Opinion: While Portals Wait to Take the Plunge and Own More of the Transaction Consumers and Agents Suffer

July 6, 2021
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We interviewed Homehere.co Founder Lou Quinn for our 10 Questions With... feature back in January. We liked what his company was doing around shining a light on portal ROI in the UK and when we called him up for a quote on an analysis piece we published later that month we found him to be the rare exception of someone who, as a former agent himself, understands property portals innately from both the consumer, business and agent point of view. Our conversation that day wasn't recorded but we asked if Lou might be interested in repeating the finer points of it in print for us one day.

The following 1,000 words sum up the quality vs quantity of leads problem and the fraught nature of UK portals' journey to owning more of the transaction perfectly... 

 

My partner and I are in the process of looking for a house to buy together and most evenings I'm encouraged to spend time browsing the ever-growing list of portals (maybe time to aggregate the aggregators?) in the hope of finding something that takes our fancy.

Last night, we found a property we liked and made an enquiry.

After I'd added my details and hit send, this is what I saw:

‘Enquiry sent. You should be contacted in the next 24 hr’s. If not, it’s always worth giving them a call on …

'you should be'

'if not'

‘24hrs’

The sentence doesn't fill me with confidence. I'm not even sure Zoopla is convinced I'll get a response.

To be fair, they probably know what most enquirers experience, this is that a large number of enquiries sent in via the portals get completely ignored. 

Making an enquiry via one of the portals in the UK is an antiquated process, after you hit the ‘send enquiry’ button, an isolated email drops into the agent's mailbox, to be actioned if and when an agent gets round to it.

Here’s the thing - the current journey doesn’t benefit any of the stakeholders involved.

With over 50% of enquiries being sent outside of office hours, managing them is a laborious task for agents, who typically arrive at the office to a mailbox full of cold leads, which then have to be called or emailed. Another round of phone tag, anyone? 

The experience for enquirers can be just as exasperating, a recent survey of over 6,000 people found that 67% of them had been ignored when making an enquiry via one of the portals.

With both journeys above in mind, as a homeowner or landlord why am I missing potential opportunities to get my house sold or rented quicker?

We know that nearly 40% of the enquiries sent in via the portals arrive within the first 24hrs of a property going live. 

This initial surge is an opportunity not to be missed. So where are the strong calls to action? Where's the 'here's what to do next?' Where's the FOMO to create urgency?

It's such a wasted opportunity. 

When you think about it, there are not many other industries that haven’t streamlined their digital shop windows to allow and moreover, encourage shoppers to take the next step.

Think of a recent online experience you’ve had whether it be buying something from eBay or browsing hotel rooms on Booking.com.

‘5 people looking at this’

‘3 sold in the last hour’

Even LinkedIn is getting involved. 'be number 3 of 10 to apply for this job'. Very clever.

Creating urgency and fear of missing out based around the rule of scarcity and strong calls to action is ubiquitous in so many other industries because it works. Baked into the journey, it can help sell products and services faster and sometimes for a higher price, often with little manual intervention.

A good example of this is Cazoo founded by the brilliant Alex Chesterman (previously of Zoopla) which in only 4 clicks allows car hunters to start the process of purchasing the car of their choice. Cazoo is en route to a public listing in New York with a cool valuation of $6 billion.

Granted, a lot more goes into renting and selling properties than buying a car but there are a few dots that can be automatically connected before you get to the stage of drawing up the contract.

So why then has the UK portal space lagged so far behind other industries for so long?

It's probably fair to say that to date, from the portals point of view, it's been a question of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.

They haven’t appeared to care about the outcome as the measure of quantity is still used as the benchmark of portal performance.

There’s nothing easier, or more profitable than being an ‘online glossy magazine', so getting their hands dirty and owning more of the consumer journey is a messy, risky venture and where appropriate - probably hard to justify to your shareholders.

But the likes of the recently launched Boomin, an out of the box eco-system, has perhaps accelerated the direction that the two big UK portals have begrudgingly started to go down.

Over the past few years, Rightmove has tested the water with the introduction of the tenant passport and more recently, their viewing manager. Both have felt like ill-conceived add ons rather than a desire to get their hands dirty and own more of the journey.

Of course, they now own one of the UK’s most established referencing companies and recently outlined their vision for their 'rent in 5' which as well as super useful qualification of applicants they have also promised to integrate their booking system with CRM's during 2021. 

The latter of course would be the holy grail, as to date the majority of the CRM's offer no 2-way connectivity in the same way we would expect other modern-day technology to behave.   

If anyone can make it work it might just be Rightmove, who with their deep pockets may be able to persuade the CRMs to step into the 21st century and share more of their system. Despite some understandable resistance, it seems like Zillow in America are going down this route with their purchase of ShowingTime. 

One of the stumbling blocks in trying to implement this plan in the UK market though is the fact that the owner of Zoopla, ZPG, also owns approximately 50% of the CRM market with their suite of products under the umbrella of the Property software group.

With their own vision of the Zooplaverse and the backing of Silverlake, you can't see them being in any rush to open the doors to Rightmove and give them the edge in the new portal space race.

The optimist in me likes to think that consumer interest will win out over the competing business interests at loggerheads here and that eventually, users like me will see the uncertain messages of today replaced with messages like:

'Your viewing booking is confirmed'

'See you on Wednesday at 19:00'

or maybe one day even 'Congratulations on your new apartment'.

July 6, 2021

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