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  • Mal McCallion

Zoopla strikes back

Updated: May 13

I mean, that really got out of hand fast.


Last week, as I discussed in the Property/AI Report (PAIR) #037, Zoopla had been quiet for so many months that it wasn’t possible to tell whether they were sleeping or screaming inside their HQ – beset as they were by a resurgent OnTheMarket (OTM) and an evermore ruthless Rightmove.


Days later, this week opened with Charlie Bryant, Zoopla’s CEO, acknowledging the strides that his competitor OTM has made under their new CoStar ownership, whilst also brushing them off as too tiny to challenge his clear #2. I’m not saying that the interview he granted The Negotiator’s ace journo Nigel Lewis was delusional, but it stretched credibility a little bit to insist that “OTM does have traction, but our audience is more unique …”


Is it though?


Speaking to agents, day-in day-out, that’s certainly not the impression I get. Being on Rightmove is, horribly, a defensive play to stop your cyanide-pill-popping competitors from crucifying you at every market appraisal. For better or worse – currently – it can be business-limiting to not be on the dominant property website. That isn’t because of the quality or even volume of the leads that they deliver – no, it’s because the second you come off them, every other agent in your eyeline is going to lord it, telling each vendor in town that their properties are as good as invisible with you.


Which reinforces Rightmove’s criticality to vendors.


And round we go again.


So it’s easy to believe that down this pathway lies brand, then business, damage. Something that Rightmove exploits with a ruthlessness that verges on psychopathy. Because – remember this – Rightmove doesn’t +care+ about your circumstances, or you. You’re going to keep paying, no matter what it does. Or your competitors will put you out of business, with RM's menacing account managers handing them the petrol and matches.


And Rightmove is very open that it's going after more of your wallet – a lot more. At least £2,000 per branch per month on average by 2028, and it won't be stopping there. That is going to starve agents, many of them – but that's almost irrelevant to Rightmove's big game; squeezing out its competitors so that it's never stopped.


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Real, human, otherwise-strong agencies going out of business, as collateral damage in Rightmove's gimlet-eyed focus on killing any threat to it? This is why it would rather set fire to money it doesn't need than let agents keep it to spend on other things.


Which brings us back to Zoopla and its sudden reappearance. Bryant says they’re advertising loads (I haven’t seen any – and this is, apparently, the second of their large campaigns of 2024). He throws Zoopla’s data into the frame as being the big differentiator. With respect, AI instantly levels the field when it comes to open-source information. What Zoopla has, Rightmove has, OTM has, even we at ModelProp have. Generic property data – from the Land Registry, postcode address file (PAF), etc – are not a moat around anyone’s business, securing those inside.


What is a moat around an individual agent’s business, however, is their proprietary data – stuff that no other business, no portal, has. The valuations that never made it to market. The sales that predate Land Registry’s digitisation from 1995. The knowledge gained from treading every paving slab in the local area, knocking on most doors. This is where we’re focused with ModelProp – helping agents to regain control of their data and business outputs, by creating unique AI services that allow the individuality of each one to shine through.


Rightmove been monetising agents’ available data for decades, homogenising distinct and distinctive businesses into a beige mass of brandless homefront hero-shots, to the detriment of the consumer – and of the industry as a whole. It’s the proprietary data that agents are sitting on right now that will enable them to reclaim their place as local community experts – that and a regained purpose to use groundbreaking tech and resurgent, competitor portals to maximum effect.


Zoopla’s return to the fray is welcome, if a little underwhelming. Rightmove doesn’t fear two challenger brands fighting each other for scraps that it leaves behind – it will fear a single competitor that has the backing of CoStar’s billions coming at it.

I hope my old business sees sense and joins forces with OTM/ soon. Otherwise there is going to be a lot of wasted ad money – and higher Rightmove bills – for many more years yet.

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