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Bob North

October 2009

Established portals are still the favourites

By BOB NORTH

IT seems that every week brings fresh entrants to the UK property scene and each one seems to come with promises of how they will be better and more cost-effective than anyone else who is operating out there.

But of course the vast majority fail to live up to the promises and subsequently fall by the wayside or accept that they cannot challenge the market leaders and so have to accept a niche role.

Not so Rightmove who have been with us from the word go (in property portal terms) and the Digital Property Group who although only formed in 2008 incorporate sites that have stood the test of time — particularly FindaProperty.com and primelocation.com.

It is interesting to look at them both and to observe that they operate quite different strategies.
Rightmove of course can be regarded as the market leader and since the early 2000s they have made a virtue of their simple site with a simple proposition.

They have had more agents’ properties on the site than all their rivals and have delivered more traffic than all others by simply promoting the Rightmove brand.

As a result of promotion over the years, the public are well aware of Rightmove and they tend to go to the site as a preference with many bypassing Google or, if they don’t, simply typing ‘Rightmove’ into the search engine.

The site has changed over the years but the principle they operate under remains the same — you are held within the Rightmove site and to get further information one either e-mails or calls the agent on the ‘Rightmove number’.

All properties — whether at the top or bottom end of the market — are shown on the same site and unless one takes the Rightmove Plus options there is no attempt to differentiate the appearance of individual properties by property type.

It is a one-stop site in that you get everything available on one search.

DPG on the other hand take a totally different approach in that their offering is that the sites they operate cover the whole of the market but are actually designed for different sectors of the market place.

Primelocation.com and FindaProperty.com attract very different audiences of active home searchers.

DPG claim that over 50 per cent of Primelocation.com’s audience is within the social class AB and 42 per cent of the FindaProperty.com audience is within social class C1/C2 (comScore July ‘09).

Their recent research through their My Home Life survey showed that over 50 per cent of primelocation.com clients had over 40 per cent deposit and were actively looking to buy, whereas FindaProperty.com had only 32 per cent with the same means — still however a not insignificant number.

The architecture of the sites is quite dissimilar and reflects different initial models.

FindaProperty.com, like Rightmove, keeps the visitor within the site but primelocation.com does allow the user to leave the site and get into the agent’s own site for further information or browsing.

By going to the agent site, you do actually leave primelocation.com and all the subsequent traffic is routed through the agent site.

This is of fundamental importance to many agents who have invested heavily in their own sites and are looking to drive traffic to them and offer their own alternative services.

Although Primelocation.com and FindaProperty.com share a common database of property, the actual appearance of the searches is very different and reflects the site brand values.

On primelocation.com, one gets the more expensive properties first over a wider area whereas FindaProperty.com gives a narrower geographic spread with lower-priced homes shown at the top of the search.

DPG are not just a two-site operation — they also own and operate homesandproperty.co.uk, the site of the Evening Standard, and FindaNewHome.com, plus of course they have links to both DailyMail.co.uk and MailonSunday.co.uk.

One thing that Rightmove and DPG have in common is their approach to charging agents for the service they provide.

They charge on a subscription model and it is a significant charge.

Rightmove’s new joiner rate charges are £495 for sales, £265 for lettings (just increased from £195) and £595 for sales and lettings — all per month per office.

DPG charges are variable and take into account the agent’s location as well as the number of properties listed and their average value to calculate a value-driven price. It ranges from £179 to £799.

Neither site has yet confirmed the rates for 2010 and agents can most probably expect to see some increase if recent history is anything to go by.

There is just a possibility that this could be the Achilles heel of both operations.

More and more internet advertising is moving towards a pay-per-click model and this is the approach that some of the newer entrants are using.

Zoopla — who have recently acquired Think Property and Propertyfinder — charge on a pay-per-result basis as a portal although they may yet offer a subscription model as well when propertyfinder.com is integrated into their existing portfolio.

There are indications that some of the leading agents are now endeavouring to get more traffic direct to their own sites and are using pay-per-click to do so.

Simple Google searches reveal the likes of Foxtons, Marsh and Parsons and Savills are increasingly investing in and paying for direct leads.

At this stage it seems unlikely that they will abandon their support of portals but they are seeking to establish a competitive edge over their local rivals and maybe the idea of pay-per-click is a cost-effective way of doing that.

• 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.