The UK real estate market is flush with challengers, regional agents, and a heck of a lot of competition. Many of the so-called challenger property portals that have sprung up over the last ten years have done so fuelled either by dislike of Rightmove or, perhaps, through jealousy of the market leader's success.
The challengers have come from many different backgrounds and have had many different approaches to taking on the likes of Rightmove and Zoopla, but they haven't always worked out.
The UK's property industry is dominated by Rightmove—one of the most powerful portals in the world (think Zillow in the United States and Realestate.com.au in Australia).
Indeed, a UK-wide "Say No To Rightmove" campaign—which had its own #saynotorightmove hashtag—saw a vast number of UK agents band together to pressure Rightmove into fairer prices in early 2020. It led to a number of startups popping up as agents recognized an opportunity to challenge the status quo.
What resulted was an interesting startup scene in the UK, where challengers have been more successful by intentionally positioning themselves as "non-Rightmove" alternatives. The word "portal" became a dirty word in some agent circles and one business, in particular, insisted that it was not a portal at all but rather 'an agent-centric new business generation platform'.
But, neither the best intentions in the world nor a fancy re-definition of a business model guarantees success. Agents eventually reverted to being competitors rather than allies and #saynotorightmove fell apart. With the PR momentum seemingly gone and agents back to simply complaining about Rightmove on message boards, a good number of the challenger portals seem to have fallen by the wayside.
If you need any more evidence that building a challenger portal is a dangerous game, there's no better place to start than with our biggest headline...
Boomin is both the biggest name—and the biggest failure—in the UK challenger scene in the past ten years. Founded by Michael and Kenny Bruce, the UK entrepreneurs who also launched Purplebricks, Boomin came to market in 2020 to fanfare and plenty of good PR.
Built on a suite of useful tools and backed by the wealthy Bruce brothers, Boomin represented the best opportunity in years for the UK real estate scene to cast off the shackles of Rightmove.
But it didn't last for long.
A lack of revenue and a difficult macroeconomic environment backed the Bruce Brothers into a corner, and Boomin went bust in November 2022, calling in liquidators less than two years after launch. It was a roller coaster ride while it lasted—we wrote a comprehensive timeline of Boomin's stay in the British market.
Founded in 2016, OneDome has slowly but surely built itself up into perhaps the UK's most comprehensive end-to-end property platform. The company even recently completed the acquisition of mortgage broker CMME Mortgage and Protection Limited.
Unlike most portals, OneDome makes its money by managing end-to-end property transactions for parties including homebuyers and estate agents.
CEO Babek Ismayil has set out an ambitious goal for OneDome—to service 10% of all UK property transactions by 2028. We asked Ismayil about the challenges for challenger portals in the UK market...
OMP: What aspect of the UK real estate market makes it an attractive proposition for entrepreneurs launching "challenger" businesses?
"The property market is one of the few areas which has had little impact from technology. The leading classifieds like Rightmove haven't evolved their product with time, offering the same service to homebuyers for the last 23 years.
While Rightmove offered a great service in the 2000s, users in 2023 expect more from tech products. They expect an integrated, Amazon-like experience. The current home buying process feels outdated and not fit for purpose. This creates a huge opportunity to change a multi-trillion-dollar property purchase and sale market for good."
How has OneDome's end-to-end solution facilitated your successful navigation of a difficult market in the past few years, while others have failed?
"Our business model is very different. We never tried to copy Rightmove’s business model. We don’t believe that it is possible to disrupt Rightmove with a ‘me too’ business model (cheaper or fair price etc). Classifieds like Rightmove have very strong network effects and there is a limit to how much an estate agent or a housebuilder is willing to spend on marketing or technology. I also don’t think a challenger business model from 90s (classifieds) in a mature market like the UK is an attractive proposition for investors. Therefore, it is hard to raise money to disrupt these classifieds in the UK."
"Our goal isn’t to challenge Rightmove or any other classifieds. We offer an integrated homebuying experience for consumers where they can find, fund and complete their purchase in one place—faster, simpler and with less stress. We are bringing the e-commerce experience that we are all very much accustomed to (like Amazon) to the property market. This makes us unique and given the size of the property transaction market £270Bn, makes us an attractive investment target."
