Realestate.co.nz needs to rethink its decision on listings metrics

by Alistair Helm in


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I know I may appear to be constantly bemoaning the decisions (or lack of decisions) made by Realestate.co.nz, but the latest decision notified by the CEO in an email today, to my mind is not smart.

The decision they plan to make effective from the 5th August is to stop displaying the count of page views on individual listings, and instead only report the metric they term ‘reach’.

Let me be clear as to what these metrics mean, where they are displayed and why they are important. Take as an example this local listing seen in the screen shot below. On Trade Me after 24 days on the market this property has been viewed 3,625 times and on Realestate.co.nz a total of 1,721 times. This common metric to both sites is the number of page views, the number of time a person has viewed the listing, that is the full listing page on either the desktop / mobile browser or on the mobile app.

This metric is vital; not so much in comparing the relative number of page views between Trade Me and Realestate.co.nz, but in comparing differing listings in the same suburb to identify relative interest for a property on the two websites. I often provide advice to vendors by comparing their performance of page views on Realestate.co.nz after 21 day to the average of all listings in the same suburb, this way I am able to demonstrate the value of the marketing campaign they are paying for.

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This here is the announcement Realestate.co.nz made today via an email to agents:

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So Realestate.co.nz will allow the listing agent to view the count of page views but not display this metric openly on the site. Instead they want to focus on the metric they call reach. To be clear Reach is the sum total of listing page views and search result views. This latter metric is the number of times the listing appears on a screen on any web pages. So if the listing is displayed as a showcase listing it will appear at the top of a search result page and if the user scrolls down and it is displayed in the search results, both of those ‘displayed listings’ will count towards search views and add to the total of reach despite the fact that the user may not have any interest in the property. Reach is simply a measure of how effective Realestate.co.nz is in displaying listings and bears no relevance to how engaging a listing is.

So going back to the above example Realestate.co.nz propose to state that after 24 days this listing has had a reach of 7,793 - made up of 1,721 page views of the listing and 6,072 times the listing summary has appeared in search result pages.

I recognise that in someways there is a correlation between reach and page views but why change. Listing page views have been the metric on Realestate.co.nz and similarly on Trade Me for over 13 years and is recognised and accepted by the industry and the consumer. Reach is such a meaningless metric akin to counting the number of people who walk past a shop rather than the number of people who come inside.

There is only one reason I believe that this action is being taken (in my opinion) and that is a naive fear that the page views on Realestate.co.nz are lower than Trade Me and therefore the use of obfuscation in creating a new metric which is larger, will in some way make Realestate.co.nz seem more valuable. This is dumb - everyone knows Trade Me delivers a larger audience than Realestate.co.nz and has always done so, this fact has not stopped the industry and the consumer seeing value in Realestate.co.nz and supporting it over the years. I have to wonder did anyone at Realestate.co.nz speak to their customers and ask how they used this metric of page views and if they found any value in the metric of reach? - i think not and that is why I have highlighted this issue.

I implore the team at Realestate.co.nz to re-think this decision. If this is the best initiative they can think of to implement after years of inactivity and poorly executed product development, they I fear that their relevance to this industry (consumers and customer) is fast diminishing and the competitive threat of OneRoof will likely sweep them aside.


OneRoof gaining in presence and relevance

by Alistair Helm in


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OneRoof, the new challenger in the property portal space has made some significant gains over the past 7 months since I last reviewed the site. As I predicted at the time; I foresaw a steady rise of this portal’s ascendancy in the minds of consumers and the real estate industry. The latest data certainly shows that to be the case.

Audience

Let’s start by looking at the key metric of audience. As highlighted in my November article I’ve been using the services of the free web tracking analytics tool SimilarWeb to record the progress of OneRoof and the other portals of Realestate.co.nz and Homes. The service cannot track Trade Me Property as it is not a discrete domain name. As noted at the time, the absolute traffic numbers detailed on SimilarWeb may not actually reflect the true audience numbers, however the trends and comparisons should be judged to be a reliable data set for analytics.

So in terms of top line audience, OneRoof has made significant steps forward. As at the latest data for June, OneRoof recorded a total audience of 1,120,000 as compared to Realestate.co.nz at 1,560,000. This places the audience of OneRoof at the equivalent of 72% the traffic of Realestate.co.nz.

The audience growth over the past year for OneRoof proves the value in the eyes of the consumer of the platform. From a position, a year ago when traffic was less than half that of Realestate.co.nz to now being at 72% of its scale is a significant improvement.

Now, as I stated the actual scale of the audience is not the key number, it is the relativity by comparison to Realestate.co.nz that is most important. At the same time the composition of the audience to the site is also very relevant. As I highlighted back in November, a large proportion of the traffic arriving on OneRoof was actually internal traffic from the NZ Herald website where all the property related stories were hosted on the OneRoof domain name. At that time this referral traffic amounted to 62% of all traffic, that’s nearly two thirds of all traffic viewing pages on OneRoof were actually drawn to the site to read property news stories and not drawn to viewing listings.

The good news for OneRoof executives (and possibly the bad news for Realestate.co.nz executives) is that this reliance on this referral traffic from the NZ Herald website is diminishing as the chart below shows.

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As of last month referral traffic has now fallen below search traffic at just 36%; compared to 63% at this time last year. OneRoof is clearly winning in the key arena of search engine optimisation and paid search, which now represents close to half the traffic to the site. That is impressive, as largely this traffic will be looking for property listings.

As I analysed back in November, I like to make an adjustment to the monthly audience figures for OneRoof and excluded the traffic from NZ Herald. The chart below tracks this adjusted traffic to show that for last month the traffic to OneRoof drawn to the viewing of listings is approximately half the scale of the audience to Realestate.co.nz, still a strong performance for a new entrant in the market and clearly still growing.

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As a further comment as to source of traffic, the chart below compares the performance of OneRoof with Realestate.co.nz and Homes vs. the same time last year. This ably demonstrates the success OneRoof has achieved in securing search traffic, placing its percentage source at very similar levels to the other sites.

However the mark of a credible and sustainable business online is undoubtedly the direct traffic created from users bookmarking or choosing to go directly to the site. Over the past 12 months the proportion of OneRoof traffic coming direct has risen from 10% to 18% but still languishes below the performance of Realestate.co.nz at 47% and Homes at a staggering 62%.

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Listing Page Views


Whilst the overall traffic to a property portal is critical in assessing the value of the offering provided by the company, there is no escape from the fact that aggregation of traffic numbers is not the real value proposition. What is key is individual listing views. Like it or not, what the property portals need to do is to provide agents and their clients, the property owners; with an audience, a very focused audience of potential buyers - active or passive buyers. Therefore the true measure of a portal is page views on individual listings.

Now this is where I have a major complaint of OneRoof. They do not provide open stats on listing pages of the number of views that have occurred on a listing. Something that Trade Me provide, Realestate.co.nz provide and almost all portals worldwide provide. Why should OneRoof choose not to do this? Surely not something they forgot? So from a casual user (or potentially a vendor) perspective it is really hard to see how many times the listing page has been viewed.

