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  • Mal McCallion

Sick (Purple)bricks

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

You'll probably have heard the news by now - Purplebricks, that disruptor who set about trying to destroy traditional estate agency through its 'Commisery' campaign, has been sold off for a quid to competitor Strike. Strike's CEO, Sam Mitchell, is now making its people redundant.

There is a noble tradition when news such as this is announced of 'not kicking a dog when it's down'. We are instructed to remember that these are people with families, humans like us who are worried sick about their futures.

That's true - and it's a shame for them, of course.

But it's also true that they have been working for a company that will have driven other, hard-working and decent families, to the brink and possibly beyond - by convincing homesellers that Purplebricks could do exactly the same job as quality estate agents for virtually nothing.

It turns out, however, that it costs £247.5m of sunk investment cash to do it for virtually nothing. That is a lot of subsidised - some might say unfairly discounted - pricing.

Let's just reflect a little more on the charge-sheet for Purplebricks over its decade, from Mike 'n' Kenny's Krazy Kommissionless Koncept ... to Poundland fire-sale bucket bargain.

Purplebricks is a company that;

  1. Single-handedly reduced the perceived value of the estate agency service by thousands and thousands of pounds across the board, indiscriminately using their immense spending power to rubbish every competitor they came into contact with, big or small.

  2. Mercilessly mocked sellers who used traditional agents, portraying them as gullible fools.

  3. Took a quarter of a billion pounds from investors, blithely insisting that this was how property was going to be bought and sold now.

  4. Repeatedly found the integrity of its customer reviews questioned - often because these reviews were secured at the moment the seller had heard an amazing valuation for their property, rather than at the end of the process when it had (not) sold.

  5. 'Accidentally' pretended that their dubious UK customer reviews were of their (yet to launch) US service, hoping to convince enough sellers Stateside that they could also deliver an incredible service for sod-all.

  6. Threw its weight around trying to kill 1-star reviews that it did not like.

  7. Switched its preferred 'review partner' to Feefo when Trustpilot decided that they'd had enough.

  8. Were sued because their business model breached 'IR35' regulations, which basically involve pretending that your employees (/Purplebricks Local Property Experts) aren't really employees (/Purplebricks Local Property Experts) but contractors able to work for whomever they like (so not, in fact, Purplebricks Local Property Experts).

  9. Hubristically expanded into Australia.

  10. And the US.

  11. And Canada.

  12. And Europe.

As you can see - and perhaps have experienced first-hand - the charges against this organisation over its 10 years of existence are many and varied. At its heart, though, is an opportunistic insouciance - a core disregard for norms of RoI, customer-centricity and basic market citizenship.

Torching everything you see is not a 'disruptive' business model - it's psychopathy. That you've managed to get £250m to buy the flame-throwers does not stop you needing to be interned - it just means you've learned some very cash-generative lessons from the most successful cults.

Sam Mitchell, the CEO of Purplebricks' new owners, has already set out his stall - he's going big on more 'disruption'. That is likely to mean a reboot of the much-maligned 'Commisery' campaign and a further deterioration in vendor understanding of how their model works - because, you see, he's can't emphasise that they're essentially taking a one-in-three gamble of losing their entire money.


So let's brace for another round of anarchic claims of 'providing consumers with a much needed value offering in these difficult economic times,' whilst fleecing those that can't sell in a tougher market. Try to maintain a dignified silence at their not-insignificant and unearned fees, made from those that least understand the deal they're making. Remain stoic as a torrent of ads rain down promoting our industry's equivalent of a 'get-rich-quick' scheme, where paying upfront somehow ensures a commitment to securing a sale.

And do all of that during a cost of living crisis, when many of these are forced sales in tragic circumstances.

It is sad that some people are losing their jobs at Purplebricks.

It's sadder that they haven't been as concerned about the damage that they've done to others along the way - and that their brand is still around to do even more.

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