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.
Today we take a look at Residential People. We interviewed CEO Christopher May about his company and the industry in general.
OMP: How did you get into the challenger property portal game? Do you have a background in data, agency, or at another portal?
CM: I set up Residential People with my co-founder, Nahim Rahman in 2015. Between us, we have over 30 years of experience in the property and financial services industry for both B2B and B2C. The concept for Residential People initially began when I became frustrated with effectively being priced out of the market by the extortionate fees charged to list my agency's properties.
What is your company’s USP?
CM: Residential People is a free-to-list property portal and at present, we have approximately 4,900 agents that have already joined the platform and we’re actively looking for more to join our disruptive crusade. We are genuinely passionate about providing long term solutions to be fully supportive of agents’ needs.
As well as being free-to-list, we are currently developing a powerful database marketing tool that will give consumers the best possible journey when looking for their dream home. This innovative service (which we will offer free of charge) will put agents at the forefront of our thinking and will enable the consumer to tell us all of their property requirements, thus allowing agents to do what they do best - help consumers find their dream home.
We know that building something new is incredibly time-consuming. How many hours do you put into this project per week?
Presently I am working at least 12 hour days as we have multiple projects on the go currently, I often find myself replying to emails at 10 o’clock at night. That’s standard when you are running your own business in my opinion.
How many employees does Residential People have?
Currently, we are a team of 20 with 10 external contractors.
What is your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge for us is trying to do multiple initiatives on a budget so we have to think outside the box a lot of the time. Any startup will tell you, technology is all about having enough money to resource properly, otherwise ideas can take months to come to fruition. I envy some companies that have teams of 50-100 people as it means they can complete work a lot quicker.
How do you build your audience?
We do a lot of social media advertising and have recently become a Facebook marketplace listings partner, so receive a lot of traffic to the site. We also work with aggregator sites and have a decent budget for the next 12 months to enable us to increase our organic growth. It also helps that we are a dot com as we plan to have an inventory by the end of 2021 of over 10 million properties.
Do you think that the ‘pay to advertise’ model on portals needs a rethink?
Essentially portals and agents should be working together, not against each other, to improve the customer journey. The success of all of us in the property industry is interlinked with one another, so we need to stop pitching portal vs agent vs broker. Instead of charging subscriptions and creating paywalls, portals must begin to think outside the box and more importantly stop earning off the agent’s data.
What do you think the incumbent portals have got wrong?
Most of the common issues that agents are currently facing are price hikes, lack of control, being forgotten about and the most severe of all, having their data exploited. Many agents are unhappy and feel that they have been given a raw deal by portals, which are taking food from the agents’ tables.
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?
Price hikes particularly from portals like Rightmove have created a lot of animosity amongst agents. Also, agents have complained that they have not seen much innovation considering the huge revenues the portals earn. As a challenger portal in the UK, there are definite gaps in the market which can be taken advantage of. If the growing wave of agents continues to leave the big portals, I can see a lot of the challenger portals becoming stronger as they take more market share in terms of inventory.
Is there room for all of the challenger portals in the market?
There is always room for new portals and innovation to come into the market. Consumers want choice and they will look on multiple platforms to purchase what will be the biggest purchase of their life.