I had high hopes when I first heard about OnTheMarket.
However, as I learned more about the project my optimism vanished and I concluded – before it even launched – that it would be a failure.
Nothing that’s happened since then has changed my mind. Far from it in fact.
It’s not the point of this article to go into why that is, but I’m confident that EYE readers who have been following the saga over the last few years can work out why I think that OTM was a massive red herring and is doomed to irrelevance, even if they don’t agree with my conclusion.
So, what to do instead? Certainly not to let Rightmove and Zoopla continue to have their way.
I am an agent who has owned an estate and letting agency for the past 14 years. It happens to be online, but I regard this as an irrelevance: our section of the industry is affected by high portal costs, just as the high street is.
I believe it is perfectly possible to achieve what OTM purportedly set out to do and make the big portals redundant within two to three years.
Achieving this worthy goal will not even take a great deal of time, money or effort from individual participating agents.
The years are going to pass anyway, whether we do something or not, so better to do something than to carry on griping and handing over the money.
Before anyone asks: yes, it involves creating yet another new property portal, and yes it also involves doing some of the things OTM set out do, but with some differences, obviously.
Success will come from the things we do differently. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, but if my plan is followed then it will not fail.
Here it is, in simple steps:
A company is created. Every agent that wants to participate (which should obviously be every agent) buys a share for some nominal amount (£1, £5 or whatever). One share per agency, not per branch. Every shareholder has the same rights and is contractually bound never to sell their share except back to the company. The company’s sole purpose is to create and maintain the portal website for its shareholders, with profits to be kept as low as possible (e.g. by reducing listing fees if money starts to build up too quickly).
Agents/shareholders spread the word to other agents in their locality – both friends and enemies. It’s agents we need first, not end users, and so it’s in everybody’s interest (assuming they’d rather not keep paying out to RM and Z) to get everyone else on board. Agents will know who their local friends and rivals are and so can pick up the phone, send them an email, hit them up on social media and so on. This small commitment by members makes a mass marketing campaign to recruit agents unnecessary.
Next the hardest part: a new portal is created. It has no premium listings, no featured properties, no featured agents, no microsites, no adverts, no way for one agent to pay more as a way to get a leg up over his rivals. It just lists properties with the usual ways for agents to upload and manage them and for end users to sort and save results and to enquire. All data captured by the site belongs to the member agent concerned. I call this bit the hardest part because a site offering the functionality that Rightmove and Zoopla offer will run to around half a million lines of code or more. I can deliver this and in fact have delivered something similar in the past. The existence of my previous project will save a lot of time, money and effort as I can reuse a lot of the code, albeit with significant reworking. This is still much better than having to start again from scratch and will shorten the time to going live considerably.
In the beginning shareholders will need to ‘loan in’ funds towards the development of the site. Once enough members are signed up the amounts can be tiny. If there are 12,000 member agents each loaning in £2 or £3 per month it will be enough to get things moving fast. These loans will be the first thing to be paid back.
The company charges a fee per listing per period of time. For example, £1 pays for up to 28 days (regardless of whether the listing is live for 28 minutes or 28 days) then if the property is still live on the 29thday another £1 is charged, and so on. This method is the fairest in my opinion and doesn’t favour an agent for being either larger or smaller than average.
Now the crucial part: when a ‘critical mass’ of agents have joined then all members agree (contractually if necessary) a date to turn off RM and Z. At this point the news media will publicise the site for us. A mass exodus and the effect it will have on RM and Z will be a big story. That’s why there’s no need to spend money on marketing the site. People will know the big switch off is coming and besides, once the agents and their properties have gone to the new site, browsers will naturally follow because it’s the properties they want and the new site is where they will be. Member agents can hype the ‘big switch’ for free/low cost via social media, posters in the window etc.
No individual agent has to do very much at all in order to make this a reality. All that’s needed is the desire and it’s definitely there; I’ve never met another agent who wouldn’t like a way out of the current situation with the portals. I’d love to read your opinions in the comments below and even more than that I’d love you to join me in making this a reality. Register your interest at email@example.com and we’ll get this show on the road
EYE regularly publishes opinion pieces. The opinions expressed are entirely those of individual contributors. The author of this piece has chosen to use a pseudonym