to innovate and stay ahead of newer rivals?
AC: Portals, like any other media businesses, need to attract an audience that is of value to its advertisers. Innovation is a key part of ensuring an audience remains loyal and engaged. It is well recognised that we have been the innovation leader in the UK property portal space and I am very proud of what our team has achieved on that front and am excited by the plans we have to stay ahead of the competition in the future. We have built Zoopla into one of the best-known consumer brands in the UK as a result of our continuous focus on innovation.
John Bamonte: Do you think that being a Plc has contributed to your business as well as Rightmove alienating your customer base of agents?
AC: Public companies certainly attract more attention and scrutiny but I do not view that as a bad thing. Nor do I view a business being successful as something to run from. We have always been very transparent around our numbers and the value we deliver and have always charged our members based on performance. The leading portals have invested significant capital in building their brands and businesses and provide incredible value to agents. One only needs to compare the cost of traditional media to see that the value proposition of the leading portals is unrivalled. We focus on value and will continue to ensure that we are delivering best possible value to our members. Ironically, it is OTM’s ‘one other portal’ rule that is now forcing agents to pay significantly more for getting significantly less.
Rob Davies: Do you realistically believe you can challenge Rightmove as the No 1 portal? Or have you resigned yourself to playing second fiddle for the foreseeable future?
AC: We absolutely believe that we can become the number 1 property portal in the UK through continued innovation and engagement with our users and by delivering increasing value to our members. We have an incredible team dedicated to that mission every day and it is why we are recognised as one of the most innovative and fastest growing brands in the UK.
Agent s: Hi Alex, I am very much looking forward to your interview! How do you see the position of OTM v Zoopla and Right Move in 12 months from now? Would Zoopla consider reducing prices to regain those agents they have lost to OTM?
AC: Thank you. We remain focused on continuing to do what we do best which is to deliver great services in order to grow and engage our audience and in turn deliver high levels of exposure and enquiries and great value for our agent members. There is no doubt that the number of agents who have been prepared to give up their most cost-effective marketing channel in favour of a similarly priced but less effective alternative has been surprising. But price is clearly not the issue for these agents as they are now paying similar fees for something that delivers a fraction of the return on marketing investment. We price based on performance, have one of the largest and most valuable audiences of property-interested consumers in the UK and remain very confident in our value proposition.
Roger Clark: What lessons have you learned during the last 9 months (OTM launch) that will help you for the future? And are you going to develop Zoopla into something more than a property portal? If so will the properties be central to this plan or will it just tick over until everyone leaves for greener pastures? And where do you see Zoopla's place in the market in 5 years?
AC: Our mission remains to be the most useful property resource for consumers and most effective partner for professionals. The launch of OTM has had no impact on that strategy and we will continue to innovate and develop our services for both consumers and agents. We do see property portals evolving to provide more services than just listings and search over time for both users and members and our recent acquisition of uSwitch and plans to integrate some of those products is a good example of how we see the sector developing.
Fiona Ryan: Alex, what are the plans with the FindaPro service? / Dan Lee: What is the impact of the FindaPro feature so far?
AC: We recently launched our FindaPro tool and early signs of consumer engagement are very positive. This tool fits very well with our goal of being the most useful resource for consumers in the property market and we plan to continue to add more features to this tool and to develop further tools to engage our users more frequently in relation to their property needs.
Karl Knipe: With 3 major portals do you think the industry would find that it was better served in terms of value for money? Would that also mean that all three companies could still make a good profit but not have accusations of profiteering, to quote a phrase that is regularly thrown at them?
AC: I don’t think that there are an ideal number of competitors in any market. Strong competition drives better value for money but the strength of completion is determined by how good they are, not how many there are. We have worked very hard over the past few years on behalf of agents to create a strong and genuine competitor to the market leader and have succeeded in doing so where many others had failed, which is something I am very proud of. And we continue to fight to do so because I believe this is in the long-term interest of agents.
Marc Cox: Zoopla, who are they? I seem to remember some website once but it was so long ago I really can’t think of anything!
AC: Marc, thanks for the question and the opportunity to respond. Zoopla is one of the UK’s most visited websites attracting around 1.5 million visits every day. Over 6 million adults have our apps on their smartphones. We have the highest brand awareness of any UK property website. That said, a small fraction of the population don’t know about us (or Coca Cola for that matter) and you appear to be amongst them. Please do check out our websites at zoopla.co.uk and primelocation.com or download our apps and let me know what you think.
Agent Farce: Has the emergence of OTM made you question how you interact with agents?
AC: Yes. It would be easy to say the opposite but of course the fact that we have lost some of our customers to OTM has given us pause to challenge ourselves to a greater extent on ensuring that our products and service are best in class. We feel we have developed a great business and proposition in a relatively short period (we are only half Rightmove’s age) but are constantly working to improve on the value we deliver and the service we provide to our members to be the best in our industry and that is what motivates and drives us.
Simon Shinerock: How real do you think the threat to the private rented sector and in particular, to the private landlord really is?
AC: Certainly some of the recent developments in this area are troubling. The recent changes to tax breaks available to private landlords are not well thought out in my view and could have a negative effect on both the number of properties available in the private rented sector in the future and on the rents that need to be charged to achieve the desired return on investment.
Algarve Investor: Alex, are there any plans to expand Zoopla's operations overseas?
AC: We continue to develop and enhance our overseas property channel and are looking to continue to grow this area of our business. We do not, however, have any plans at this time to develop the Zoopla brand and operations in any markets outside the UK.