It seems that consumers are to be prevented from being able to choose a cheaper estate agent following news that Tescos’ plans to provide a full estate agency offering have been blocked by the property website Rightmove.
In what would appear to be a move designed to please their agent advertisers as well as their larger shareholders, Rightmove have announced that they have told Tesco that they are not prepared to carry their adverts on the countries biggest property website. Rightmove clearly feel that they would suffer in the same way that Fish4Homes did earlier in the year when traditional estate agents threatened to boycott the site if they were to let Tesco join. However, the move will almost certainly frustrate both the public and the Government who have been seeking ways of opening up the house selling business which last year cost home owners over £4.2b in fees.
In a short statement issued today, Rightmove, told their advertisers that despite the potential threat of legal challenge, they would not be accepting Tesco’s properties in the hope it seems of placating agents if they are then forced to do so.
Speaking earlier this week at a gathering of the property industry in London, The Parliamentary under Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government, Iain Wright said “We want to see a step change in home buying and selling, with real reform in a system that has not changed for a generation or more – a system which too often has not had the interests of the consumer at heart.” The reaction of some estate agents and that of the big media-owned websites that carry their properties would seem to be at odds with this with a desire to close the door to real competition.
The Tesco offering which launched in July was originally aimed at helping people to sell their homes privately, something that happens more in America than in the UK. A complaint by the Ombudsman for Estate Agents office resulted in the OFT deciding that Tesco was in fact acting as an estate agent and as such had to amend their business. Two weeks ago Tesco announced that because of the OFT’s ruling, they had to withdraw their offering and that they were looking at a relaunch as a full estate agent.
Selling houses has proved a good living for many over the past few years with Countrywide, the countries largest estate agent (and 21.5% owner of Rightmove) being sold earlier this year for £1b and Foxtons, the colourful London agent changing hands for reportedly over £350m. Rightmove themselves confirm that “Most agents charge between 2-3% commission on the sale price of the property” despite house prices having trebled over the past ten years in many places. Sources within Tesco suggest that they are planning a home selling service for under £1000.
Rightmove’s decision to frustrate Tesco seems to be an effort to block moves to open the market up to cheaper competition and protect the big corporate firms like Countrywide, Connells and Halifax who earn huge sums from both direct house selling and via Rightmove from smaller agents who pay to advertise on the site. Whilst there will be many sellers who will be prepared to pay more for a bespoke estate agency service, the arrival of the internet and the attentions of one of the biggest names on the High Street seem to provide the chance for the public to choose. Ed Mead of Douglas & Gordon in London was quoted in an article recently saying, “We have a wonderful thing here in England and Wales, it’s called the Free Market. The more choice for buyers and sellers the better, so I have no problem with Tesco entering the fray, and neither should any reputable agent.”.
It remains to be seen whether Rightmove’s action will backfire. They claim to have over 90% of all properties listed on their site. By seeking to exclude Tesco, they may be seen by some to be protecting their biggest shareholders, acting against the consumer and the resulting drop in property numbers may mean that their market domination is actually eroded.