Thankfully though OneRoof has built an excellent agent portal to provide such stats of page views for agents listings. I therefore chose to work with some of my colleagues and come up with a sample of relevant stats for listings on OneRoof over recent months. I selected the data of page views over the first 7 days and compare those numbers with the same period on Trade Me and Realestate.co.nz. The first 7 days are without doubt the most relevant marketing period representing more than half of all-time traffic to a listing.

The results details in the chart below are revealing. Whereas Trade Me averages 1,669 page views on a listing in the first 7 days, OneRoof only managed to deliver 70 page views, at the same time over those first 7 days Realestate.co.nz delivered an average of 315 page views. On this basis Trade Me is 20 times more effective than OneRoof and Realestate.co.nz 5 times more effective than OneRoof at delivering exposure to prospective buyers. Clearly the value of OneRoof has yet to be seen in true buyer engagement.

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Just for clarity the 11 selected properties are not a random sample. They were all listed in Devonport over the past 6 months. They were all been promoted extensively online across the 3 portals using premium products. Adjacent to the actual page views for each group of listings is the average of the 11 listings - on Trade Me being 1,669 and Realestate.co.nz 315. The other adjacent highlighted number - 1,420 on Trade Me and 315 on Realestate.co.nz is the average 7 days page views for all Devonport listings over the first 6 months of this year (129 listings). Naturally as noted above no such data is available from OneRoof as there is no open data for listings page views.


Content

A property portal has a single task, that of providing consumers with access to view properties for sale or rent. Content is king, and always has been in this digital world.

Back in November I estimated that OneRoof had around 80% of the listings of Realestate.co.nz. I judge that this level has not significantly changed in the past 8 months. To come up with this estimate, I did a somewhat crude assessment by selecting random regions and suburbs to see how the comparison with Realestate.co.nz plays out in the inventory war.

Based on this sample and using a simple weighted average I would say that at this time OneRoof has around 80% of the inventory of Realestate.co.nz. The same position as 8 months ago.

The conspicuously missing franchise brand from OneRoof remains Harcourts. To be clear there are Harcourts listings on OneRoof, however they are few and far between as the total franchise is as yet not fully listing on the portal. Rather than an integrated API feed of all listings, individual offices and agents are listing manually to derive presence on the site.

This situation has such a sense deja vu for me. Back in 2008 Harcourts were the last of the franchise groups to list fully on Trade Me. At the time the pressure coming from the salespeople was enormous and despite the deep principles of the executive team of Harcourts who wanted to support the industry owned site of Realestate.co.nz, the franchise eventually made the decision to list on Trade Me.

Then again in 2013 amid the pricing fiasco by Trade me, Harcourts again were the most vehemently opposed to the proposed pricing change and fought to encourage agents to boycott the platform, with some degree of success; although that boycott has all but slipped into history.

Whilst I admire the deep principle of the Harcourts executive team to hold out from listing on OneRoof, I sense the time for the strategic decisions to list or not was at least a year ago and now that the other major franchises have acceded to the support of OneRoof there is little to be gained in holding out.



The future looks bright for Trade Me Property as it casts a darkening shadow on Realestate.co.nz

by Alistair Helm in ,


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“Someone should never take part in a fight unless they know they will win it”.

This was the opinion voiced in an article by David Hargreaves on Interest.co.nz in February 2014. Over 5 years ago. The article expounded the view that the real estate industry had more to lose than Trade Me, over the then, bust up over increased fees being introduced by Trade Me at the end of 2013.

Five years is a long time in our fast-paced digital world, yet the prophetic view expressed in the article is coming true all these years later, only not quite as imagined. The view then was that the real estate industry’s very business model, could in some way be impacted by the squabble with Trade Me. That has not eventuated. However, the real estate industry has lost in their ability to control the digital marketing platform. A loss far less financially significant, but none the less a squandered opportunity.

I have written at length over the years on what I see as the problems of Realestate.co.nz, and its ever weakening position against Trade Me in the competitive arena of digital marketing, including an impassioned address to the Real Estate Institute AGM last year. Sadly time moves on, and with it, the ever growing strength of Trade Me Property; and for its rival Realestate.co.nz, as the title of this article states, things look bleak.

The half year results of Trade Me published last month stated “The performance of Trade Me Property is exceptional and should continue into the second half of F19”. Not only is it exceptional at $22.3m, it is also sustainable. Trade Me Property in my opinion has found its sweet spot and for now the future looks bright. This result and optimistic outlook are the direct result of two significant successes that have yet to be fully realised. But before I examine these two matters, let’s pause a moment to look at Trade Me Property revenue over the past 4 financial years as reported in financial investor reports.

The most recent 6 months to December 2018 is outstanding, and follows what has been a fairly average performance over the prior years with revenue growth barely hitting double digit percentage growth.

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I am no financial analyst, but I would hazard a guess (as I have done in the above chart) based on my experience and knowledge that the second half of the FY2019 year is likely to see year-on-year growth of 30% resulting in a full year revenue of over $48m, up over 80% on 5 years ago when things went so wrong for Trade Me.

So to what do I ascribe this remarkable performance of Trade Me Property. Firstly a smart and highly successful new product launched last year – Premium Listing.

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This product works exceptionally well, Satisfying the needs of both the vendor and agent. The standout presence of this large listing creates impact in the search results and delivers a markedly high level of page views, not just on web browser pages but also on the Trade Me apps. This is significant, as up until the launch of this product there were no premium listings on either Trade Me Property or Realestate.co.nz that delivered a premium impact on the mobile apps in standard search results. The product design is loved by agents as it incorporates the agent and agency branding to great effect. Priced at a significant premium to the existing offering of Super Feature, the new Premium Listing has achieved a high penetration rate in the key markets of upwards of 15% of listings. This product is likely to benefit from the power of the virtuous circle. Agents love it, they include it in marketing budgets, the results are a delight to agents and vendors, other agents see the power and brand influence and they become adopters and for the buyer searching for property the design is as ever from Trade Me beautiful.

So that is one of the powerful drivers of this new rejuvenated and growing Trade Me Property business. The other is inventory.

I reported back in October last year that Trade Me had then surpassed Realestate.co.nz in terms of total listings of property for sale (including private sales). This was a key milestone as it destroyed the long standing cornerstone of marketing by Realestate.co.nz that they were the leader when it comes to inventory of listings. Subsequent to that turning point Trade Me has powered ahead and as of this month they have surpassed a new milestone.

Trade Me Property now features more property for sale from real estate agents than any other website. This is significant, really significant. Five years ago things went wrong for Trade Me over the price changes and the real estate industry endeavoured to boycott Trade Me. Today more of the industry support Trade Me than support Realestate.co.nz - the property portal that is owned by the industry. The charts below highlight this recovery by Trade Me, firstly for all listings and secondly for agent only listings.

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For Trade Me Property to be displaying significantly more agent listings than Realestate.co.nz on the website today (28,483 vs 26,277), means that real estate agent office are questioning the value of Realestate.co.nz. For the past 5 years the industry has rallied around the industry owned site seeking to consolidate support to make it the critical asset that it had the opportunity to be.

