UK Challenger Portal Spotlight Series: PropertyHeads

Edmund Keith

July 23, 2020

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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 challenging the traditional pay to advertise model. We thought we’d take a closer look at some of the challenges in the market and see what makes them different and why they think they can take a slice of the market.

Today we take a look at PropertyHeads. We interviewed CEO Ben Davis about his company.

OMP: How did you get into the challenger property portal game? Do you have a background in data, agency, or at another portal?

BD: My background is in investment management. Early in my career, I managed property investments for an insurance company, and later I was researching and making large investments into property funds on behalf of pension fund clients. I've always been around property – growing up my father was a builder and landlord and my mother worked for the local planning office. Before establishing PropertyHeads I purchased and sold dozens of investment properties in both Germany and the UK.

What is your company’s USP?

BD: We are a social network with an integrated property portal. The USP from the consumer perspective is the ability to connect directly with agents and other parties to learn about properties before they come to market. PropertyHeads also lets consumers and investors identify the tradespeople and agents used and trusted by their existing network (so word of mouth referrals online). We also supply consumers with an unrivaled amount of data, news, and views on their local property market and their other property interests, direct to their PropertyHeads feed.

What is your biggest challenge?

BD: As a two sided marketplace and social network, we need to be mindful about growing in a balanced way. We have decided the best way to do this is region by region. That can leave some users frustrated in the short term if The Property Social Network seems rather lonely in their area, but we do this for the medium term benefit of all our users.

How do you build an audience?

BD: We are fortunate to have a sister business with 700,000 UK homeowner users. We know these people's addresses, we have permission to market property and property services to them, and crucially permission to create PropertyHeads profiles for them. We will be seeding The Property Social Network with this audience, region by region, and will be laser focused on demonstrating why they should bring their contacts on to the platform.

Do you think that the ‘pay to advertise’ model on portals needs a rethink?

BD: In the UK at least it has gotten to the point where it is impossible to justify the 'pay to advertise' model. Technology and a more connected world has made it much cheaper to build a portal and attract an audience of buyers and tenants. Competition will reduce portal subscription fees to near zero for sure.

What do you think the incumbent portals have got wrong?

BD: I'm going to be deliberately vague – they have failed to innovate.

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? 

BD: It's many things including culture, access to capital, apathy towards incumbent portals, relatively high transaction volumes. Honestly, though, I think the single biggest driver is the perceived unfairness faced by the younger generation in getting on and climbing the "house ladder".

Is there room for all of the challenger portals in the market?

BD: I'm not sure about all the challenger portals but there are certainly 3 or 4 with bright futures. The individual consumer requires a single place to search for property – but the consumer market, in general, would be better served with a broad choice. For the consumer that wants to manage the property aspects of their lives and really use their connections and the content available to get ahead – like they do for their career on LinkedIn – then PropertyHeads is most likely the portal for them.

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Simon Baker is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Online Marketplaces and Property Portal Watch. Involved with property portals for 15 years, he’s a well-recognized expert and industry consultant.
As former CEO/MD of the REA Group for 8 years, Simon led the group to its current market-leading position. When he joined REA Group in 2001, it had $4m in revenues, $6m in losses and an $8m market cap.
By 2008, the company presided over $155m in revenues, $35m in EBITDA and enjoyed a peak market cap of $1b. Simon is currently Chairman of the Mitula Group and Real Estate Investar and a serial portal founder and, investor.