Ever since footballer Ian Wright appeared on our screens in a fetching shower cap, ‘Wright-move’ has dominated the UK property industry. The famous ad campaign, which cost over £1 million back in 2002, saw Wrighty kissing front doors, admiring garden gnomes, and memorably relaxing in the tub. It wasn’t long before Rightmove blew its rivals out of the water.
This effective monopoly became a duopoly in 2008, when Zoopla entered the fray. And these two have straddled the property market like colossuses ever since. The agents tried to fight back with OnTheMarket but the company has struggled to achieve the same traction – despite a catchy TV tune that borrowed Chas and Dave’s familiar Down To Margate refrain.
The appearance of OnTheMarket, however, demonstrated that the relationship between agents and the big two hasn’t always been easy. Although the big portals have made life easier for buyers, sellers, tenants, and landlords by gathering all available properties in a central location, many agents have felt disenfranchised and disgruntled by what they see as unfair charges.
A better deal for agents?
Critics like the Say No To Rightmove campaign argue that the big portals make too much money at agents’ expense. The group, which now has nearly two thousand members, was particularly incensed by Rightmove’s response to Covid-19: they offered agents a deferred payment proposal and a 75% reduction for four months - a move The Financial Times described as “fumbled”.
New companies have therefore sniffed an opportunity to upset the applecart. But unlike Purple Bricks, the new boys are taking a different – one might say revolutionary – approach. Indeed, one of the new kids on the block, OpenBrix, is employing the industry’s very first blockchain.
Like Boomin, another high-profile challenger led by Michael Bruce, OpenBrix are promising an agent-friendly service with fairer fees, more transparency, better experiences, and unrivalled depth and breadth of service. Meanwhile, new portals Homesearch and SearchSmartly have focused on providing a better experience for buyers, sellers, tenants and landlords.
Let’s run the rule over these new market entrants and assess their different approaches …
We don’t know too much about Boomin just yet. They’re keeping their proposition under wraps. However, they’ve attracted a lot of attention already by assembling a tantalising team: Bruce was a founder of Purple Bricks, and Lesley Dunn, who has enjoyed previous spells at both Rightmove and Zoopla, has been appointed as Sales Director. Meanwhile Phil Lloyd, who oversaw so many memorable ads at Paddy Power, has been made chief marketing officer.
Boomin have serious financial backing so they’re in a great position to challenge the status quo. Their website offers a “richer search experience”, new tools that enable a greater number of transactions, and intelligent technology that matches buyers and sellers. They also offer agents additional revenue generating opportunities by connecting users with a raft of home moving services, utility providers, and broadband / TV packages. Every agent deserves a little commission now and again.
Many portals promise a tastier experience but the proof of the pudding is inevitably in the eating. Fortunately Homesearch is serving up a treat. Their great-looking website - arguably the best in class – is easy to navigate and boasts a wealth of accessible information covering 29 million addresses.
Homesearch is fantastic for those who like to immerse themselves in data. The site provides more information than anyone else, including planning records for individual properties, and helps users make informed decisions. The glut of statistics and analysis also helps agents to stay on top of their game.
Property lovers can also take a more proactive approach. Always loved a particular house? Homesearch lets you register an interest even if that property isn’t available. This means you’ll be the first to know if it does eventually come to market. Meanwhile, sellers can gauge potential interest by examining the number of active buyers in their area.
Most property portals ask you where you want to live, how much you have to spend, and then list properties in a one-size-fits-all manner. However, SearchSmartly flips the process on its head by asking about your lifestyle, where you work, and how close you need to be to schools and amenities first.
This personalised search saves a lot of time because you’re sure to find properties that tick your boxes. The main portals, on the other hand, waste time by showing you multiple properties and then making you research how closely they fit your needs. That four-bed townhouse might look good on paper but if you own a dog, and there’s no green space nearby, Fido will not be amused.
SearchSmartly’s personalised approach works incredibly well for students and relocating professionals who need to be close to work (or transport links) but don’t know a particular area well. The personalised search also benefits agents because they won’t waste time showing unsuitable properties.
The real wild card in these listings is OpenBrix. Adam Pigott’s team has taken a punt on blockchain technology to create a unique platform for buyers, sellers, landlords, tenants, agents and property managers. The USP? These parties can all communicate without a middle-man.
Blockchain is essentially an online network with no central administrator. All information is completely transparent – everyone can see what’s going on at any given time – and data is completely secure.
Rather than a big company like Rightmove overseeing the platform, OpenBrix is an open community that all participants are invested in. Nobody can raise costs or sell data unless the majority of community members agree.
This decentralised approach is bound to appeal to agents. There are no contracts, no ‘other portal’ stipulations, no cancellation periods, and no fee increases. What’s more, every agency – whether they’re a one-man band in Bangor or a multi-branch business in Birmingham – pays exactly the same: £75 per office. Rightmove, of course, charges over £1,000.
The other advantage of the blockchain is that OpenBrix can provide a completely secure ledger for transactions. Plus Pigott has predicted that agents will make thousands from commissions: when transactions are agreed, home move facilitators and utility / service providers automatically contact the buyer or new tenant.
What’s in it for everyone else?
OpenBrix’s radical proposition also benefits private individuals. Every tenant, for example, has a unique identity that automatically updates every time they pay rent. This will save admin time, prove how reliable they are, and could serve as a form of pre-qualification.
Users can see an agent’s history too. Their record at dealing with maintenance issues, for example, will be there for all to see. Agents will also find it easier to manage properties and keep an eye on tenants.
To the future …
It’s easy to get excited when new players disrupt the market. There are plenty of other promising portals too. PropertyHeads, for example, is promoting the first property social network. Meanwhile OneDome lets you manage an entire property transaction from one location whilst connecting you with reputable conveyancing firms and mortgage advisors.
Time will tell, of course, if these new platforms put down roots. Rightmove and Zoopla have weathered challenges before – not least because they make life easy for the end user.
Agents, however, will be intrigued by OpenBrix’s blockchain, Boomin’s promise to ramp up every agent’s individual brand, Homeseach’s data-driven approach, and SearchSmartly’s outside-the-box search facility. These developments alone should put portal-agency relationships on an even footing and keep the big boys on their toes.
Read about Boomin's explosion onto the property scene here.