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  • Mal McCallion

Mortal portals?

What were you doing on 26 January 2015?


Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars was the UK’s number one when OnTheMarket (OTM) made its debut as a property portal. Now one of the most streamed tracks on TikTok – which was, of course, not even around back then – one might be forgiven for thinking that much of the last nine years hadn’t really happened.


That deja vu feeling can intensify when you see press releases from OTM announcing that Large Agent X is now listing exclusively with their portal (oh, and Rightmove) and that Mid-Sized Agent Y is doing the same. Add in OTM’s new owners, CoStar, stating that its mission is to topple Rightmove and it’s all a bit retro, isn’t it? But can this dusty old playbook work in achieving their aims this time – when it conspicuously failed to in the past?


Zoopla is the obvious, targeted ‘first casualty’ in this nostalgic rerun of Portal Wars. I think that it’s in a real, possibly existential bind – it doesn’t seem to have an offensive strategy to overtake Rightmove anymore and its defensive strategy to protect it from CoStar’s new aggression is clearly not working, as its inability to keep Leaders Romans Group all-too-clearly testifies.


With parent company ZPG only recently rebranded as ‘Houseful’, even its owning hierarchy seems to be cold on the Zoopla brand name – with that no longer front-and-centre of activities which include Hometrack data and Alto software, it’s hard to see anything other than further, potentially precipitous decline. Certainly, the anecdotes from agents that I speak with every day is that Zoopla is pretty much ‘giving it away’ at this point, charging virtually nothing to hold onto agents for three year contracts.


That’s not the behaviour of a portal confident in its mission and vision. It’s one that sees writing on walls that seems to spell out ‘doom-loop’ in very large letters. I think that their owners are going to have to bite the bullet and partner up with CoStar to launch a joint attack on Rightmove pretty soon. Otherwise, they’ll both spend stupid money battling each other only to arrive at the same conclusion a few bloodied years later (when Rightmove will have drilled even further into agents’ wallets).


Third in the charts on the day of OTM’s birth was Hozier’s indie banger Take Me To Church. Perhaps, some time around now, Zoopla CEO Charlie Bryant will be making a call to OTM’s President, Jason Tebb, to propose a marriage.


It would be a brave ask – but anything less is just going to give Rightmove even more space to scoop up agent revenues and suffocate competition. To paraphrase 29-year old Croydon van driver and X-Factor winner, Ben Haenow – yes, in the Top Ten back in Jan 2015 – this is very much Something [We] Need.

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