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Bob North

September 2009

Zoopla rapidly emerges as a major player

Key acquisitions announce arrival on the big stage

By BOB NORTH

THE property portal world has always thrown up surprises over the years — but the emergence of Zoopla into potentially one of the big three property portal sites is probably the biggest change I have seen in the last 10 years.

Zoopla has only been around for some 18 months but the pedigree of the men behind it has been sufficient to attract a variety of investors.

Those investors have contributed more than £4 million to a fighting fund to enable the company to move into place as a serious contender to challenge DMGT and Rightmove as leading players in the UK.

Zoopla originally were approaching the market in a totally different way. As founder and chief executive Alex Chesterman says, their original intentions were:

square bullit Offering users FREE access to instant value estimates, sold house prices and local information and trends;

square bullit Enhancing estate agents’ marketing efficiency by providing exposure/leads on a pay-for-performance basis;

square bullit Helping users find local agents and other property professionals to assist them in the transaction process;

square bullit Letting buyers make offers on ANY UK home and owners test interest in their homes before choosing to sell;

square bullit Creating an environment where anyone can ask/answer questions and share their knowledge about homes.

The site worked well and a following was developed that enabled Zoopla to be recognised as one of a number of other small players.

But in June their Comscore ranking was well behind that of the top three and indeed had fallen back by some 20 per cent since May. A unique visitors tally of 300,000 in June hardly placed them as serious contenders.

Since then, however, Zoopla have acquired both Think Property and the PropertyFinder Group and now provide a much more complete offering with some 600,000 properties for sale and to let on the site.

They now have a comprehensive property database as well as the original value features on the site.And, at the time of writing, the PropertyFinder Group database has not yet been incorporated into the site — that should add another 100,000 to 150,000 properties.

The amalgamation will take somewhat longer than the Think Property site did as, with the PropertyFinder Group, much of the data is integrated into the REA systems in Australia and the data has yet to be extracted and integrated into Zoopla. The important factors for agents will be whether they feel that Zoopla will add value to them by achieving results at a reasonable cost.

Zoopla differs slightly from other sites in that not only does it supply applicant leads but because of the links in the value fields on the site, it is able also to supply seller leads.

The TemptMe features encourage owners to actually contact agents for a valuation and these are passed on to registered agents.

At present the basis of charging is £1 per applicant lead and £5 for a seller lead BUT the charging structure will change as the PropertyFinder Group is integrated into the site and a choice of pricing is likely to emerge.

In much the same way as mobile phone companies offer a range of tariffs to suit their customers, Zoopla will do the same with a pay as you go and a monthly subscription as alternatives.

Mr Chesterman is keen to work with agents. “Our customers have to choose what is right for them and be happy with the payment structure so we want to work with them and let them decide how they pay for the service,” he said.

The key as ever will be whether the public use the site in sufficient numbers to generate enough leads and this is the really challenging area for Zoopla.

How do you get users to the site without burning an enormous sum with Google, TV, radio etc?

How do you get the name awareness of the site to sufficient levels where it is integrated into users’ lives and habits? In a nutshell, how do you get it to Rightmove levels?

This is a great challenge for Zoopla and Mr Chesterman admits that the ‘name’ of the site following the acquisition of the PropertyFinder Group is not yet finalised.

I get the impression that they are unlikely to go down the DMGT route of maintaining two separate and costly brands and will use a single brand but the name is not yet finalised.

Of course all the connections that the existing PropertyFinder Group sites have will be utilised wherever possible and the new Zoopla site will continue to power the property search as does PropertyFinder for MSN, Yahoo, Sky, Virgin and Tiscali.

One individual who knows the portal market better than so many others is one of the original founders of PropertyFinder, Nick Leeming, who has been retained by Zoopla.

“The strength of Zoopla.co.uk in consumer and data services is a perfect fit with the long standing agent relationships, industry expertise and established levels of consumer traffic of the PropertyFinder Group,” he said.

“Combined, we will deliver enormous value to estate agent clients across the UK. Our focus remains on providing excellent service for our member firms and this deal will allow us to further deliver on that promise.”

I will await with interest the decision on the name and how the marketing proposals develop.
Undoubtedly, however, Mr Chesterman seems to be someone who will utilise all the strengths of the IT team he has built and Zoopla will move forwards and will provide a serious alternative for agents as well as the public in their search for homes.

• Bob North is a business consultant and a member of estate agency specialists GCG Consulting. He specialises in applied technology, including website functionality and the introduction of IT systems and applications.

Contact him by e-mail bobn@gcgconsulting.co.uk or by phone on 07831 576073.