Sadly the industry, whilst well intentioned and principled as a body, is in reality a loose aggregation of over 600 independent business owners and over 15,000 independent contractor-status agents. They all think and act, first and foremost to their own best interest. Trade Me is a marketing tool, just as is the Property Press and the newspaper supplements, as well as Realestate.co.nz and when individual agents select marketing campaigns for their clients’ property what matters most is results. Those results are judged in page views and enquiries, as well as agent profile and presence, and this is where the rubber hits the road. Trade Me is winning this battle and likely to press the advantage even harder in the coming months and years, leaving the events of late 2013 to be a distant memory.


Disclosure: I have over the past 13 years been a senior executive at both Realestate.co.nz and Trade Me Property.

I am not at this time involved in either company through any role or investment. This article, as with other similar articles are written based on published information combined with insight gleaned from studying the property portal marketplace internationally over the years.


Does REINZ recognise the issues facing Realestate.co.nz?

by Alistair Helm in


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This post is specifically written for real estate professionals in NZ, I am not saying that the content will not be of interest to other people, but I sincerely hope that this post more than many I write, is read and shared by real estate people who recognise the role and value of the Real Estate Institute of NZ (REINZ) and who share a belief in the value of Realestate.co.nz.

If you have been a regular reader, especially over the past 12 months since re-establishing Properazzi you will know that I have written regularly on the issues I see with Realestate.co.nz as the industry owned property portal, as well as other articles on the growing competitive threat it faces.

I have made these assertions based on what I judge is the unique experience and insight I have of property portal operation here in NZ and globally.

I’ve reached out in the past 6 months to some of the leaders of real estate companies who are shareholders in Realestate.co.nz, to share these concerned in a very detailed manner with extensive facts and market research. I don’t propose to share this insight here, as it’s based on my own IP and if anyone wants to pay me for this knowledge and insight, I am happy to discuss. To be clear I made it available to the industry simply because I am passionate not to see the industry squander the opportunity that Realestate.co.nz provides to all in this industry, both as a digital marketing platform but also a significant financial asset.

Sadly, my philanthropic gesture appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Not a single invitation was offered for me to meet with the board of Realestate.co.nz, the executive of Realestate.co.nz or any representative of its shareholders. Clearly from this I judge they do not think I have anything to offer. (Just for clarification and background for those who are unfamiliar, Realestate.co.nz Ltd is a privately held company as a joint venture between REINZ and Property Page NZ Ltd a private company itself owned by 5 of the large real estate companies).

With this lack of engagement, I chose this week try another angle and attend the AGM of the Real Estate Institute. I am a member of REINZ as a licensed sales person and therefore like 15,000 or so of my fellow real estate professionals able to attend this annual meeting. I requested in advance to table my address the Board of REINZ and the members present at the AGM under the General Business item of the agenda.

The AGM was a well-attended event and I would be the first to congratulate the board of REINZ and the outgoing chair Dame Rosanne Meo for the transformation that has been achieved in the organisation over the past 8 years. The industry has a professional and competent organisation that has a clear strategy to add value to its members across data, advocacy and education. However, my message to the REINZ board was sure to rain on their parade for which I make no apology. Bad news is never palatable but what I chose to speak about is I judge of significant importance.

I did not speak off-the-cuff but chose to deliver a pre-written address, so I could be succinct as possible and also I could share the address with others. Here is what I prepared and presented at the AGM.


Thankyou Madam chair, I appreciate this opportunity to address the board of REINZ and in addition the members of REINZ both here in person and through this meeting platform to the wider membership.

I have chosen to read from a prepared letter rather than express my opinion spontaneously for the benefit of brevity. Such is my deep concern for the governance of Realestate.co.nz that I might exceed my self-allotted time limit of 5 minutes.

I come here today to address this board and this organisation on a matter that I feels needs the urgent and critical attention of the board. As I will outline, I charge that the board of Realestate.co.nz have over the years mismanaged and squandered the opportunity to not only make Realestate.co.nz a credible and trusted digital platform for buyers and seller but also to create an asset of immeasurable value for the long-term benefit of all members.

Let me begin by introducing myself for those who may not know me. I have had the pleasure over 12 years in this industry to meet and get to know many of you here today. As some of you may know, I began my association with the industry back in 2006 when I became the CEO of Realestate.co.nz, a role I undertook for 6 years. Over the past 6 years I have continued my involvement with this industry working with direct competitors of Realestate.co.nz. Today I attend this meeting for the first time as a member of REINZ – a licensed salesperson with Bayleys. The comments I make here today are made as a customer of Realestate.co.nz and member of REINZ and I judge are professionally objective.

Let me be absolutely clear. I am deeply concerned as to the viability of Realestate.co.nz, not the long-term viability but literally the short-term existence; for I fear that the business has but a short timeline of relevance. I have over this past 6 months shared my thoughts and opinions with leaders in this industry in one-on-one meetings. I took the opportunity to address the board and assembled members here today as a vital opportunity to share this opinion within the wider real estate industry through the shareholding membership of REINZ.

At the outset Realestate.co.nz was established to support and protect the industry from the rapacious ambitions of the competitive media players. Sadly, that mission seems to have been ignored or at least less zealously aspired to over recent years. The company has in my opinion been poorly managed with lacklustre performance and at its core a woefully inadequate technology platform.

Over the 12 years of its operation, Realestate.co.nz has at times taken significant strides forward, whist at the same time has been offered significant competitive opportunities to attain leadership in the digital marketing space. Sadly, over recent years these opportunities have been squandered as a consequence of poor investment decisions made by the executive and board of the company. It is simply not true that the business is the leading property website and for the board of REINZ to be told that is at best misleading.

I hold the board of Realestate.co.nz responsible for what I think has been poor governance and worse still incompetent operational management of the company. This past year’s performance is appalling but is not an isolated year, prior years demonstrate that the opportunity has been missed to leverage this critical digital asset for the benefits of all members of REINZ.

Realestate.co.nz is a technology platform operating a digital marketplace, however over the past 5 years there has been not a single piece of innovation that can be demonstrated to in anyway challenge or in any way concern the competition. The current website environment is an embarrassment, comprises a capable but ageing 2010 ‘Classic’ site matched to a poorly executed ‘New’ site that after 18 months in the market is clearly recognised for the failure it is. Worst though are the mobile apps which nowadays as the platform of choice for more than half the audience of buyers and sellers; have been seriously neglected for years, having been at their launch the most innovative challenge to the competition.

In my opinion the management of the company has not demonstrated the competence required to run a digital business. I believe at the heart of the issue is the lack of technology and digital business experience within the board. Over the span of 12 years and 19 directors only 2 came to the role with the slightest relevant experience, over the past 8 years just 12% of the board representation has provided any relevant experience.

