Ex-Countrywide boss Harry Hill aims to kill off high street agents

Harry Hill, the former Countrywide boss and Rightmove founder, is the chairman of the Stelios Haji-loannou easyProperty venture, Eye can reveal.

Hill is named in the management line-up of what is planned to be an online estate agency charging 0% commission and which aims to “mortally damage” high street agents.

A presentation to raise money from investors, seen by Eye, is entitled “Disrupting the estate agency market”.

The document reads like a character assassination of the profession and pulls no punches about how it views high street agents, claiming that the industry in which Hill spent 40 successful years is “archaic”.

It claims that agents have poor reputations, are “hugely” mistrusted by consumers, and have failed to innovate over the past 30 years.

It even criticises Countrywide itself, saying it has difficulties in “cross promotional efficiencies” because it operates through 46 separate brands.

It claims that, after industries such as travel and books have moved online, “the agency industry with a huge high street presence is next in the firing line”.

It says it will attack estate agents on both cost and service.

The plan detailed in the fund-raising document is to raise up to £2.75m through an offer of 1.52m shares at 178.3p for 25.6% of the company.

Although Sir Stelios is closely associated with easyProperty, he is named in the investors’ presentation document only as a “brand partner”.

The document states that the “easy” brand has 99% national awareness compared with 77% for Rightmove. Millions of easyJet customers are familiar, it says, with the brand whose values “extend to property – low cost, affordability, straight forward, hassle free, challenging the norm, for the masses, giving you more”.

Chief executive is estate agent Robert Ellice, while Chris Welch, who has a background in online poker businesses, is chief marketing officer, and Paul Ellerbeck, who has worked for FindaProperty and PrimeLocation, is chief technology officer.

Hill is identified as non-executive chairman, while Eachan Fletcher and Stuart Silberg are non-executive directors.

easyProperty is said to have been capitalised so far by its founders and management.

The fund-raising document explains how easyProperty will make its money despite charging zero commission – something which it says will “drive volume of traffic and simultaneously mortally damage the traditional high street agency model”.

The document says revenues will come from offering a menu of property services, and claims that there are 25 separate streams in lettings alone.

In a section titled “Cutting out the estate agent”, the document outlines how landlords will be able to list their own rental properties.

The initial focus will be on lettings, but the document makes it plain that after launching into this sector it will move into buying and selling, in its quest to disrupt “the expensive commission based high street agent model”.

The business also plans to roll out across Europe.

Robert Ellice told us: “We are a number of months away from launch so it’s all still rather early for specific comments from our side.”

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28 Comments

  1. johnb

    This sounds very much a case of gamekeeper turned poacher !! What a cracker of a story to kick off with.

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  2. Lance Trendall

    Service industries are not always easy to replace with an on line model. Imagine an online hairdresser or restaurant, how would that work? This new entrant might have been seduced by their own importance and the ease of writing critical reports.

    While sellers want accompanied viewings and a local expert to value their home it will not be ‘easy’ to kill off an industry the public love to hate.

    Banks are less popular and they are still there. They offer high street and online banking. It is so simple for agents to offer a two tier on and offline service, why would anyone choose online only, given the choice?

    Would you let a bus driver value your house?

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    1. Richard Hair

      We have had competition from 0% agents before and that came with a great deal more backing when the likes of Prudential and others entered the market. Life and the market are both very different today so it will be interesting to see how the new venture fares. The press release didn’t really say much apart from having the usual swipe at Estate Agents and the industry as a whole. That’s not difficult to do!

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  3. Real Hub

    Bold statements and intentions but I’m struggling to understand how this will differ from the other online agencies that have already launched. Also, what level of market awareness have the other “easy” brands in their various sectors?

    If Tesco and Google can’t make this sort of business model work in the UK then I’m slightly sceptical. Watch this space though…

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  4. Neil Singer

    The protectionist approach to their industry from estate agents will be their downfall unless they embrace and recognise the impact of technology. It couldn’t be more obvious. We have offered accountability and transparency to the estate agency world with online execution which has been used by receivers, banks and institutions in the commercial sector. We have found the residential sector taking the “we don’t do things that way” approach, but they they will in the same way they will need to recognise the impact of businesses like easyproperty. – Neil Singer, CEO, Clicktopurchaseproperty.com

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  5. corporalsceptic

    I really hope they understand what technology is there for, what it can do and how to use it efficiently. There is one thing I know, estate agents don’t usually know where the “on” switch of their computer is and if this is run and managed by them; I see a failure from the onset.

    Let hope it doesn’t fail so it’s easier and cheaper to let and rent.

    Corporal Sceptic.

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  6. Bristol Agent

    think we have heard this before….bring it on!

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  7. Tony Szabo

    I think its always easy to criticise these things however I’m also always mindful of firms that make the starting point of their proposition mud slinging. There are many firms out there who offer £0 fees, sale by tender deals, tiered fees or internet only services so the proposition is, in reality, not new. This said, anyone who thinks that change is not afoot in our industry and that the digital only medium will not play a bigger part will, perhaps come a cropper. We can only prepare, innovate and maintain our core business values in order to offer what we believe to be the service demanded by the client. We must however all bear in mind that it’s the apple generation that will be leading what those demands are in the future, not us so having an open mind to change will be vital if you want to remain in the fight…

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  8. wilko

    I think that ideas like this, with enough financial clout, will eventually kill the high street estate agents.
    That doesn’t however mean that the high street agents will dissapear.
    The industry, like travel agency, will move from the High Street as it will not require expensive high st shops and those savings will have to be passed onto the clients. Haart have started their “super offices”which take in a few towns with “field agents which is another way forward…..One thing for certain….the high st agent shops are seeing out their final years as the industry shift takes place….me included.
    Anyone know what happened to his online conveyancing?

