Agent Mutual – A new beginning or false dawn?

And so Agent Mutual finally confirms its brand name- on the market! not very original but I suppose easily remembered and relevant. It also triumphantly claims over 3000 member offices of various colour shades as it prepares to take on the duopoly of the mighty property portals Rightmove and Zoopla. So is it the charge of the light brigade or the dawn of a new era?

Estate agency is traditionally cyclic and many of us can look back at iconic industry changes over the years that have changed the way we work- colour printers, digital cameras, laser measures, the internet, property portals, the list is many. However I feel we are now on the cusp of some monumental industry changes and agents would be wise to wake up, smell the coffee, get prepared or be left behind.

But what of Agent Mutual? I remain unconvinced by its current business model, although wholeheartedly support the concept. Like most agents I am sick and tired of the portals riding roughshod over us. I will never forget Rightmove hiking prices even during the recession years, so nobody would enjoy seeing its demise more than me.

The biggest problem I see is agents themselves! Many are intrinsically lazy- Rightmove serves a purpose, it is a strong, easily recognisable brand that generates leads and vendors expect their property to be listed on the site. And when the MD of one of London’s leading estate agencies claims “his agency couldn’t survive without Rightmove” you know you are facing an uphill battle to sway opinion and attitudes.

A lot of agents don’t like, want or will embrace change. But let us be silly for a moment and take this discussion to the enth degree. If every agent came of both Rightmove and Zoopla, the portals would have no product. I have heard the argument that Rightmove would simply open itself up to private listings, but since only some 5-7% use cheaper online agents now, would the public really want to do it themselves? I am not so sure they would.

I realise this is not going to happen anytime soon but home buyers do not have any loyalty. If tomorrow every available property was displayed on the new on the market website, do you honestly think the public would care? absolutely not. They are product led.

For Agent Mutual to have a realistic chance of establishing itself as a major player in the portal market, it needs the total support of all agents and I do not get the impression it has this. Partly as there is nothing tangible to see yet, no branding and too many sitting on the fence watching and waiting for others to show their hand. Perhaps it’s attempt to divide and conquer is a step to far for some? by stipulating subscribers can only advertise on one other portal. We do not want to be returning to the days of cartels.

I would also have not excluded online agents from advertising on the site. I would encourage everyone to list with Agent Mutual. Once the site has total support, then is the time to come of the other portals en masse. As it is I can only see the current idea serving to strengthen Rightmove’s position as the leading property portal as more agents are likely to ditch Zoopla than Rightmove, certainly here in the North. I have even heard it suggested that Agent Mutual are hoping that this will be the case and that Rightmove will continue to abuse it’s status, pushing up prices and thereby driving the waiverers into the waiting arms of Agent Mutual, which would be an incredibly risky and foolhardy strategy to say the least.

Finally there is the concern over funding, which has also been raised by city analysts and financiers, although I am sure somebody somewhere has done the maths! Apparently there is an initial launch budget of £6m and £7m in annual subscriptions. This sum pales into insignificance by comparison with the multi millions available to both Rightmove and Zoopla for TV advertising, national press and whatever other marketing it choose’s- interestingly both portals are currently gearing up for new TV campaigns, which means that agents will have to be braver than ever, have the courage of their convictions and stand united to force through much needed change or continue to be at the mercy of the portals.

I wish Agent Mutual well, but I do have my concerns which I hope prove unfounded going forward.

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