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Could a Property24 giant sink South Africa’s real estate industry?

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Online and single-office real estate agencies have been served with notices by South Africa’s biggest property portal, Property24. The notices centre on changing the charging structure instituted by Property24 on physical real estate offices.

A mail circulated to affected agencies, such as PropertyFox and HomeBid, said the portal’s pricing model requires a subscription for every “front door” or area agent – a model that works well with traditional agencies that have a front door for every office in a town or area. Property24 charges a separate subscription for each of these offices. “Where an agency has an office in one town/area and a resident or area agent/s in another, we also ask for a subscription for that area,” the email reads. “Simply put, a separate subscription per front door or area agent. Subscriptions are based on our leads model.”

According to inside sources, the average agency with a single office pays R1,695 on Property24’s leads model – this is incidentally the same cost as more than 25 leads a month generated on an agency’s listings. The source says a lead costs R8 on average. A lead is defined as a click on a listing, a click on a photo and clicking to view the agent’s telephone number or email address – of course, using the site’s contact form to message the agent directly is also deemed a lead.

Over and above this, a flat R699 is charged for office branding. This means that an average agency pays up to R2,394 a month to Property24.

Ringing in the changesringing a bell

Recognising that a number of online and single-office estate agencies (those that have one office with agents working remotely) have popped up over the past few years, Property24 management felt it needed to level the playing field.

Charles Scott, Property24’s general manager, tells HomeTimes that the online and single-office players have been able to list in various cities and provinces, and have only been paying for their single physical office – this has more than likely been one of the main reasons why they have been able to compete with traditional agencies on much lower commission structures.


How much is too much commission?


“Online agencies don’t do any marketing other than use our system and that of Private Property,” says Scott, noting that these operators have been taking advantage of the Property24 leads model. “Charging for leads is fairer than a flat fee. The agency that gets far fewer leads due to being in a small town shouldn’t have to pay the same as one that gets many more.

“The reason [for changing the charging structure] is to ensure fairness and that everyone pays the every front door pricing model.”

How it worksinside a watch workings

To keep costs for online and single-office agencies from reaching prohibitive proportions – by applying separate charges for each small area in which a property is listed and got a lead – Property24’s solution was to establish “Online Business Areas” (OLBAs).

The portal divided the country into 42 unique OLBAS, thus widening the net in which these operators could do business and ultimately, if they received leads, would not end up putting them out of business.

“If such agencies list one or a number of properties in one or more of these areas, and receive leads on these listings, they are charged based on our standard leads model,” the Property24 circular reads.

But this has been done selectively, with the Western Cape broken down into 14 different regions, Gauteng 12, KwaZulu-Natal six, Eastern Cape four and Mpumalanga two. The Northern Cape, Free State, North West and Limpopo have not been broken up. For online and single-office agencies operating in Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, they are going to be subject to being charged for leads in a maximum of 32 different “regions”, or OLBAs.

According to Scott, the decision to change the way in which online and single-office estate agencies are charged did not come about as pressure from traditional agencies.

“This is our own initiative,” he says, explaining that the current OLBAs is a working model. “We’re experimenting right now.”

Increasing the gradientuphill road

But by levelling the playing field in theory, some operators say it skews it in reality.

“It will impact our business by increasing our costs by some R15,000 per month,” says Cavan Sheahan of low-commission, online agency HomeBid. “HomeBid was designed to assist sellers and buyers to save money on the sale or purchase of their property. A low-commission estate agent like HomeBid is able to do this as technology allows us to list and market properties on various portals, giving maximum exposure for our clients’ properties at a minimum cost.We provide the same full service as high commission estate agencies except we ask the seller to show their property to the buyer as we believe they know their home and neighbourhood better than an estate agent. We do everything else to conclude the sale and save the seller R65,000 per R1m of the value of their home. At more than 50 sales a month, it’s working very well.”

New-kid-on-the-block, low-commission online player, PropertyFox, has been affected too, taking a far more pragmatic approach. “Property sellers need to list their homes where the buyers are,” says Crispin Inglis, co-founder of PropertyFox. “As the majority of South African home listings have now moved online, the competition for buyers’ attention becomes a matter of partnering with digital marketing specialists, like PropertyFox, to sell your home. With increased competition, understanding how to price and promote listings online is becoming more of an art (as is finding all the places that buyers find homes online). Online marketing and sales of homes is what we do. Our partnership with Property24 is important, but it’s just one part of how we market our sellers’ homes online.”


Why low-commission players also can’t afford to serve the affordable market


Neither agency says it will change its commission structure – each one using seller savings as their unique selling proposition.

“I believe that it is very important to give our clients the best service, especially when it comes to marketing their property,” says Sheahan. “At HomeBid we list on more than 12 major portals and believe this won’t change to make sure our clients get maximum exposure for their homes. We have no choice: We are small David against big Goliath.”

