Estate agents cash in on househunters’ net gains

As the UK’s property industry defies expectations of a collapse, use of the internet by househunters continues to grow and a host of websites now vie for the attention of consumers and agents alike.

Rightmove.co.uk has appointed Equinox Communications and Connect Communications to handle its £4.5m media and advertising business (MW last week) as it seeks to build on the success of the internet and encourage more homebuyers to look online.

Rightmove says its site attracts more than 16.5 million visitors each month and, according to online data provider Hitwise, it is the most visited property portal in the UK with a 20.6% share of visitors in the past week. Revenue has almost doubled to £15.1m for the first half of 2006 and it has gained more than 5,000 advertisers in the past six months.

Fish4.co.uk chief executive Joe Flavin says there is no doubt that the migration of estate agencies online is set to continue. He adds that like a lot of online activity, growth has been fuelled by broadband penetration and new capabilities, such as being able to show multiple or 360-degree photos of properties and video footage of locations.

Despite these advances, Flavin says estate agents are still a little behind the times in their adoption of the internet but he adds that they are catching on fast.

However, he dismisses any threat to estate agents as property searches migrate online: “When recruitment went online, people said it would reduce the number of recruitment consultants, but in fact the reverse is true. There is no threat and estate agents have nothing to worry about so long as they deliver added value for consumers.”

Reach advertisers A spokeswoman for Rightmove agrees: “The role of our site is to help estate agents reach advertisers. We list 80% of houses for sale in the UK. We are not putting agents in the shadow at all. You can’t buy from Rightmove. We are putting consumers in touch with agents.”

Flavin says that at Fish4homes sales are booming – up 120% year on year. He believes that, while the internet is a remote and distant medium, estate agents can boost their image if they are quick to respond to househunters’ requests for viewings or more information. He says that an industry beset by image problems “can overcome the negative connotations if it understands the real benefits of the internet”.

Private sales Some estate agents had criticised Fish4 for listing too many private house sales, cutting out the middle man, but Flavin says any competition is good for the industry and that businesses large or small can capitalise on the online phenomenon.

Rightmove explains that it, too, is there to help drive business to small and large outfits alike, allowing members access to marketing materials and other tools.

Such is the success of property online that portal whathouse.co.uk has opted to donate all revenues from estate agents’ advertising on its portal to charity. It has tied up with Shelter to launch the Raise the Roof campaign this month, which seeks to tackle child homelessness.

Whathouse.co.uk online publishing director Ashley Rigg says the portal aims to become a challenger brand to Rightmove and hopes the tie-up with Shelter will help boost awareness of the brand.

He says the commitment to donate funds should appeal to homebuyers and he is clear on one point: “Even two years ago this model would not have been sustainable as the revenues just weren’t there. That is a clear sign of how the market has developed.”

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