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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Payne

Agents need to be more pioneering in a brave new world

Remember when Rightmove was launched in 2000 and everyone thought it was amazing and would transform buying property? Well, it was and it did. Remember as recently as when On The Market launched and Rightmove was seen as the safe haven of the portals, the strongest, the one everyone would automatically choose to keep when forced to get rids of one? Well it was to be fair. But a lot has changed since, but Rightmove I believe has got complacent and has not seen how the world is changing, how consumer behaviour has changed, and we all only have to look at our children to see that. The fact they aren't buying property isn’t relevant. Observe how differently they use tech to us.

This complacency has led recently to the highest price rises ever, mainly for smaller independent agents who have had enough. In what has been a tough few years where margins have been tight, you expect support from your suppliers, not for them to try and put you out of business. These higher charges are not for everyone though. The special friends of Rightmove, the big corporate agents who have hundreds of branches, get up to an astonishing 90% discount and the chance to fix that for 3 years. (I was one of them, so I know what they charged me). So why are the small independent agents with the smaller marketing budgets subsidizing the mighty behemoths making millions?

Well, Rightmove has created this monster but not because of expense alone, but due to a very inconsistent and perverse charging model applied very differently to small independent and large corporate agents along with the fear factor its historic dominance has allowed them to create, that it is a necessity in your businesses if you want to succeed. Every agents’ views are understandably influenced by the rate they are paying Rightmove and whether they feel that is good value or not.

A 1 branch independent agent is paying as much as 11 times more per branch than the biggest agents after they have had their corporate discount applied, so the largest agents can choose to invest the saving in other marketing campaigns that generate them better quality leads from elsewhere, hence they are never critical of what it costs. Further, the rates quoted to the smallest agencies are so inconsistent, some might think RM is charging whatever they think they can get away with, as the fear with the smaller agents as with newspaper advertising 15 years ago, is RM is something they cannot manage without, and will destroy their business if they don’t have it. The more fear they smell at each review meeting, the more expensive it gets. Ever wondered why they don't have a rate card and always want to agree new terms in a meeting?

When I look for property or anything for that matter I use Google, Siri if I’m out and about, not any particular portal and I get to see all of what I am looking for wherever it is listed, whatever website, and more people are doing the same. I used to go on particular sites, but search engine reliability has improved so much, and it is so much quicker. It’s a similar challenge for Amazon, I used to go there as my default, but I now trust Google to send me to the right places, give me the best choices, and I don’t shop on Amazon half as much as I used to, because in fact it’s not the cheapest place or has the best products all the time as they like RM would have you believe.

Independently, if you are developing your own customer capture and engagement strategy at a local level in your communities and more broadly digitally with search engines always in mind, you can service the public to a large extent yourselves anyway, now that some (not all) of the Proptech that is out there has been road tested, improved and works. A combination of these means you will be able get in front of customers without dependence on RM, and perhaps that is what a lot of commentators are finding. If you are already on Zoopla or OTM your properties will be easily found out there and on your own site, and a minimum £3000 a month saving for a small agency gives them a lot of options to do other things.

The world isn't dependent on the portals anymore or has a loyalty to any particular app or website and clearly Zoopla has woken up to that. Apple, Google and others have made it so easy for us not to need to. The world has moved on monumentally in the last 5 years let alone the last 19. Google is only 2 years older than RM but look at how much it does now, how advanced it has become. My teenage kids don't use PCs anymore or type unless forced to, that's not even a cultural necessity for young people now to search for stuff they want to find, its all voice driven, Siri & Google Home. They don't know any different, they look at me with my laptop, typing away, sending emails manually, using the telephone like I'm some dinosaur. They run their lives front to back digitally through Google, Snapchat, Insta and Youtube. That’s it. No text messages, no browsers, no phone calls, no apps, no emails, no print media. They are your customers in about 5 years’ time, so older ones already are, are you ready for them? I note that most agents don’t have Insta or Snapchat accounts, some are not yet even on Facebook or if they are they never post anything, so maybe not.

Soon will be the glasses with a heads-up display in front of your eyes walking down the street, it’s not long. Apps have become passé already, who uses them, websites are mobile optimised, I’ve deleted most of mine? Thought tech is already here in the new F35, that’s next. Think Tony Stark, you will think or request 3 bed houses in Doncaster and they will appear in front of you in the middle of your kitchen for you to pull apart like virtual lego, it's not that farfetched. RM was invented at a time when us 40 somethings were young and even, we don’t use it anymore like we used to. Unless they have a secret masterplan, a revolutionary game changer about to be announced then they barely have no place in the lives of Gen Y and no chance whatsoever with Gen Z, they simply don’t communicate or operate digitally in a way that RM needs or expects them to. Should precious marketing resources be better spent elsewhere in context of value and relevance? I know that may feel like a brave new world too far for many, maybe not everyone though, the mood has changed.


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