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The trouble with OnTheMarket… And why we need a prime-only property portal

OnTheMarket.com – the new property portal owned by many of the biggest and best estate agencies in Britain – is only six months old, and continues to report significant monthly traffic...

OnTheMarket.com – the new property portal owned by many of the biggest and best estate agencies in Britain – is only six months old, and continues to report significant monthly traffic growth (breaching two million unique users and four million visits in June).  

But not everyone’s impressed… Our resident doer upper Alan Page, for one. Here he offers up some creative criticism, and moots a new £1m+ portal with a frankly brilliant name.

  • Part One

The following blog could be the rantings of a bitter old man who has failed to sell his house. Or it could be the considered view of an independent voice not afraid to critique a major initiative from the country’s top estate agents.

You can decide.

If you’re an estate agent, you’ll be very familiar with the new portal OnTheMarket.com.

For us buyers and sellers, however, the arrival of this new online property search engine has been rather less enthralling.

The fact is most of us don’t even know it exists. Or if we have vaguely heard of it… we probably haven’t used it.

As a seller, however, I’ve been forced to list my property on OTM because both my agents opted to ditch Zoopla/Primelocation and go with this new portal and Rightmove (the clear market leader).

It’s a condition of using OTM that agents use only two of the main portals.

Yes, I know this is all getting a bit complicated, not to say boring. But stick with me for a few more paragraphs. I can’t promise it will become any less confusing, but it is important stuff (I think).

OTM was the idea of a few top agents. And I give them enormous credit for getting it off the ground.

They do actually have some “previous” in this sphere as many of the same agents actually got together in 2001 to launch the portal called Primelocation.

This was eventually sold (for £48m) and is now part of the Daily Mail’s digital stable which includes Zoopla.

Now I don’t want to question the motives of those agents behind the new portal, but the fact that they got a mere £48m for Primelocation when Rightmove is now worth north of £3bn may have had some bearing on the decision to start another one.

The founders however claim that they disagreed with the way Zoopla was exploiting data derived from their listings, and also that third party advertising on Rightmove and Zoopla is an irritant for us punters.

Anyway, that’s the basic background. Now, what’s my issue with all this.

Well, quite simply, I don’t want my property on OTM but if I want to use the best agents for my property I don’t have a choice.

The reason I don’t want my property on OTM is because it simply doesn’t work at the moment.

The name is terrible, the consumer marketing is wallpaper and the site itself nothing special (and I’m being generous here).

More importantly, perhaps, it’s way off the pace when it comes to Google searches.

I won’t bore you, at this point, with the tedious details of how poorly it performs on Google. Trust me, it’s crap.

Maybe it’s good if you’re looking to buy a semi in Hemel Hempstead or a terraced house in Burnley (although somehow I doubt it). But when it comes to selling a little house in Kensington, it is definitely useless.

I would far prefer to be on Primelocation. This is a decent website, the brand has a qualitative edge to it and, even more importantly, my target audience know it and use it.

Now at this point someone will probably bang off a tweet full of stats showing that OTM really is working and that Primelocation is nothing more than a small and quietly dying brand.

Maybe they’re right.

But, having worked in digital since its earliest days, I know just how opaque web stats can be.

The fact is IT IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND MY PROPERTY ON OTM VIA A GOOGLE SEARCH.

Type in London W8 or Abingdon Rd W8 and it will be Rightmove or Primelocation or Zoopla that occupy the top spots on Google… followed by a bunch of agents such as Savills, John D Wood etc.

OTM doesn’t come anywhere close to the first page on Google (except when it runs an ad!).

Now, although I don’t think the fact that we’re not on Primelocation/Zoopla makes much difference to whether or not we’ll sell our property, I do think the principle of allowing agents to use only two portals is wrong.

It’s surely against the spirit of competition law even if not the letter of the law (I’m sure they had very good advice).

If OTM is any good, it will find a ready market. But it should find a market by being better, not by forcing agents to cut out a competitor.

Right now, though, it isn’t better. And in any normal market it would be struggling to stay in business.

Generally speaking, I like the top end London agents I’ve met. They’re bright, hard-working and thoroughly professional.

It’s a pity the portal they have to use isn’t as good as they are.

OnTheMarket screenshot

  • Part Two

Previously I complained about the new, agent backed property portal, OnTheMarket.com. Especially the way in which it has forced sellers to use an ineffectual (so far) marketing tool.

It’s easy to knock something (and I should know as it’s sort of my stock-in-trade).

So, for a change, I thought I’d put on my other hat. The constructive, hopefully creative one.

My problem with OTM, you see, is that it’s really just a copycat site that will only survive and possibly prosper because it has what some might consider unfair leverage within the agent world.

It has nothing new to offer. Does nothing better than its competitors. And adds nothing to the mix.

So, if I’m to be Mr Nice for a change, what could they have done that would have really been exciting?

Well, first they needed a differentiator. Something that would separate the site and its service from the competition.

I think that what the market really needs is a good “Prime Only” portal covering £1m+ properties. Nobody needs another all-encompassing list of every bloody property in Britain.

£1m is a natural dividing line in the market and buyers and sellers would be attracted to something that focussed on their end of the market. In London maybe the value should be set even higher – but that’s a detail.

The name needs to be either a) a brilliant, youthful web brand like UBER or AIRBNB. Maybe something like LATERAL or WOW…or b) a qualitative expression of the service like PRIMERESI (yes, I know that’s taken).

The marketing needs to be original, compelling and very different. Take a look at how the National Lottery are using Piers Morgan to see what I mean. Clever, relevant, humourous, distinctive. (Everything the OTM campaign isn’t.)

The website itself needs to tear up the established blue-print adopted by Rightmove and Zoopla and move into the current decade.

Lists are fundamentally boring. But a good designer could rethink the presentation of properties. The site needs to look more like AirBnB and less like a page on eBay. More like the Domus Nova website in looks (if you want an agency comparison). And written more like Crayson’s.

People love property. But show me a portal that even remotely reflects that fact.

Why not divide properties more creatively into categories such as MegaPrime, Wrecks&Refurbs, LandedGentry, LockUp&Leave, Downsizers etc etc. Wouldn’t searching be more fun, more relevant to the consumer.

Of course you would retain the more conventional search methods as well. But clever market segmentation is the future of the web. Curation, not saturation.

As well as lists of property, what the site really needs is unique content. Yes, like many others, I hate the word “content”. But we all have to move with the times. Even the estate agency world.

What I’d like to see is sections on the site that add real value – like an interior design directory, architect & builder reviews, well written insights into different locations, even reviews of schools, restaurants, etc etc.

There’s so much a site like this could contribute to making us want to return time and time again – yet nobody seems to do much more than pay lip-service to these areas. If I see another portal blog about PipofftheTelly, I’ll throw myself off the nearest dreadful St George development.

Oooops. That’s not very Mr Nice, is it?

Sorry. Can’t help it.

Catch up on all the Doer Upper’s antics at his blog here, or follow him on Twitter @beachcomberpage 

The views of contributors are not necessarily those of PrimeResi or its publishers.

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