Realestate.co.nz was created as a ‘not for loss’ operation, as an asset for the industry – however to remain relevant and competitive requires reinvestment to grow, simply because in the digital classified arena if you are not growing you are declining and let’s be clear growth is not just providing annual results of revenue growth. Growth is asset value and consumer advocacy and I see no growth in either. The Chairman’s report this year reads like a facsimile of past years. Thanking the industry for support and speaking of challenges and improvements made but sadly these improvements must be in the minds of the board. For the industry, your customers are losing confidence, faith and trust in Realestate.co.nz – I know, I personally as one of your passionate and technically competent re-sellers is finding it increasingly hard to advocate the site to my clients, when it offers so little real value against its competitors, and as a technology platform it is rapidly becoming out of touch and I fear irrelevant.

I did not get the chance to finish this address, I was just over half way through when Dame Rosanne Meo stepped in and requested I wrap up. She stated that whilst she recognised my passion for the business of Realestate.co.nz, she judged that my opinions expressed were not the view held by the board of Realestate.co.nz. She said the board of REINZ were supportive of the Chair and board of Realestate.co.nz and as Realestate.co.nz is a separate company in which REINZ is a 50% shareholder this forum of the REINZ AGM was not the platform for discussing a separate company in which REINZ was just a shareholder.

I did not object to her interruption of my address, I respect her opinion and I politely and graciously returned to my seat. I was though naturally disappointed as I strongly believe that the performance and governance of Realestate.co.nz is a critical matter to REINZ, something that should be addressed.

I contend that the industry, that being the members of REINZ should have confidence that the operation and governance of Realestate.co.nz is being undertaken to optimise the consumer experience as a critical search portal, the customer value as an effective marketing platform for clients’’ listings and the asset value of the investment that REINZ holds in Realestate.co.nz for the benefit of the organisation and the industry. This latter criteria is the one that most concerns me as I fear the board of Realestate.co.nz have little appreciation of the true asset value – not a difficult assessment to make given the transparency of publicly listed property portals around the world.


SQUANDERED OPPORTUNITY

Let’s cut to the chase a bit here. The cold hard fact is that in my opinion the board of Realestate.co.nz have squandered a golden opportunity.

At the inception back in 2006 the focus was very clear – why let the traditional print media companies or their arrogant ‘start-up’ siblings dictate the future media platform of digital which was so clearly going to be the platform of the future, when we the industry, can compete and operate such a platform. This was the smart strategic insight. It proved so smart and by 2010 it was a successful strategy as it defeated the REA aspirant AllRealestate and thwarted the progress on Trade Me Property. This was the time when the board did assess the future equity value of the asset they were creating at the time when global property portals’ market cap’s shot skyward. The directors did star gaze and wonder if this asset might best be sold off for tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars, with that windfall gain being funnelled back into the industry for the benefit of the industry and its members.

Sadly, that mindset diminished, and the focus became beating Trade Me and attaining a goal that was illusive at best, and more than likely impossible – that of surpassing Trade Me’s audience and that is why the single-minded focus from 2013 became consumer advertising on TV and all other media with no thought to the investment in the technology.

As that strategy was followed, so the competition arose and that 100% audience gap stubbornly remained, years past and the notional asset value of Realestate.co.nz began to erode and that is where we find ourselves today. A still massive audience gap to the market leader in Trade Me, new competitors nipping at their heels and a technology platform creaking and crumbling from a lack of investment. At best the value of the asset now can be measured in single digit millions of dollars if it was even of value to anyone. This is the reality of a missed opportunity that I think the whole industry needs to know.


Addendum

This article was drafted between Monday 25th and Thursday 29th November, the Monday being the date of the REINZ AGM.

I was very tempted to post immediately after the AGM, but thought I would wait. Just to see if I had sparked any reaction, feedback or question, 4 days later nothing. Nobody in attendance at the AGM has made contact.

At the AGM, as soon as it had concluded I waited around. I was approached by the Chairman of Realestate.co.nz Fairfax Moresby. He asked me in a friendly manner ‘why I had not picked up the phone and chatted with him to share these concerns’ - I told him that I had chosen to reach out to the shareholders and not the executive or Chairman. That was decision I have taken , I did not feel the approach by me to either of these parties to tell them what they were doing wrong (in my opinion) was either appropriate or would be taken in the right manner.


OneRoof - a 6 month review

by Alistair Helm in


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OneRoof has now been active in the property portal space for just over 6 months and I thought it would be of value to review its success and see what if anything has been the response of the competitors.

When I reviewed this new aspirant back in April, I highlighted what I believed would be the challenges it would face in securing listings and engaging an audience. As ever, these are the two inextricably linked components of a dual-side market that are at the heart of a property portal. For without content, there is no value for a consumer audience, and equally without a consumer audience there is no value for content providers, especially if they are asked to pay for content display.

After 6 months in the market, OneRoof has made significant gains in one of these areas - listing content. From the starting position of having just Bayleys as the foundation content provider they have added a 3 more of the major 5 companies in the industry.

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Lacking just Harcourts from the stable of content, I would say that OneRoof now has close to 80% of all real estate agent listings. A significant gain in the past 6 months. At this time no real estate company is paying for a base subscription of unlimited listings, but clearly any misgivings that the industry owners of Realestate.co.nz had in supporting a competitor have been largely ignored in favour of exposing their clients’ listings to as wide an audience as possible.

Touching on that point of ‘free’ base subscriptions, nothing as ever is for free for long and I would suspect that OneRoof will adopt a ‘pay per listing’ model or monthly subscription sometime in 2019. In the meantime their premium product offering is being extensively marketed to agents either as a standalone offering or as an appealing bundled offering with print pages in Herald Homes. This bundling is a very powerful model that uniquely will see a high priority given to OneRoof on the marketing portfolio offered by agents to their clients and I expect to see emerging revenue results for OneRoof in the 2018 full year accounts of parent company NZME.


CONSUMER AUDIENCE

Now this is where I fear OneRoof has a long way to go to seriously challenge the powerful leading incumbents of Trade Me Property and Realestate.co.nz, not that they are not vulnerable, but they do hold a strong and well established brand franchise.

I do not have access to the most accurate and insightful measures for digital platforms, that being Google Analytics or Nielsen digital ratings. I therefore have been tracking the relative performance of OneRoof and its competitors using a global tracking tool by the name of SimilarWeb. This Spanish company analyses web traffic to create a global ranking of all websites and thereby provide detailed estimates for monthly audience and source of audience.

I recognise that the absolute data points reported on SimilarWeb may not be accurate, however when analysing OneRoof, together with Homes.co.nz and Realestate.co.nz on the same platform over the past 6 months it is possible to infer objectivity to their relative performance. It is this comparative perspective that I am interested to present and analyse. Unfortunately SimilarWeb is unable to provide data for Trade Me Property as it is not possible to extract the property data from the main domain of Trade Me as SimilarWeb only tracks primary domains.

OneRoof has grown a relatively sizeable audience in a short space to time. An audience that within the 3rd month had surpassed Homes.co.nz and is currently around half the size of Realestate.co.nz in estimated scale of visits. Again it is worth noting that SimilarWeb can only monitor web based traffic and therefore no analysis has been undertaken on the relative scale of audience to mobile apps for any of these platforms.

