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  • Mal McCallion

AI v Rightmove

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

Back in 2000, as the internet was moving further from geek niche to mainstream momentum, a couple of small startups called Rightmove and Primelocation were being prepared for launch. I was beavering away on the latter - but it was the former that would come to be the all-powerful brand, synonymous with the UK property portal era.

However, I sense that era is coming to an end.

Last week I was in Madrid, at the PropTech and Property Portal Watch (PPW) Conference, with all of the largest property portals in Europe and beyond - well, all except one of them.

It was an excellent conference, brilliantly organised, with great speakers and panel discussions (and after-party events!). If you’re in the proptech or portal space and haven’t attended before - this was #39 - then you definitely need to be at #40.

The most common conversations, on- and off-stage, were around AI. I haven’t felt in the midst of such a step-change in technology since back in the first dotcom boom of the late-90’s. Things are happening - fast.

Twenty-five years ago, the disruption was coming for (amongst others) print publishers. The obscenely profitable newspapers and magazines from that time felt they had to grasp at anything that felt like ‘digital’ - but, crucially, digital that didn’t impact their business models. Hence the Annual Reports proudly showcased their websites, which were extraordinarily expensive - and extraordinarily useless.

These sites couldn’t leverage the content that the classified behemoths had, because they didn’t want to digitise a property ad that they could charge an agent £800 per page for, into something that costs pennies online instead. And slowly, the Rightmoves and the SeLogers in France, Hemnet in Sweden, REA Group in Australia … these portals all started to become the place that people went to look at property, not the papers.

For ‘local newspapers doing digital’ 25 years ago, read ‘property portals doing AI’ now. They have to do something – but that something has to be protective of their business model, or the investors get sweaty. So they can’t go all-in. And that’s a problem for them – and an opportunity for every single other participant in the property space, including their agent customers.

Portal dominance will remain total - until it isn’t. No one ever saw an end to local property newspapers and magazines ripping ever-more cash from agents’ wallets - until it happened.

I think this will be similar.

Some people will continue to use the ageing market leader, even after AI has made it possible for agents to serve vendors and buyers, landlords and tenants, in incredible ways, for very little outlay. Other portals will share smart strategies to get around this at places like PPW, segueing into the new AI world carefully but profitably – and there were a good few on display last week.

And also, of course, there are some very cool new AI portals on the blocks – from our very own UK-based Jitty to Australia’s inevitably-titled PropertyMate. Both are set to change how people search for property in interesting ways, I think.

So, as the AI revolution gathers pace in 2024, what will be the measure of its success against an arrogant incumbent? I’d say it will start to become clear in January 2025 - when Rightmove’s price increases will be a small fraction of what they were in 2023, in order to keep more agents on board.

The real moment will come, however, when Rightmove starts to provide packages at a price lower than its current cheapest. I predict that will be at the beginning of 2026, as agents continue to invest in much more cost-effective AI platforms. It’s a couple of years away yet - but the more AI becomes a feature of our landscape, the more of RM’s hitherto impenetrable flank will become very vulnerable indeed.

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