Likewise, PropertyFox currently has no plans of pulling support from Property24, as well as Private Property and the other portals.

“We also continue to invest in professional photography, valuation and agency services,” says Inglis. “We offer our home seller clients far more than a simple online listing and it frankly takes far more work than that to sell a home in South Africa.

“PropertyFox sellers are serviced by a team of experts who each specialise in the often complex steps in selling a home. We also make sellers part of that team; they simply show their homes to buyers after we screen and schedule their viewings. We can afford to charge low commissions because our team and systems are centralised and efficient, and because we pay our staff on salary, not on commission. Nothing will change that and we are only going to get better at what we do.”

Fee-fi-fo-fumgiant

Based on an online poll carried out by Entegral at the end of last year, an overwhelming majority (61%) of estate agent respondents stated that they believe they are not getting their money’s worth from online property portals; less than 10% say they are getting excellent value for money from paid portals.


SA’s real estate agents held to ransom by property portals?


Using Property24’s agents’ database, there are estimated to be some 5,500 active estate agent offices countrywide, representing more than 25,000 estate agents.

When the news broke last year that Property24 intended to acquire number 2 portal, Private Property – subject to Competition Commission approval – the industry expressed shock and concern that should the deal be approved, Property24 would enjoy a monopoly over the online listing space and could, theoretically, charge what it wanted to.

While Property24 admits that it neither received pressure from traditional estate agencies to change its charging model for online agencies, by the same token it seems that it never consulted the affected agencies either.

Sheahan says he was contacted by his assigned Property24 consultant to discuss the new charging model – not to get his input on how it would affect his business.

Property24 has had a love-hate relationship with estate agents for a long time: Agents have criticised the country’s largest portal of unilaterally hiking fees way above inflation and not providing links out to agents’ websites, but having to continue paying what Property24 wants because this is where buyers by and large begin their property search.

In a recent Property Professional article, Lew Geffen, chairman of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty, said the online portal wielded too much power, holding agents to ransom. He reminded readers (and no doubt warned portals) that, collectively, estate agencies pulled support en-masse from The Saturday Star – leaving its property section as a shadow of its former self – and transferred their listings online and in print to the Sunday Times Neighbourhood supplement.

In the Property Professional article, he called for the industry as a collective to retain its intellectual capital (the home listings) and revert back exclusively to print to “see how the market responds”. Geffen said he believes buyers and sellers would follow where agents went.

Should the Property24-Private Property deal be given the green light by the Competition Commission (many believe it will not pass competition muster), a monopolistic monster will be born. A player so big it will take its estate agent clients for granted, charging ever-rising tariffs and subscription fees, on a leads-based system that, arguably, has its own faults.


* Steeple did not respond in time before going to press


4 things all agents can and should be doing

#1 Invest in paid-for portals only as much as is minimally required, and on listings that are “worth it”

#2 Enhance your exposure to free listing portals

#3 Spend money on your social accounts, such as Facebook for Business, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter

#4 Enhance your image in your local operating area, advising potential buyers, sellers, tenants and landlords on community Facebook discussion boards, as well as in your local community newspaper


How agents can create their own pond


 

Homehunt - Start searching now.

david.steynberg@gmail.com

David A Steynberg, managing editor and director of HomeTimes, has more than 10 years of experience as both a journalist and editor, having headed up Business Day’s HomeFront supplement, SAPOA’s range of four printed titles, digimags Asset in Africa and the South African Planning Institute’s official title, Planning Africa, as well as B2B titles, Building Africa and Water, Sewage & Effluent magazines. He began his career at Farmer’s Weekly magazine before moving on to People Magazine where he was awarded two Excellence Awards for Best Real Life feature as well as Writer of the Year runner-up. He is also a past fellow of the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Review overview
7 COMMENTS
  • Jacqui Cragg 22nd February 2017

    Thirty years in the Industry. 90% of sales are from Property24. They are doing something right and worth their weight in gold.

  • Anonymous 16th March 2017

    I came across this article purely by chance. Certainly haven’t had any notification from Property 24 yet.

    They talk about levelling the playing fields ( and thereby disadvantaging the small independents). This will not only affect those players such as Steeple etc who offer cut price commissions (which could disrupt the entire industry) but also small offices (such as ours ). It may have the consequence of putting many smaller players out of business thus leaving it all to the big nationals ? They , of course deny , that they have been pressured by the established property players – so it is possibly just an unintended consequence which would benefit the larger players..