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    1. PeeBee

      “I think that ideas like this, with enough financial clout, will eventually kill the high street estate agents.
      That doesn’t however mean that the high street agents will dissapear.”

      Hi wilko – welcome to “The Dark Side”!

      Am I having a Senior Moment – or do the two sentences above directly contradict each other?

      Whether or not – I think you’re waaaay wrong.

      I would rather put a quid on ‘Local Shop Window Postcard”-type advertising of properties for sale or to let putting High Street Agents out of business than Stavros, Branston or even the ‘financial clout’ of Mr William Henry Gates III himself.

      Sometimes those pesky bu99ers work, you know!

      What? Don’t believe me? Okay… here’s a prime example – from the website of a certain Mr RR (he who ‘knows’ how to ‘fix’ the market…) – a website which clearly states “Devising new ways to sell and let houses in England and Wales”:

      “We dealt direct with (Mr RR) regarding the property in St Ives. The advertisment was clearly put on view in a newsagents…”

      THERE… SEE?

      Ya can’t beat a bit of innovation. ‘Blue Sky Thinking’, and all that. ;o)

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  9. grumskikorski

    What a ridiculous proposition-its all been seen before
    All these silly online agencies can’t compete with the traditional model-people want to deal with people.We’re all online anyway-Hill obviously has more money than sense to get involved with another fly by night scheme

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  10. CPestateagentesq

    Is this the same Harry Hill that was going to wipe the floor with old fashioned traditional solicitors by having an online system? the same Harry Hill that was going to revolutionise the Commercial Property Market by having an online system to then suddenly “leave”?

    I shan’t hold my breath…

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    1. PeeBee

      Yeah, well, CPestateagentesq – we all want to be remembered for something, do we not?

      There is a fine line drawn between fame and notoriety. Answers on a postcard please for which side of the line Mr Hill has both feet firmly planted on… ;o)

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  11. JAM01

    There is less need for the traditional High Street Estate or Lettings Agency Offices – and a high percentage of the costs and lack of profitablility occur as a result of these offices. We should not however, equate a loss of the traditional High Street Agent with a loss in the provision of high quality, quantity and spirit of service offered by the majority of professional estate and lettings agencts.

    There will be a move from High Street Agency into Serviced Offices, with field agents, and those that embrace this will make best use of the technology now out there, will not compromise on their level of service (most meetings take place with vendors/purchasers/tenants at the property in question and the reduced level of fixed costs and staff salaries (due to outsourcing) will make estate and lettings agencies far more competitively priced and profitable.

    I am currently setting up such a franchised agency (having had a High Street Sales and separate Lettings Branch and operated out of serviced offices in prime Central London) and it is the middle ground between traditional High St and on-line.

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  12. IanMac

    I understand that change is good however is this really the way forward? Landlords, tenants, vendors and buyers are happy to pay for a quality service. Do we always buyer the cheapest products? No I don’t believe we do. Landlords don’t want a cheap service they want a quality service at the best price, very different from a cheap service. This level of service will appeal to a certain type of landlord and vendor that would usually self manage…… hopefully!!!

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    1. PeeBee

      Well said, IanMac! ;o)

      I would say the same for the great majority of vendors.

      “Penny wise; pound foolish” is a wise old saying. In the case of Estate Agency – the ‘wrong’ Agent won’t just cost you a FEW quid.

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  13. Ric

    Harry Hill….one of the funniest men I know…..!

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    1. PeeBee

      Welcome to “The Dark Side”, Ric! You have been sorely missed on ‘the other’ site for some time now.

      Look forward to the banter!

      PeeBee ;o)

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  14. clarky46

    Have you flown EasyJet? The only reason you’d do it is price and the experience is similar with Ryanair. There’s a market for the ‘budget’ end of everything and unfortunately people will try it, at least once. We’ve got some local ‘traditional’ competition who are cheap, some who are downright expensive and others who are on par with ourselves. The Rightmove league tables for new instructions show the top 4 to be traditional agents who charge reasonable fees. Not expensive, not cheap. People buy people first and they use people they trust. They also like to be able to look them in the eye to discuss their situation. Agree with IanMac above!

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    1. PeeBee

      Well said, clarky46!

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  15. The JB

    This Hill character has appeared in a few articles recently and although I’ve never heard of the bloke, he seems to be staggering from one failed venture to another. He was quoted in another piece as having sunk 1.5 million of his own dosh into an ‘innovative’ re-invention of the wheel type thing that went belly up. Here’s a tip Harry, listen to the alarm bells and give it up now!

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    1. PeeBee

      Hi, The JB! Welcome to the REALvoiceoftheindustry!

      Look forward to our chats continuing! ;o)

      PeeBee

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      1. PeeBee

        Oh – and ‘hear, hear’ to the above by the way! ;o)

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  16. PeeBee

    “Ex-Countrywide boss Harry Hill aims to kill off high street agents”

    He will fail.

    Well… he’s tried once already simply by being at the head of one – and failed that time – last time I looked they were still there despite his best efforts.

    Not over-good at meeting his own goals, is he…? ;o)

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