Online dating entrepreneurs fall for property

Launching an online property portal in the UK right now is either insane or an inspired move to challenge the incumbents when a plunging market could create opportunities.
Mad or masterly, that’s …

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19th September 2008 at 7:31 am

Launching an online property portal in the UK right now is either insane or an inspired move to challenge the incumbents when a plunging market could create opportunities.

Mad or masterly, that’s exactly what PropertyIndex.com, founded by internet dating tycoon, Darren Richards, has done this week by creating a UK version of a year old site that originally targetted the overseas property market exclusively.

The new site faces some stiff and well established competition in the form of rightmove.co.uk, findaproperty.com, propertyfinder.com and primelocation.com, the big four in a crowded category.

Nevertheless, PropertyIndex.com believes its results based payment model provides an alternative approach that will appeal to estate agents as the market slows to a crawl and they look to cut costs associated with monthly subscription sites.  Agents listing with PropertyIndex.com pay £10 per qualified lead.

Lee Bramzell, managing director, says that it was always in the business plan to launch in the UK:

So we’ve proved our pay per results model for overseas property, cut our teeth, learned about the market and are now bringing those learnings back to the UK.

In one year the site has over 150,000 international properties listed.  As of beta launch this week the new site appears to include around 5,000 properties for sale or rent in the UK, although Lee claims nearly 2,000 UK estate agents have already signed up.

Funding for this particular startup hasn’t been a problem. Founder Darren Richards sold DatingDirect.com, one of the UK’s most popular dating sites, last year for £27.7 million.  Many of the 45 strong team including Lee Bramzell were involved in some way with that venture.

Being self-funded with a team that has a wealth of online business and marketing experience puts PropertyIndex.com in an enviable position.  Perhaps its weakness in the current market is also what it sees as its USP – the results based model.

This approach puts the onus on volume of qualified leads in order to generate any income, when other sites will have the advantage of up front cash.  This at a time when buyers are finding it hard to find banks to lend them money to buy.

The most recent Comscore figures for UK property portals show year-on-year traffic down by nearly 20% in August.  As Lee admits:

We can’t magic more transactions into the market, but can try to help agents generate leads in a more sustainable way.

He also hints that he hopes to leverage the collaborative nature of the web and create a whole raft of affiliate partners.

In essence PropertyIndex.com may create a kind of property version of adwords that lets even the smallest personal websites make money from generating leads for local estate agents.

But scaling up the UK properties on the site will be a first priority over the coming months.  Right now a casual search shows plenty of areas with few if any properties listed.

Search also seems less intuitive and simple to use than what’s available on the other relative newcomer and rising star of the online property market nestoria.co.uk.

Nestoria appears to have a similar business model, but automates its aggregation avoiding having to do deals with individual estate agents.

Still, with a strong team, a war chest and no VCs looking for an early exit, you wouldn’t want to bet against Lee and his team riding out a property slump in good shape and stealing market share from the big beasts like Rightmove along the way.

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Alex is the founder and editor of SmallBizPod, the UK's first podcast dedicated to small business, start-ups and entrepreneurship. Alex writes about topical small business issues, entrepreneurs and anything else that catches his eye here on the small business blog. http://www.smallbizpod.co.uk

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