Property portals should make the right move and treat their customers fairly

27/02/2020 11:03:12

By Craig Smith

Technology doesn’t always mean progress and progress doesn’t always mean things are better but, by and large, the digital revolution has been a good thing for the property sales industry.

The growth of online means sellers now have a much bigger canvas on which to market their property and buyers have greater choice and easier access to what’s available.

For estate agents, the days when local newspapers were the only forum on which to advertise properties for sale – and who could dictate terms according to whim - are long gone.

In their place we have property ‘portals’ like Rightmove and Zoopla which is where most potential buyers now see what’s available for sale first.

For those who don’t know what a property portal is – and there appears to be confusion among many people – it’s not the same an online estate agent. Rightmove and Zoopla don’t sell properties themselves, they host adverts for estate agents and charge them a fee.

It should be a win-win but there’s a growing mood of resentment among some estate agents about the way in which these portals set their pricing.

Rightmove, in particular, has come in for growing criticism. As market leader, it receives 127.5million visits per month, compared with 50million visits per month for Zoopla.

A small, single-office estate agent, dealing in sales and lettings, quit Rightmove after being told that if he removed his lettings listings from the portal, he’d be charged £350 more per month to advertise his sales properties.

The agent originally paid Rightmove £500 per month to advertise lettings which increased to £1,150 when he added sales. However, as fewer lettings leads were coming through, he asked to have a sales-only package and was quoted £1,500.

The agent said that Rightmove would not budge on this, and that when the amount was queried, “they tried to give me advice on how to run my business and told me to put my fees up”.

Another agent was told recently that his monthly subscription for Rightmove would rise from £1,585 to £1,700, without any explanation.

He told the Property Industry Eye website: “I believe that £1,700 a month for a single-office business must be more than most similar sized agents are paying.

“However, as the fees charged are not transparent, I would be extremely interested to know whether we will be paying at the very top of the scale, or in line with others.”

While home sellers may dismiss this as an industry problem that doesn’t affect them, many small estate agencies operating on tight margins will have no option but to pass higher costs onto their customers.

One estate agent wrote on a discussion forum: “RM greed has lost them many great agents off the site and many more are still coming away.

“If more agents come away from RM, them RM has no choice apart from increasing fees for the ones who are left and that is why agents keep seeing price hikes.”

Another said: “As a lettings-only business, we quit last year.  Despite the fee ban our turnover has increased. RM needs agents not the reverse.”

While those quitting the portal now may be a trickle, Rightmove shouldn’t assume that its position is unassailable.

A corollary of technological progress is that things move at a faster pace than before and once-dominant companies and platforms can quickly find themselves behind the curve.

Craig Smith is a Director of Scottish Property Centre Shawlands

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