New agent-owned portal is planned by top names in industry

New agent-owned portal is planned by top names in industry

A group of top agents are putting together a new national property portal which would be owned by agents themselves and aimed at toppling – or cutting down to size – the duopoly of Rightmove and Zoopla.

The six founding agents who are behind Agents Mutual have called in former Primelocation boss Ian Springett to put together a proposal.

  It is understood a presentation was given yesterday for central London agents who are members of CLEA, and further presentations will follow.

Springett headed up Primelocation, which was founded by estate agents for agents, and was highly successful. It launched in January 2001 and sold just under five years later for £48m to the Daily Mail – bringing in extremely handsome returns for its 200 investor agents. It is now part of the Zoopla group – which Agents Mutual has in its sights.

Springett himself, a former banker, has barely been heard of since the sale.

The six quietly registered Agents Mutual as a company at the end of January. They read like a Who’s Who of estate agency: Noel Flint is a director of Knight Frank and is head of London Residential for the firm; Michael Hodgson is owner of Douglas & Gordon; Trevor Abrahamson is the high-profile boss of Glentree Estates; Robert Bartlett is chief executive of Chesterton Humberts; Michael Fiddes is a director of Strutt & Parker; and Paul Jarman is a director of Savills.

The central London agents were told at the meeting that a new agent-owned portal was just what was needed, “given the attitude and direction of Rightmove and Zoopla”.

The new portal would be operated by a democratic company where each shareholding estate agent had one vote – meaning that the big firms could not gain leverage over small independents.

The aim would be to keep listing costs down and not to make profits.

While the new company’s principles echo those of the original Primelocation, one important difference is that, whereas Primelocation demanded complete loyalty with advertisers banned from listing their properties elsewhere, Agents Mutual will allow its agents to list properties on just one other portal.

It is thought that this stipulation could get round any possible legal problems, as publishers would and should not normally insist on advertisers’ exclusivity.

However, the new stipulation could prove interesting – for example, all the Agents Mutual agents could choose to advertise only on Zoopla, or only on Rightmove. The more likely scenario would follow tradition – generally, London agents have preferred Zoopla and agents outside London have preferred Rightmove.

An agent who attended this week’s CLEA meeting said that costs on the new site would be much lower than Rightmove and Zoopla, noting that 70% of Rightmove’s income is profit “and they have driven this up relentlessly over the past five years by increasing what we have to pay by much more than their costs”.

The agent went on: “It seems likely that as long as they are market leader they will continue to do this, and this plan seems to be a great way to protect this important area of our business and our data into the future.”

In a rallying call to fellow London agents, the agent’s email said: “So far the uptake is strong, and if we all support it, the new portal could quickly be dominant in our area and competition would allow us a better negotiating position if we wished to advertise on a second site.

“Savills, Knight Frank, Strutt & Parker, Chestertons and D & G are already signed up, so our area will have a strong showing of support from the outset.”

The Agents Mutual website gives very little away, but no-obligation expressions of interest are being sought from sales and lettings agents.

The name Agents Mutual is highly unlikely to be the name of the portal, in just the same way that Fastcrop became Primelocation.