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Whilst as stated SimilarWeb does not track Trade Me Property it is possible to infer a relative traffic in proportion to Realestate.co.nz based on the comments made at the recent investor presentation of Trade Me where it was stated that their traffic is ‘>2x’ the unique audience of their largest competitor.

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In relative terms given how short a time OneRoof has been in operation it appears to be attaining a scale around 25% that of the largest player in the market which is impressive.

However as ever statistics can be misleading when you only observe the headline numbers and fail to dig a little deeper.

When it comes to online traffic a key question that needs to be asked is what is the source of that traffic, is it:

  • Direct traffic - driven by domain name URL being keyed in, this is a key measure of brand awareness?

  • Search engine traffic which comprises organic search a reflection of deep Search Engine Optimisation, together with paid search traffic from Adwords?

  • Social media traffic which also can be through organic or paid traffic?

This is another reason why I favour SimilarWeb, as in addition to tracking traffic on the web for all sites it also track the origin of traffic and this is so enlightening within this segment of property portals in NZ. Detailed below is the comparative make up of the traffic to each of the 3 portals and one data point above all leaps out.

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Close on two thirds of all traffic to OneRoof last month was referral traffic, compared to virtually nothing for Homes or Realestate.co.nz. What is the source of this referral traffic? You don’t have to look far to find out that the vast majority 99.92% of all this traffic originates from NZHerald.co.nz.

From day one OneRoof has benefited from the fact that the NZ Herald website rebranded all property articles as OneRoof articles and all property articles are hosted on the oneroof.co.nz domain powering this massive traffic.

So the reality is that two thirds of OneRoof traffic originates from news articles and ad links on the NZ Herald website. I do however concede that once on the OneRoof site, these consumers do browse listings as the number of pages per visit is 4.2 according to SimilarWeb - that compares to 8.5 pages per visit for Realestate.co.nz and 6.4 pages for Homes. I should also point out I have been tracking all of these sites since March and there has been no variance in any of these metrics.

The fact that OneRoof is leveraging the media presence of NZ Herald to drive audience is no surprise, I foreshadowed it in my April article under the section “Media Family”. It’s been the highly successful strategy of Domain.com.au in Australian which leveraged the Fairfax media stable of digital platforms to build a massive audience. However their market leading competitor Realestate.com.au was not slow to bring this to the attention of ist shareholders who wondered how Domain had grown such an audience. Their investor report of 2016 showed that Domain traffic was made up of 70% news articles and just 30% property listings as compared to Realestate.com.au which equally leveraged News Corp digital property news for traffic but only to the tune of 8% of total traffic.

As a further data point to the relative audience across the 3 main portals I would offer up my current property listing which has received 5,276 page views on Trade Me, 1,789 page views on Realestate.co.nz and 382 page views on OneRoof - the listings received similar premium advertising packages on all 3 platforms as part of a significant marketing campaign. These stats whilst a sample of one would seem to support the conclusion that OneRoof has a long way to go to build a consumer franchise to support the premium advertising solutions; having said that they have everything going for them, a great platform and user experience, a strong brand building programme and massive industry support.


COMPETITIVE RESPONSE

As to that comment at the start of this article questioning what if anything has been the reaction of the competitors. Well to be honest when it comes to Realestate.co.nz I suspect nothing. Realestate.co.nz continues to show no signs of any activity - no decision yet even after 18 months as to whether they have a viable new site; nor as to an aligned and unified view of their shareholders, who rightly could and in my view should have seen OneRoof as a real threat and looked for unity within the industry to rally around the industry owned portal.

As for Trade Me, they have quietly got on with the job in hand launching an excellent new premium product which is delighting agent customers, their shareholders and the consumer. In the long term I fear for the future of Realestate.co.nz as OneRoof is undoubtedly going to ‘eat their lunch’.



Realestate.co.nz and the crumbling marketing strategy

by Alistair Helm in


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It was 5 years; almost to the month that Trade Me made its ill-fated blunder. A very costly blunder, a blunder that continues to hold strong memories within the minds of many in the real estate industry.

Trade Me implemented a new pricing policy. That in itself was not the issue, as price changes are a part of any evolving business especially as 5 years ago digital marketing was still evolving and establishing itself as a core element of property marketing. The real issue that took a poorly-thought-out pricing strategy and turned it into a costly and damaging blunder, was the handling of the communication coupled with the reluctance of Trade Me to engage with its customers and really understand and acknowledge how little they understood the business they had been operating in for 7 years.

The repercussions of that pricing strategy involved the Commerce Commission, a lot of lawyers and a window of opportunity for the industry owned portal Realestate.co.nz to seize a golden opportunity.

Realestate.co.nz had been up until 2013 playing a role as a challenging #2 specialist property portal to Trade Me’s #1 generalist classified platform of which property was a critical financial vertical, but sadly not managed with a clear understanding of the sector or the industry customer relationship. With the industry’s reaction leading to a boycott of Trade Me in the fall out of the pricing strategy blunder, the whole industry of agents, business owners and real estate companies rallied around Realestate.co.nz to bolster the industry-owned site. It appeared at that time that the future was bright for Realestate.co.nz which just might result in ascendancy to market leadership.

So much was going right for Realestate.co.nz through 2014. Real estate agents across the country where advocating the site to their clients, ensuring 100% adoption and strengthening the brand awareness. Additionally and importantly these agents were preferencing, like never before the platform as part of marketing campaigns, whilst playing down or rejecting marketing on Trade Me. The industry was swelling the marketing coffers of the company through the advertising dollars spend on premium products. Trade Me meanwhile was losing customers and importantly losing listings.

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From a time when Trade Me was an undisputed leader in inventory, the tables were reversed and Trade Me slumped to barely 80% of the total market inventory. This, rightly or wrongly became the battle ground upon which these two played out their competitive battle of the next 5 years.

Realestate.co.nz decided that this ‘win’ of superior inventory was to be the strategic marketing advantage they could leverage from that day to now to win this fight - the marketing spend was massive as the company ploughed almost all net earnings into marketing.

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In my opinion this strategy was a massive mistake, for 3 reasons.

  1. Inventory superiority was never going to be a unique advantage that could be sustained - that has now come be true and will now haunt them.

  2. I contend that whilst the industry is fixated on inventory; after all it is the single most important metric as listings precedes sales, and inventory showcases real estate brand. However to the consumer what relevance is there in inventory? When a consumer goes to Trade Me and searches for listings for sale in Greytown - they want to see what is for sale. If they use Realestate.co.nz they will also see what is for sale and likely they might use both sites or both apps, but do they bother to look to see how many listings there are for sale - NO. For information Trade Me shows 40 listings of property for sale vs Realestate.co.nz at 36.