    This – to my mind – is part and parcel of Prop24’s proposed takeover of Private Property. This takeover still has to be approved by the competition authorities. Rationally it should be apparent to all fair minded persons that it wouldn’t be approved – one certainly hopes so !. One does ask the question, however, as to why an organisation such as Property 24 which is owned by the international group and financially astute and powerful Naspers would make an offer which they know the competition authorities would turn down?. Presumably they have consulted their financial and legal persons before they made an offer ?. The big nationals (those with 50 agents – or more) are 13% shareholders in Private Property, so would certainly been party to the takeover discussions and will know far more about the discussions behind the scenes in that regard. REBOSA, IEASA and CEO’s of the large companies have been remarkably quiet on the whole issue.

    Property 24’s actions as detailed in the website address above leads one to suspect that they are already acting as a monopoly player – maybe they know something we don’t ?

    The above reinforces the belief that the real estate industry should have it’s own property portal which is democratically owned by ALL real estate companies – irrespective of number of agents. Should Property 24 gain a monopoly what would stop them from taking a further step and forming a national real estate company as mentioned elsewhere? With their financial backing they will, unfortunately, always be in a position to upset the status quo in the own interests.

    Property 24 is certainly excellent at what they do. Our company gets 80 to 90% of its leads from them. It should always be remembered, however, that they achieved their enviable position with initial support from some of the real estate industry when they were setting up their site. It should also be borne in mind that – when they were up an running – they reneged on an agreement with the established real estate players. It does show that they are not to be trusted.

  • Anonymous 14th April 2017

    Advertise all stock on iolproperty.co.za.

    All agents/agencies as a collective have the choice to make the decision to promote/market properties on the portal which doesn’t exploit/hold us ransom to price increases if and when Prop24(Private Property: if the merger is green lighted) feels it wants to.

    Rebosa/IEASA/EAAB as representative bodies/regulatory bodies can also work together to assist the agents/agencies regarding an industry owned property advertising south african website.

  • Anonymous 28th June 2017

    The on-line real estate companies such as PropertyFox, Steeple etc, have the advantage of using the major property portals such as Private Property and Property 24. Probably around 90% of the listings on these sites are paid for by orthodox real estate agencies operating out of numerous physical real estate offices dotted around the country. These offices are billed accordingly by Property 24 and PP – for all of these offices. Up to now PropertyFox and Steeple etc have, therefore, been living off property portals heavily financially supported by the orthodox real estate industries and , therefore, in effect – subsidising the likes of PropertyFox and Steeple etc. Last time I checked, Property Fox advertised that they had over 300 properties nationwide – and for this amount of properties they only had to pay Prop24 and PP for ONE office. PropertyFox and Steeple do NOT offer the same service as orthodox estate agents. Contrary to popular opinion, an accurate valuation CANNOT be made by the various online CMA systems. These online systems rely on data which is culled from lists of sales where only the selling price and plot size is really known (nowhere on a Deed of Sale is the size of house, number of rooms, double garage). Only a reputable estate agent with actual knowledge of all details of properties in an area can give an accurate valuation. Any other system is just an educated thumb suck and is frequently inaccurate. I suspect that what often happens is that Sellers call in an orthodox agent for a valuation and then use that valuation to advertise with one of the low commission online companies. Steeple themselves tacitly acknowledge this fact as they actively encourage Sellers to do this.

  • Jim 4th July 2017

    Can somebody answer the following questions for me, please, apart from the obvious answer ’cause they can’?

    1. Why does it make any sense for P24 to charge per ‘front door’. Surely paying per ad makes the only sense as that is what they display?
    2. Why are we all having to pay for ‘leads’ just because someone (apparently) clicked on our phone number and/or email address. P24 cannot even provide proof that these chicks took place, except for the ticks on the agent zone.There are several definitions of what ‘lead’ can mean. depending on the context. The one below is the closest I could find related to marketing.

    What is a lead? – Definition from WhatIs.com

    searchitchannel.techtarget.com/definition/lead

    A lead, in a marketing context, is a potential sales contact: an individual or organization that expresses an interest in your goods or services.

    P24 have now made up another one and are charging an exorbitant amount for really, well nothing.

    We need to work out a way to effectively boycott them.

    Oh, another question… Anybody know the definitIon of a ‘SCAM’?

  • Anonymous 4th July 2017

    Real estate agents are at the mercy of these property websites. To be effective as an agent one has to advertise mainly on three websites – that is Property 24; Private Property and IOL. The combined subscription for our (very small) office is around R9,000 per month. The only answer the real estate industry has, is to set up our own real estate website. This website to be owned by the ENTIRE industry – not just the big national companies (as is the case with Private Property where only the big nationals have a 13% shareholding in Private Property). We as an industry would then only place ads on this industry owned real estate website. This would result in 95% of all property ads being on one site – convenient for buyers and a tremendous cost saving for real estate companies.

  • Anonymous 4th July 2017

    Industry owned website could only work with buy-in from the entire industry – which means that ownership should be democratically owned by all – with no bias in favour of the national companies

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