Every year a handful of services or portals launch that claim to be the next Rightmove, Zoopla or OnTheMarket, and it’s easy to take their fresh-faced claims with a pinch of salt; anyone who has worked in the property industry since the late nineties knows the mountain that any portal challenger must climb to gain both consumer, house builder and estate agent adoption and recognition.
Both Rightmove and Zoopla, and currently OnTheMarket, have spent – and continue to spend – tens of millions of pounds persuading home movers to visit their websites, and the industry to list their inventories with them in a precarious game of chicken and egg.
The traditional route has been to launch a platform, onboard a handful of key estate agents and developers and then hope the consumer clicks and smaller agents and builders follow suit.
And then there is the latest launch, the unusually named Rummage4Property. Launched relatively quietly last week with the backing of developers Barratt, Bovis, Persimmon and Redrow as well as 30 agents including Countrywide, it is taking a different approach to property search, driven by its home-grown tech.
Rummage4Property is not a recent start-up. The idea for the business was created nine years ago by Robert May, a former operations director at estate agency software giant Jupix and before that CFP Software, which was bought by the Guardian newspaper’s commercial arm in 2008.
Since he left CFP, Robert tells DealMakersz that he has been slowly consolidating his idea.
“When I first arrived at CFP the Guardian people asked me what we could do to take on Rightmove with their then portal Think! Property [later sold to Zoopla],” he says.
“That set me thinking and ever since I’ve been growing the proposition organically and then, two years ago, I found a brilliant coder who could translate my ideas properly into tech.”
That tech then proved very useful for City analyst Anthony Codling, who used its features to interrogate property portals and question Purplebricks’ public claims last year that it was converting almost 90% of its listings into sales, which as any estate agent or developer will point out is unusual to say the least.
Purplebricks has always maintained its performance figure was accurate, but with help from Rummage4Property, Codling suggested a figure in the mid-50%.
In its later stages of development the tech was also responsible for another coup – the uncovering of wholesale ‘portal juggling’.
This is when agents either withdraw a property from sale in the evening and then relist it the next morning, or change the price artificially, to ensure their properties get to the top of the portals’ search pages.
This led to an amusing new term within the industry; ‘Dracula’ properties or those which are killed at night and then rise from the dead the next morning.
Robert May says his work on this, which included partnering with Trading Standards to highlight some of the larger agents spotted using the method, means ‘95%’ of agents no longer portal juggle, his data shows.
Anthony Codling, who at the time was working for City firm Jefferies but is now Rummage4Property’s new CEO, says he was so impressed by the tech that he decided to join several months ago and has been working his notice ever since.
“When Robert showed me what he could do I was blown away and I thought, why was I still carrying on being a research analyst?” he says.
“I made some introductions to a few agents and developers and one thing led to another and I was tendering my resignation at Jefferies.
“As well as the tech, one key unique selling point for it is cost – we will be charging approximately £100 per branch or development regardless of their size and the fee they pay will be linked to the housing market.
“If house prices go up we’ll share the gain, if they go down then we’ll share the pain, unlike the portals which put their prices up even when the market’s doing badly.
“But we see the same opportunity as OnTheMarket; that agents and developers are unhappy about the portal status quo.”
“We’re in no hurry – no traditional launch as such – we’re going to grow it organically via local searches and we’re only as good as our product. We’ll grow by agents talking about us. We only need to be as good as, if not better than the big portals. Customers must think we’re good.” Anthony Codling, CEO.
Codling says he believes Rummage4Property has the ‘last mover’ advantage in the property search market and that he is planning to involve agents directly in the business via a ‘mutual’ ownership arrangement, something Codling says he’s sad that OTM lost.
The biggest challenge for the business is nailing down what it is. Some have called it a ‘sortal’ rather than a portal while Codling likens it to a dating site between house hunters and agents or developers.
One analogy to make is that the big portals control the properties house hunters find when using their service and put ‘featured properties’ at the top which are often way off the search criteria entered.
Rummage4Property, on the other hand, marries the most relevant properties on Google to a house hunters’ search which, on the mobile version shown to DealMakerz, used a voice recognition system to produce results.
“One exciting aspect of our system is that we can recognise regional accents and terms and use them to really hone the searches for consumers,” says May.
He is keen to underline that Rummage4Property is not a portal in the traditional sense and is not an SEO service either. Instead it is a ‘collective powerhouse’ that collates information from websites to ‘power up’ an individual agent, development or branch’s listings and raise them up Google’s results.
Rummage4Property is reluctant to reveal much more than that; May is keen not to tell the portals too much and help them in their expected attempts to frustrate its tech.
“When the portals launched they were an absolute necessity because agents didn’t know how to get a digital presence and the portals gave them both that and a place for the public to look,” says May.
“But that was 20 years ago, and portals’ consequent dominance of the listings means they have become naturally dominant because they have so much content, blocking agent’s individual efforts to be found on the internet.
“The portals are now blockers, rather than the good thing they were when they started. We are putting the focus back on individual agents and developers.”
But their potential customer base faces many demands on their marketing budgets. Why should Rummage4Property get to the front of the queue, we asked May.
“We can’t afford to give our service away, but remember we’re charging everyone £100 – no one is treated differently.
“Our long-term aim is that we’ll save our customers money and it’s looking promising so far. Of all the agents and developers we’ve shown this too so far, none have said ‘no’.”
That, at the very least, marks them out from the many other previous attempts to take on the portals.