  3. Focusing everything on marketing was dumb. Building brand awareness is key, but surely someone at Realestate.co.nz was aware that brand advocacy and recommendation of the user experience of the core product (website or app) is much more important than endleslys repeated advertising shouting about inventory. Sadly it would seem that nobody thought to ask this this question or challenge the investment in marketing vs. product development, as over the past 5 years (as judged from consumer perspective) hardly a dollar has been ploughed into product development. The core web site is still the same website launched in 2010. A ‘new site’ was launched in June 20017 but still remains in beta. And let’s not forget the apps - the iOS app last got an update in July 2016, is only compatible with iOS 9 (this is n-3 for the geeks out there) and last got a refresh back in March 2014. The Android app was last updated in August 2016 which was purely a cosmetic change.


The Crumbling Inventory Advantage

Let me come back to the first of these - building a competitive advantage on inventory. The fact is this advantage is over. Trade Me can now legally challenge the claim that Realestate.co.nz is “the property site with the most listings”. The fact is Trade Me holds supremacy as the site with the most properties for sale - with 4% more properties for sale at this time.

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As at the 10 October Trade Me Property features 26,317 listings of properties for sale including lifestyle properties but excluding bare land and building sections whilst Realestate.co.nz features just 25,146.

The Future

Realestate.co.nz has now got to work out what to do - I don’t envy them. The odds as I see it are stacked against them. The catalogue of problems they face keeps growing:

  1. They have no CEO (the previous CEO left speedily in June)

  2. They face massive competitive threats from both Homes.co.nz and OneRoof

  3. Their web platform is a disaster - the classic site is still live and trusted but is showing age from a competitive standpoint around the user interface.The new site is still buggy and not trustworthy, I still personally rely exclusively on the classic site.

  4. There is no awareness of their Automated Valuation Model that is so critical these days and is so much a part of the appeal of Trade Me, Homes and OneRoof to home buyers

  5. The mobile apps are neglected and so far behind the mobile platform expectation and their competitors

  6. The services they provide to agents, both in reporting of listing performance and insights as well as agent brand profile are way behind Trade Me with OneHub and Homes agent branding offering

I could go on, but I think these 6 are sufficient for the board to take on at this time. The industry has placed a huge amount of trust, faith and dollars into the industry-owned site over these 5 years. Now as a part of the industry I personally hope that someone on the board or someone amongst the shareholders wakes up and realises that this business is vulnerable and is potentially fated.








Facebook’s ambition for real estate could significantly impact Trade Me

by Alistair Helm in


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There is no denying or ignoring the reach and ubiquity of Facebook. Despite the recent setbacks and concerns over privacy and the world of fake accounts. Facebook is the platform to reach any community – true of NZ, as it is in almost any place on the planet.

In NZ more than 2.3 million check it every day. Whether that is to share thoughts, photos or simply to while away a few minutes on the latest meme.

There is as ever always a commercial focus for Facebook, and ever more so of their Marketplace product which holds massive opportunity. It will ultimately allow the company to move beyond advertising and pitch up against Amazon in the broadest sense of retail. In the context of real estate, I don’t foresee a property-for-sale move coming anytime soon, however their early moves have been into rentals and flatmates. These 2 categories happen to be core elements of Trade Me Property’s portfolio representing 27% of their total revenue, equating to $10m per annum according to their most recent financial report.

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Just last month in the UK it was announced that Facebook had struck an agreement with the second largest property portal Zoopla and the leading industry owned property portal On The Market to syndicate all of their rental listings into Facebook marketplace. This is a significant move with potentially massive implications for the NZ real estate industry and Trade Me.

Facebook at its core is a community platform that values stickiness – that ability to attract and retain users and monetise them. This is very different to Google that in essence seeks to attract users and then as quickly hand them off to their advertising customers. This difference is significant if we examine the history of property listings syndication in NZ and to some extent globally.

Around 10 years ago Google set up an initiative (Google Base) to present real estate listings on Google Maps – a massively disruptive move which encouraged real estate companies to syndicate their listings to Google to be found on map based search. In many ways bypassing the property portals who were adamant that this was disruptive and damaging to their business model. Most of the global leaders boycotted the platform and in some cases went as far as stopping their Google Adwords marketing budgets which at the time were massive.

The initiative died a few years later and is now consigned to the archives of initiatives Google has tried and killed. The initiative though was something at the time I supported whilst CEO of Realestate.co.nz. I chose to work with Google to support our customers. Realestate.co.nz was an industry owned-portal and in this sense the ambitions of our customers, real estate companies was perfectly aligned for this syndication whereas for Trade Me and the likes of Rightmove and REA Group they were opposed. They feared the ambitions of Google as a truer competitor, being a content aggregator search engine that could disintermediate between the listing originator (real estate company) and the consumer.


So let’s fast forward back to 2018 and Facebook’s partnership in the UK. Already Rightmove the leading property portal has said it will not work with Facebook in syndicating rental listings. Facebook does not want to go direct to real estate companies, property management companies and private landlords to power Facebook Marketplace for rental. It is not in their DNA to be a search engine nor a structured data integrator. Their preference is to partner in order to source a trusted comprehensive feed(s) of listings. In this way they get structured data and don’t have to bother with the interface vagaries of multiple data transfer systems that would be required to be maintained if they went to real estate companies, property management companies or end users.

What attracts Facebook to property rentals and flatmates is stickiness. It also happens to be content that is skewed younger and is perfect social and viral content – all aspects that align to Facebook strategy.

Let’s look at how Facebook Marketplace sits today in terms of inventory of rental and flatmates in NZ for rentals and compare it to Trade Me as shown below, using Wellington as an example.

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No comparison. At 70 listings on Facebook vs. Trade Me with 1,241. Facebook is stuck in the classic 2 sided market conundrum. Without listings there is no audience engagement and without audience engagement then no appeal to add listings. However Facebook is not without an audience who would flock to Marketplace if they went from 70 listings to 1,241 listings in a day. That would change the dynamic for Facebook Marketplace for property.

So would Trade Me Property syndicate their listings to Facebook? Trade Me effectively is the market in this segment; with all private listings and all property management listings.

In my opinion no way. Trade Me earns over $10m from rental listings. Syndicating these listings might be an appealing proposition that they can offer their customers as a wider audience reach. However it would be, as I see it in their judgement taking traffic away from their platform. So if not Trade Me, where might Facebook access the syndication pipe for rental listings?

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This is the threat that Trade Me is very likely highly nervous of – what if Realestate.co.nz stepped in and made an arrangement with Facebook?

At this time Realestate.co.nz does not have the depth of content of rentals as their source is only property managers and their inventory today is just over 5,000 as compared to Trade Me at 8,500 rental and over 4,000 flatmates listings. However based on the same principle as I adopted all those years ago the syndication of those listings would be aligned to the outcome to Realestate.co.nz property management customers, offering a vastly expanding audience reach for these listings. If Realestate.co.nz was really ambitious and thinking strategically to could manoeuvre Trade Me. They could build an interface to allow private landlords to list their properties for rent as well as offering a whole new service to flatmates. Such a move would offer all these customers a powerful USP of exposure to the massive Facebook Marketplace audience for free – how powerful could that be? At the same time there is no reason why Realestate.co.nz could not monetise those listings which at say a low $50 per rental / $10 per flatmates. This could generate c. $8m per annum of incremental revenue, even at half those fees $4m is a massive opportunity for Realestate.co.nz.

