The founder and CEO of UK online real estate agency eMoov Russell Quirk, who once predicted OntheMarket was "doomed to fail" has spoken out again calling threats of legal action sent to agents refusing to comply with his competitor's one other portal rule "a farce".
Set up over a year ago, Agents' Mutual, OntheMarket's consortium of estate agents including Savills, Knight Frank and others is taking action against members it has accused of breaching their contract by posting listings on Rightmove and Zoopla as well as OntheMarket.
Media reports say it's understood some of the offending agents are also in arrears with their membership fees.
But Russell Quirk says the threats represent "one final act of desperation" by a company which is on the way out.
"There was never any doubt that Agents' Mutual was going to fail due to its shortsighted strategy, the question was when," Quirk tells Property Portal Watch.
"This week we have the answer which no doubt spells the beginning of the end. It's Savills, Knight Frank et al vs hundreds of other agents."
Quirk predicts affected member agents will fight the action.
"From those agents we know who have received these letters, they will not be bullied by Savills and co. to pay for something that doesn’t work, that they don't want, that prevents them from serving their customers best and they are ready to challenge Agents' Mutual's legal threats," he says.
"If (OntheMarket's) lack of performance, failed promises or insignificant audience size hadn't done so, these last ditch legal actions by Agents' Mutual should certainly give pause to any new agents who might have been thinking about joining them."
Quirk argues Agents's Mutual's promise was for agents to unite, build something better and win over consumers so that estate agents were no longer quite as dependent on Rightmove and Zoopla.
"One year on and £20 million later it seems that these estate agents should probably have stuck to selling houses and let Rightmove and Zoopla operate property portals rather than launch their own failing version, Onthemarket," he says.
"Having promised their fellow agents that they would be the #2 property portal by the end of last year, traffic to OntheMarket has peaked at around 10 per cent of that of Zoopla and 5 per cent of that of Rightmove according to Hitwise."
Quirk claims having promised agents who supported OntheMarket early would get the best deals, he says it now appears that the opposite is true.
"Those who signed early are paying far more and locked in for far longer."
"Agents' Mutual has not only failed to deliver on any of its promises or achieve any of its stated objectives but has put its members at risk by forcing them to act against the interests of their own customers, UK homeowners, by not advertising their properties on well-known property websites like Zoopla and Primelocation."
Quirk adds legal action is sure to impact the reputation of online real estate businesses, which "is not great news" for an industry already suffering from a lack of consumer trust.
But OntheMarket has made it clear the company regards seeking redress for the breach of contract "standard practice".
“We work to ensure that everyone in contract with us meets their obligations for the benefit of all members of Agents’ Mutual,” the company told Property Industry EYE."
Those agents who received legal letters this week and who are in arrears have been warned that they must pay up within 14 days to avoid legal proceedings.