The history of the portals - part 1

Our CEO, Mark Burgess has spent 30 years working in and around the estate agency industry and talks us through how history is repeating itself with the portals, why it leads to the industry’s demise and what you can do about it.

The history of the portals - part 1

In recent months there has been an explosion of new property portals to hit the scene in the UK, like never seen before…Oh no wait, actually, for anyone who was working in the industry from the late 90’s, it turns out we have seen all this before. In fact, EXACTLY this. So is history repeating itself and what can we learn from our history in order to save us all lots of time and grief?

Before I start this trip through the history of the portals, I must declare that this is all from my own currently rotting memory and as such some of these dates and facts might be slightly off…

In 1995 Nick and James Leaming start what is commonly agreed to be the first ever property portal in the UK called Propertyfinder. Over the course of the next 4 years Propertyfinder is joined by Smove, Hotproperty (which was a publication also), and Asserta Home all fighting to be the number one property portal. However, times were very different back then. Most households did not even have the internet and email was not really a major thing, so the majority of the industry remained uninterested in this new-fangled idea.

Of those sites slowly gathering pace Asserta Home was the one with all of the money and the backing although Propertyfinder and seemed to be gaining the most traction. When I say traction, bear in mind that meant only a few hundred agents out of thousands.

By the late 90’s, Estate Agency software had also began to become more widely used in the industry. With software like GMW, Estate Craft, Dezrez, PropertyPro and Encore all now able to feed properties directly up to these multitude of ever increasing property portals.

The agents themselves, were not that fussed about the portals or any ‘strange’ internet enquiries they may get, but they did like the fact that the software’s made nice window cards and newspaper ads for them! However, by default as the number of agents that took software began to grow, so did the number of agents advertising on the internet, as the systems just did it for them.

The Coup:

By the last year or so of the 90’s the estate agency software leaders of the time started to wonder if they were missing a trick here. After all, without them there would be no property portals, certainly not to the extent that there were and so they held a meeting to discuss creating their own portal and to stop feeding all of the others but no agreement was reached. Asserta Home who by now had some pretty serious backing caught wind of this potential problem and immediately bought GMW software as a backup plan. They now offered GMW for free as part of their package when agents signed up in order to avoid the potential problem they could have faced but this move backfired for GMW users as Asserta Home were never really interested in estate agency software and as such the product never developed any further and was ultimately bought by Vebra (where it also never developed any further!).

As we hit the new millennium the world started to really wake up to the internet and the property portals as we know them today began to really start taking shape. was started in 2000 by the top four corporate estate agencies at the time: Countrywide, Connells, Halifax and Royal and Sun Alliance. The website was initially free to list and with the majority of agents still mostly firmly fixed in the print world, the idea that they could not only be on the UK’s largest property portal for free but that Rightmove would also give them window stickers and leaflets to shout about it was enough for them to say yes. What could possibly go wrong, it is free!?

In 2001 Asserta Home needed a boost in order to keep pace with the Rightmove threat and as such bought the portal that had the most traffic at the time, Propertyfinder and kept the Propertyfinder brand with the Asserta brand disappearing.

Also in 2001 Primelocation was launched with an £11m investment from a consortium of around 200 estate agents, mostly in central London, including Hamptons, Douglas & Gordon and Savills.

Over the first few years of the new millennium, more and more money started to be invested into the internet and the property portals were no different. had some really good traction and was a bit different as they had lots of information on local areas and as such it was very popular in small pockets. Primelocation had all of the Central London and high end agents, Rightmove had all of the corporates and regional independents and Propertyfinder had a pretty good mix of each of them.

As we reached the mid 2000’s the major newspaper chains were now on high alert. Their traditional paper advertising model, largely supported by property sections, was falling apart at quite an astounding rate, as was their revenues and so these corporations started to look to the internet for survival. News International became one the first UK newspaper publishers to beef up its internet presence, jointly acquiring with Australian portal for £14.3m (they had 2000 agents signed up at the time).

To show just how different the world was back then, in a statement at the time, News International said it would use what it called the "unparalleled reach" of its newspapers - the Sun, the News of the World, the Times and the Sunday Times - to promote the site and drive readers and internet users to it. How things have reversed now!

Next up, the Daily Mail upped the ante buying Primelocation for £48m. But the next deal was to make that look like small fry as Rightmove blew everything out of the water by then floating on the London Stock- exchange for £400 million with their price at one point reaching a valuation of £500 million from its initial public offering.

By now the cat was out of the bag and new property portals started to spring up faster than new spots on a teenager. The list was literally endless, with each of them hoping to just gain enough traction to be the next multi-million pound acquisition (doesn’t this sound familiar?).

Every one of these ‘new portals’ were offered to agents for free in order to gain some sort of traction and so to start with, agents thought, why not? What have we got to lose? But they soon found out why that was a particularly bad idea! Find out what happens in part two and why many agents are potentially about to make the very same mistake again by following our Facebook Page here and getting a notification when part two is published in a few days on Thursday 5th November.

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