The UK’s property portal market might just be the most interesting in the world. It has a massively dominant market leader under pressure from its customers, an agent-owned challenger and new portals and alternatives springing up all the time, some of whom are eschewing the traditional pay to advertise model. We thought we’d take a closer look at some of the challenger portals and see what makes them different and why they think they can take a slice of the market.
OneDome owns and operates both the eponymous onedome.com as well as Nethouseprices.com. We spoke to CEO Babek Ismayil about what his company does and the state of the property portal landscape.
OMP: How did you get into the challenger property portal game? Do you have a background in data, agency, or at another portal?
I am a former Senior Vice President and high yield and distressed debt trader at JP Morgan. I spent 10 years trading distressed bonds and credit derivatives of companies with credit ratings considered as highly risky.
How many hours do you put into this project per week?
OneDome isn’t a project anymore as we are a sizeable company with a large number of customers. As a founder, there is no separation between work and life, if you do that separation most likely this means that you don’t enjoy what you do. I would say on average, I work between 85-95 hours per week.
What is your company’s USP?
We are a Homebuying platform, an Amazon-like experience for the property market. E-Commerce platforms made buying online really convenient driving consumers through a highly guided experience of search, payment and delivery. Even though homebuying is a more complicated transaction, essentially it is a very similar process:
Our platform is aiming to achieve exactly that. Connecting all the players into a single buying flow will make things faster, more efficient and hopefully allow businesses to generate more revenue.
How many employees do you have?
What is your biggest challenge?
As with any new product, we need to educate the market about our business model and the possibilities. The property market is about 10-15 years behind most of the other industries in terms of technology adoption. Our industry is still dominated by “Craigslist-like” portals that don’t serve any other purpose outside of providing a giant ad board service whereas consumers are now used to doing everything online in a connected fashion. Changing people’s habits takes time, but once they use a more convenient solution there is no way back. The e-commerce industry proved that anything could be moved online.
How do you build your audience?
We are using various digital marketing strategies available to us. We are also working closely with important partners like Facebook Marketplace. SEO is obviously key for any marketplace.
Do you think that the ‘pay to advertise’ model on portals needs a rethink?
Absolutely. My personal view is that the model hit the growth ceiling. There is that much an agent could pay for the same service. All pay-to-list portals are competing for agents’ marketing budget which, due to squeezed margins, are unfortunately getting smaller and smaller. Why would an agent pay for essentially the same service more and more?
What do you think the incumbent portals have got wrong?
The main issue with the current portals is that their offering is outdated. They continue to act like giant advertising billboards and data-mining businesses (targeting users with email campaigns etc). This was a great model in the early 2000s, but the world moved on. If pay-to-advertise portals don’t reinvent themselves, they risk becoming obsolete. There is no innovation in the industry and there is a huge level of complacency.
Why do you think we have seen a proliferation of startup portals and alternatives to the big 3 portals in the UK and perhaps not so much in other markets?
There are challenger portals in other countries too. I think the UK is one of the leading countries in terms of investment in PropTech, so it is natural that we see new and emerging business models launched here. Let’s hope that Proptech follows the steps of Fintech and London also becomes the Global PropTech capital of the world.
Is there room for all of the challenger portals in the market?
It depends. The portal market is mature, so we don’t see room for another pay-to-list player who does more or less the same thing as Rightmove or Zoopla, regardless of how much they charge. Why would an agent pay for essentially the same thing twice or three times? Why would consumers drop a well-known household name and use another less known brand (unless that brand spends tens or even hundreds of millions in marketing to change consumer behaviour)?
However, there is definitely room for a challenger portal if the proposition is radically different for both consumers and agents. I hate the word disruptive, but in this instance disruptive in a positive meaning of it, as it represents a solution to a previously unsolved problem.