Over the last 20 years, the growth of online property portals – including Zoopla, Rightmove and PrimeLocation – has transformed the property rental process immeasurably, for both renters and agents alike.
The speed and convenience of online portals means that 98% of people today start their property search online, whilst for agents the portals have extended their shop windows to millions of potential new customers.
Yet despite their genuinely revolutionary impact on the property market, the rigid structure of the major online portals means agents are working with high costs and little flexibility in advertising their rental properties.
One new PropTech start-up that aims to change things is Findingaplace, and here are a few ways that we are working to help agents take the rental market beyond the dominant online portal model.
1) Vetting enquiries
As any property agent will know, poor quality and vague enquiries can be a major drain of time and resources. Yes, initially vague enquiries can be firmed up and validated, but the process over phone and email can be time-consuming. Furthermore, many potential ‘applicant leads’ are always – to be blunt – going to be a waste of time, with potential applicants unsure of their budget or even which area they want to live in.
Pre-validating and vetting these applicants before they are submitted to agents means less frustration and time wasted. In fact, research shows that pre-validating applicant enquiries can save agents over four hours a week. Therefore, having a platform that can act as quality control, ensuring potential applicants are genuine and have specific and accurate requirements (which the online portals don’t offer) would be of great benefit to agents.
Listing on a platform may increase the exposure of an agent’s properties to new audiences, but getting those properties listed involves a process. New listings for portals need to be photographed, descriptions need to be written, and floorplans need to be drawn up – all of which can be costly and take time, especially if not managed in-house.
Having a potential tenant submit their specific requirements which are shared directly with the agent, who can then source a property without having to advertise it, means there is less pressure to go through the expensive and time-consuming listing process.
3) Choosing the property
Prior to the online platforms, tenant applicants would visit local agents with a non-property specific enquiry, leaning on the agent’s local knowledge and expertise to advise on and subsequently shortlist different properties for viewing.
Today, when tenants search for a property via an online portal, a specific property is cherry picked and any inbound enquiry to the agency is for that specific property. Doing so removes the ability for the agent to provide a truly bespoke service and to advise on or offer alternative properties that also match those requirements. By going beyond property-specific leads, the property matchmaking service can therefore be more open and flexible, which in turn increases the likelihood of getting a successful deal closed.
4) Off-the-market properties
Whilst most rental properties are openly listed on the market, many are not - and for agents working to let off-market properties, portals such as Zoopla and Rightmove serve little use.
Providing new and innovative means of connecting agents who have off-market rental properties to potential tenants (who may not otherwise ever know about those properties) is a helpful way of benefiting both the agent and searching tenant.
5) Portal costs
The costs of operating on both Rightmove and Zoopla (which have different models) has been well-documented. Throughout 2019 and 2020, a growing number of agents spoke up about the costs of listing properties on portals.
Over 1,850 agents representing over 4,000 branches signed up to the ‘Say No to Rightmove’ campaign showing the huge groundswell of displeasure at the costs. One agency said it had paid £31,300 in portal costs in one year. Another said that one portal’s fees were costing the agency more than 20% of its gross revenue.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Rightmove and Zoopla have both heavily discounted their offerings, albeit temporarily, to help the industry during a difficult period. But in the longer term, there are far more cost-effective means for agents to get their properties in front of searching applicants.
Findingaplace offers a simple subscription model that breaks the mould reducing one of the agents’ biggest overheads in the process and proving there is a better and more cost-effective means to acquire quality pre-vetted applicants in their area.
*Mike Savva is Founder of Findingaplace.com