All of this of course is purely hypotheticals, and sadly I don’t believe that Realestate.co.nz has the vision or courage to take such bold steps. Having said that, Trade Me Property should not rest easily, for it could equally face another challenge. For whilst Realestate.co,nz might not pick up the baton offered by Facebook then maybe OneRoof might judge it worthwhile or even Homes?


Technology could be the saviour of print media for real estate

by Alistair Helm in


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I find myself in my new role, as a licensed real estate agent in the Auckland suburb of Devonport developing a healthy pragmatism of the age-old decision as to the choice of print, or digital media when it comes to property marketing.

Ten years or so ago, I recall standing on-stage at numerous real estate conferences as the CEO of Realestate.co.nz confidently stating that at some time in the not too distant future our lives would have been so transformed by the evolution of digital media, that the humble newspaper would be dead. I foresaw a time when all forms of real estate advertising would be digital. Fast forward those 10 years and clearly that is not the case. Digital is certainly critical; valued by the real estate industry and consumers alike. However our daily newspapers still survive, somewhat depleted and sadly sullied by the race to the bottom, chasing advertising dollars for general advertising heavily driven by eye-catching headlines and lifestyle celeb stories.

However for the real estate industry print media retains a true relevance. As an agent, I value its ability to deliver passive buyers and the even more valued serendipitous buyer. The story can be easily told of buyers (unknowing it at the time) idly flicking through a weekend property supplement or Property Press at the local cafe or friend's house on a quiet afternoon, only to be enthralled by a property that they suddenly become captivated by.

The value of the print media lies in context, and the fact of strangely imprecise targeting - let me explain. The ubiquity of the newspaper places these adverts in close proximity to everyday news thereby potentially interrupting the daily read with an unexpected opportunity to present a property. It also acts as a reinforcement of a property advert to active buyers who may have seen the property online, thereby reinforcing its appeal and relevance, maximising frequency of presentation.

The imprecise targeting is a very interesting counter-logical argument. The very appeal and efficiency of the digital platform which enables for the specific search for 'this number of bedrooms' in 'this price range' in 'this suburb' is the same process that excludes a perfect property that matches all the requirements but is in another suburb that the buyer never thought about. In the case of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch there are many suburbs that are close substitutes, yet people have fixed mindsets until they are exposed to a house they love the look of, only to find it is located in a suburb that was not on their list, but they go on to buy. That is the power of the print media. Or put another way that is an opportunity as yet not exploited by the digital media players.

So what other capability can print media offer and how might the very latest technology assist them?

Well I came across a very interesting post on Twitter over the weekend in praise of Apple's new ARKit. This is the latest software Apple has released at its recent developer conference to power Augmented Reality. Here's the tweet that peaked my interest and got me thinking about AR a little bit more - watch the embedded short video to get a sense of this capability.

So this example created the sense of an embedded sports video coming to life within a newspaper, leveraging the capability of an iPhone or iPad and the Augmented Reality software. Where you see a sports image and video on a newspaper page, imagine it being a property listing. Simply view the property page with your iPhone and the listing comes alive showing the video of the property or the slideshow for the property.

In someways this is just another iterative step that started years ago with URL weblinks on print adverts, progressed through QR codes and lately encompassed the NZ Herald Homes app that used image recognition that took the user to the listing on the web. All of these technology steps by today's standards seem clunky, especially when you see and imagine this in action (A crude representation made by me shown below roughly visualised).

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This really appeals to me. I have so often sat with people who flick through print publications for property listings and want that bit more information but end up frustrated by trying to find listing numbers and search for them on the Trade Me Property or Realestate.co.nz app.

This clearly is a golden opportunity for NZME's OneRoof - the perfect intersection of print and digital. They have the digital content and the print media platform - it'll be interesting to see how long it takes them to develop this and monetise it!

As for Realestate.co.nz and Trade Me - this presents an opportunity, but would require a partnership with a media company. The logical path being Property Press unless the appetite is big enough for Trade Me to make the ambitious move to acquire NZME, a relatively achievable acquisition when you see that NZME market cap is just $165m and Trade Me sits at $1,900m - something for Jon McDonald to think about as a parting shot of for the new Trade Me CEO.


Are we really facing a “serious shortage of properties for keen buyers”?

by Alistair Helm in


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It's funny sometimes when you look at a piece of research which on the face of it looks to be enlightening, providing as it does new facts and insight; but when dig a little deeper you discover that it merely reinforces known facts.

Such was the situation this week when Realestate.co.nz published a research study by Horizon Research of consumer expectations of buying and selling in the coming year. I was at first somewhat confused, as the report was completely buried in the monthly NZ Property Report. I was not sure that they had clearly thought through how they were presenting the data, however by tuning out the monthly stat charts the research data findings seem at first eye-opening.

The research results show that 6.4% of the adults 18 years or over surveyed are definitely looking to buy in the next 12 months, but only 2.8% of people stated they are definitely looking to sell in that same period, says realestate.co.nz spokesperson Vanessa Taylor.  

This equates to a shortage of around 3.6% of homes across the New Zealand marketplace, representing a significant number of properties currently not on the market, she says.

Even taking into account new builds which are underway and not included in these numbers, there will be an increasingly serious shortage of properties for keen buyers.
— Vanessa Taylor - Realestate.co.nz

Wow – 6.4% of adults definitely going to buy; but only 2.8% going to sell! As stated that would seem to be a “serious shortage of properties for keen buyers”

The danger as ever with statistics is that seeing one set of data in isolation can lead to misinterpretation. Sure, in this survey 6.4% of adults are going to buy vs 2.8% are going to sell. On the face of it, it certainly seems serious and due cause for alarm, especially when we are constantly being told in the media (and by politicians) that we need to build more houses to solve a housing crisis. But hold on a moment. Step back and ask what is the context of this research data. We need to ask how have results changed over the past year or the past 5 years? Are we seeing a growing trend or a declining trend? After all one data point does not tell us everything.

The beauty of the internet is that you don’t have to hound people to get them to provide the data, the data is accessible. Horizon Research has been undertaking a Housing Supply and Demand Survey since 2010 on a fairly frequent basis and here are the results.

So it would appear that the data for May whilst perceived to be high was actually down on the previous report from October last year, when the level of definite buyer activity was 9.8% and seller intention was just 2.5%. That’s 1 in 10 adults saying that they were going to definitely buy. At the same time just 1 in 40 adults said they were going to definitely sell!

How did I possibly miss that piece of news?

There is no denying that the chart very clearly shows an ever growing divergence between buyer intent and seller intent, however the question has to be asked. If as the media release this week states … will there bean “increasingly serious shortage of properties for keen buyers”?

How could this be true? Especially if we have witnessed this divergence for the past couple of years. If it were as true as the statement leads us to believe, then surely we would be seeing rampant price inflation as this pressure on supply would seem to portend?

To answer this key question we need to separate the buyer and seller data in the research.

The Buyers

First let’s deal with the data of buyer intent. The latest May research states that 6.4% of adults definitely intend to buy in the next 12 months. Let's work through the numbers. In NZ there are 2.7 million adults; being 60% of the population by age between 18 and 65.

