Can OnTheMarket emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic as the number one portal choice for independent agents?
It is now nearly seven months since our country entered into a full lockdown. In that time our industry has been shut down, reopened – albeit with restrictions – and is now riding high on a bounce-back which has uncertain longevity without continued government support and stimulation.
During this time, we have seen the portal war continue to rage; only intensified by some new entrants, which is a good thing if it makes the market more competitive. It is, however, important to take stock, consider our options and harness our industry firepower around choices which could shape estate agency for years to come. We have learnt a lot as a result of our Say No To Rightmove campaign and continue to build on our strategy to deliver fairer pricing in the portal sector.
It has become very apparent that challengers in this sector need a lot more than just innovative technology to create any sustainable disruption.
The publication of their latest business results serve as a salient reminder that OnTheMarket (OTM) is still the UK’s only majority agent-owned portal. Around 65% of the business is owned by agents which puts control into our hands.
OTM currently has 72 million shares in issue and is valued at £65m, which means agents have approximately £42m tied up in the business. It would therefore be very simple to make that value grow by increasing our support.
As each of us adjust and negotiate our marketing spend, we ALL have capacity to back the portal where all our interests are aligned. We could use our shareholding to ensure OTM continues to evolve with the agents that support them at the core of their business plan.
Never has there been a portal which has been owned in such proportions by the small and medium sized firms – that is a privilege that has been previously reserved for the country’s largest agents.
The last few months have shown us that thousands of agents want to leave Rightmove whilst they continue to charge excessive monthly fees, but many are fearful of making that decision now.
So how does backing the agent-owned OTM help us to bring about an end to spiralling portal costs? Here are three simple steps that we all could take (if not already) and an explanation of how they will help us reach our end goal.
- Join OnTheMarket on a shareholder contract: Over 40% of all independent agents are shareholders in OnTheMarket and between them own about 65% of the portal which amounts to 6,000+ offices up and down the country. If another 2,000+ agents signed a shareholder contract with OnTheMarket, that would significantly increase marketing budgets and help the portal build increased awareness at a regional and national level, while providing excellent value leads and service to agents.
- Support their new and exclusive proposition: If ALL shareholder agents supported the portal by listing their properties at OnTheMarket 24 hours or more ahead of other portals, serious home-movers would soon realise OnTheMarket is the portal they should visit FIRST. This is the most sensible way of encouraging home-movers to OnTheMarket and gives the vendors and landlords an enhanced advert at no additional cost. This is a cost-free way for agents who remain reluctant to leave Rightmove at this time to shift consumer eyeballs and to enhance competition in the portals market.
- Increase the period of new and exclusive: Where we can, we should increase our support by extending the period we list exclusively at OnTheMarket. We should increase it to 48 hours and then 72 hours or more. Every step we take will reduce our reliance on other portals who treat us unfairly. Many agents are already building inverse marketing solutions prioritising their own websites, using AI/social media and then, as a third stage, dropping their listings onto traditional portals.
These steps are not the quick overnight switch of properties away from Rightmove that many agents would like to see, particularly while its prices are too high. Instead, it is a gradual move of our property stock away from Rightmove without any inherent risk to our businesses. This step will also shift consumer eyeballs away from Rightmove and clearly indicate that the power is ultimately in our hands.
Rightmove should now be coming to the table and deliver the changes to the contractual terms that we have been pursuing. Instead it appears they are preparing to impose further tariff increases upon the agents that can least afford them and have been their loyalist supporters. A fact that sees a steady stream of agents continuing to join Say No To Rightmove as we all search for a solution to UK estate agency’s inequitable relationship with its biggest portal.
Many agents can join OTM on a shareholder contract for a whole year for the equivalent of a couple of months of their Rightmove listing fees. The commercial risk therefore is low in pursuit of a long term resolution. I would encourage you all to commit to just one year’s listing with OnTheMarket and to support the new and exclusive proposition. Those who join as shareholders will receive £1,000 of welcome shares, as well as 20%-plus of the listing fees paid back in shares.
We are further aware OTM has innovative plans in place to improve its data analytics, its use of social media and to reward agents supportive of the new and exclusive scheme with a local Facebook advertising campaign.
For years, agents have wanted their own portal to enable them to control their costs and to reduce reliance on other portals. OTM is already enjoying significant consumer awareness and in August it reported delivering an average of 148 leads per office per month to agents.
It will potentially take years for any new challengers to reach this level of performance. So, now more than ever, I believe that it is in the interests of all UK agents to add the backing of OTM to their portal strategy. This will ensure the cost to our industry that Rightmove have enjoyed starts to be rebalanced.
It’s now more important than ever that UK independent agents galvanise their efforts to take back control of the portal sector – www.saynotorightmove.co.uk.
Long-standing OTM advocate Rob Sargent is the CEO of Acorn Group, which has 35 offices across south-east London and Kent.