What do the next 12–18 months have in store for OneDome?
"We are going to grow our market share of property transactions organically and inorganically. Our 5-year goal is to get to 10% market share.
In the next 18 months, we are confident that 2% of all property transactions in the UK will be processed via OneDome's eHomeBuying platform."
An honourable mention in this category goes to property social network PropertyHeads, another challenger that's still going strong.
PropertyHeads was founded in 2018 by former investment manager Ben Davis, and the company has since registered more than 10,000 property businesses. It holds data on almost 30 million homes across the United Kingdom.
PropertyHeads partnered with global property information and analytics platform CoreLogic in November 2021, and then relaunched its valuation and insights tool under a new name—Mouseprice Pro—in June 2022 having acquired the Mouseprice portal in 2020.
When it launched, Homesearch already had 10,000 UK agents on board for its challenger portal—almost 50% of the total addressable market.
Founded and launched by Giles Ellwood and Sam Hunter in 2019, Homesearch set out with the goal of being the portal that contains all the essential information about any property in the country, on or off the market.
But with a database three years in the making and a free-to-list model, Homesearch has since adapted its business model from a traditional portal to an agent marketing solution.
Now a "data driven estate agency platform", Homesearch opted against challenging the portals after testing the water, and instead pivoted to being a database business that agents can use to give them an edge when marketing properties or looking to win new instructions.
Meanwhile, OpenBrix has followed a similar trajectory. The business launched its marketplace and tenant lifestyle app, tlyfe, in 2017 and has since shifted its attention to the app—powered by a suite of applications owned by OpenBrix. Tlyfe offers services like tenant right-to-rent checks, an interactive move-in checklist, and an exclusive deal with the UK's longest-running deposit protection scheme (Tenancy Deposit Scheme).
Adam Pigott, CEO at OpenBrix, explained the thinking behind the decision:
"OpenBrix is built on blockchain technology. We had to de-couple from the actual blockchain platform—the level of partnership integration was at a deep enough level to incur the problem that all our partners' tech level did not match ours. We were left with two options: break away and integrate, or wait for other tech to catch up."
"Our property search portal is still present but it's not our prime offering. The other side of our initial offering was the Tenant App, that we have now branded as tlyfe."
"Competition to rent a property has been increasing over the last few years due to successive governments attack on landlords. This has resulted in fewer properties and growing demand, which means higher rents and increased frustration for tenants wanting to rent."
"Currently for example, there are roughly 30 applicants to every rental property in the UK. So how do Landlords or agents choose the best tenant? Tlyfe allows good tenants to prove and share their qualification and good reputation to an agent or Landlord."
There have been a fair share of slow deaths in the UK challenger scene.
Residential People. Founded by UK real estate industry veteran Christopher May in 2015, Residential People launched as a free-to-list property portal. Today, its website is down, May is working for a different company and his Linkedin says he left Residential People mid-2022.
Movebubble. Founded by Aidan Rushby in 2013, Movebubble was a video-first "click to rent" solution that let tenants go through an end-to-end rental process. Nine years on, Rushby has moved onto a car sales financial services startup, and the Movebubble website is down due to "critical technical issues". Don't expect this one to resurface.
LocalMove. Local Move appears to still be in business and has over 700 properties listed on its localized, West Midlands portal. But, nobody on LinkedIn appears to work there. Not dead, but dying? We don't know.
Proptyle. According to its Twitter account, Proptyle is the "biggest free property search engine in the UK, Ireland & UAE". But according to its website, the domain is available for purchase. Founded by Tej Patel in 2017, Proptyle looks like it is dead—and Patel is working at a different business.
PropertyMutual. Launched in 2013 by Andrew Goldthorpe, PropertyMutual came with the promise of being the only legitimate, ethical mutual operating in the UK property industry.
Dubbed "an incredibly disruptive blueprint that would take the agency-portal relationship all the way back to its pure-play mutual roots" by Jefferies.com, Goldthorpe left his role as CEO in November 2022 and its portal appears to be dormant. If you're looking for an agent-owned portal in the UK, maybe stick with OnTheMarket...