The research states that the findings based on a sample size of 1,345 adults from a nationally representative panel show that 6.4% state that they are definitely going to buy a property in the next 12 months. The average household composition of adults in NZ is 2.02 adults per household which equates to 1.34 million properties. This reflects the 85% of private property occupied by adults under 65 years. If you apply the 6.4% proportion from the May research to this total of 1.34 million properties you arrive at the figure of 85,700 properties definitely going to be bought in the next 12 months.

A total of 85,700 properties being bought in the coming year is in fact a perfect estimate of the market. In the past 12 months volume sales as reported by the Real Estate Institute were 74,600. Sales volumes have begun rising from a low of 73,500 in the 12 months to December last year. So I would say that the research is bang on as an estimator of market demand, providing an accurate guide as to the likely pick up in sales volumes for total 2018/19.

What is also interesting in extending this calculation; is that the historical research carried out by Horizon Research shows that the past 8 years data correlates quite closely (with just a few outliers) with the market trend of moving annual total sales as highlighted in the chart below:

The Sellers

So how can the divergence of buying intention from selling intention be explained? How can it be that what we can validate that 6.4% of adults definitely intent to buy, but clearly far more than 2.8% definitely intend to sell? In fact we can I judge with confidence say that 6.4% of adults will sell in the next 12 months.

Herein lies the answer, in my opinion.

Existing homeowners go through a process. A process that ends up with the purchase of one house and the sale of another, however this process from a psychological perspective does not begin with a rational intent to sell. It starts with an intention to buy.

Selling a property is a means to an end; the end being the next home. It is a functional process, not an emotional decision process – the emotions lie in the expectation around the next home. So when asked in a survey the intention to sell, the typical adult probably under-reports, largely due to the anxiety and expectation surrounding the process of selling. That is my opinion.

So I don’t support the view that we are really facing a “serious shortage of properties for keen buyers”, we are simply seeing the normal property market at work.

This thinking is very enlightening to the processes of real estate industry in general and particularly to the marketing strategies adopted by players within the industry. I highlighted recently in my article about the likely launch of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate how their brand positioning would not play out so well in NZ as the market here is a vendor (sellers’) market and their brand is all about emotional inspiration and lifestyle.

The fact is NZ real estate companies largely focus on the processes of selling and buying linking the brand to the "For Sale" event, but I have not seen many (if any) real estate companies, nor for that matter any real estate websites position their brand around the emotionally engaging process of discovery, in the process of finding your next home.

 

 

 

 


The property portal space just got more competitive – welcome OneRoof

by Alistair Helm in ,


 
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Once there was one, then became two, a third lasted but a few years, another made some noises, but soon exited, all was quiet for many years before ethnic diversity spawned a new entrant and then with a rush first one and then another came to challenge the two primary incumbents.
— A historical perspective of NZ's property portals

Such is the history of the past 20 years of the digital real estate classified marketplace, those to which I refer can be seen in the chronology below:

1995 – RealEnz was the first property portal in NZ owned originally by REINZ (Real Estate Institute of NZ). It went through a few iterations and stumbles including a time around the turn of the century when the major 5 real estate companies launched a competitor in Realestate.co.nz which lasted 2 years

2005 – Trade Me launched a property classified portal, initially as a private selling (auctioning) platform it soon focused on advertising and sought out the support of the real estate industry. Ray White were the first to sign up with gradually the rest following until by 2009 all were on the platform

2005 – The REA Group from Australian launched Allrealestate.co.nz, leveraging the platform of the Australian Realestate.com.au site, the investment in NZ was significant with mainstream advertising and incentives for agents

2006 – RealEnz re-branded as Realestate.co.nz under a new ownership 50% REINZ and 50% Property Page NZ Limited (Harcourts, Barfoot & Thompson, Bayleys, Ray White, Harveys, LJ Hooker)

2008 – Allrealestate.co.nz closes operations. It all became unsustainable and their focus was on richer international markets

2009 – Sella.co.nz (owned by APN) expands to offer property classified

2011 – Hougarden launches as Chinese language property portal utilising initially a complete listings feed from Realestate.co.nz

2012 – Sella closes

2015 – Homes.co.nz launches initially as a property valuation portal but from 2017 as a listings portal with first supporters of the major brands being Ray White 

2018 – OneRoof (owned by NZME) launches

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For most of the past dozen years the digital classified property space has been dominated by the two largest incumbents – Realestate.co.nz and Trade Me Property. They have jostled for leadership, challenging from a position of listings supremacy in the case of Realestate.co.nz, and audience supremacy in the case of Trade Me Property.

Now there is a new contender that has been quietly offering a beta version of a site since December – OneRoof, backed by NZME. It is officially live and open for business and that is reason enough to share my thoughts, opinions and perspective on the new challenger.

Firstly the NZ industry has seen challengers come and go. Allrealestate backed by the Australian REA Group made a valiant effort to take on the market between 2005 and 2009 and made a good job of it. If it had not been for greater international opportunities it could well have succeeded as a long term player. The management knew the business, they held a good share of inventory and they had deep marketing pockets at a time when Realstate.co.nz did not, and Trade Me was of the view that marketing budgets were unecessary.

Equally Sella, albeit a clone of Trade Me made serious plays in 2009 and attracted some listings and certainly had an audience but the industry was not keen on a media owned competitor (at the time owned by APN which of course became NZME).

The landscape in 2018 is somewhat different though, and for this reason and the reasons I will explain below, I believe OneRoof could potentially be a very serious player in this market as early as this time next year.

 

User Experience

The OneRoof platforms of website and mobile apps are superb. They are in my judgement better than either Trade Me or Realestate.co.nz and given the turmoil that seems to be inflicting the latter in terms of its ‘new site’ this competitor puts their efforts to shame.

The platform is rich with a diversity of content, combining listings with property data, highly intuitive search functionality and excellent premium listing presentation. You could criticise them and say there is way too much data covering everything from travel times to crime data, local restaurants to property stats. For me it all works; and you can avail yourself of the richness or ignore it as it is far from intrusive.

From a technical standpoint it is interesting that they have chosen to create 2 browser platforms – a desktop and a mobile version. The more normal approach these days is a single fully responsive single browser experience. Having said that Trade Me still operates two browser platforms although they have been beta testing a fully responsive site for quite a while. The Realestate.co.nz new site is fully responsive (however the original Classic site was actually semi-responsive). There are inherent issues running two browser platforms, but equally fully responsive sites with multiple breakpoints are a technical challenge.

The apps on the mobile device for OneRoof are great based on my testing of the iOS app. The app is great with excellent map based search and great user interface design. The full rich diversity of content is as complete on the app as on the browser.

I have to say as a user OneRoof is the best digital platform on the market today.

 

Existing relationships

The huge advantage that OneRoof has over other challengers like Homes and even I have to say Trade Me is the relationship that NZME has with the real estate companies. These parties have been close for decades as the industry have been supportive advertisers in the NZ Herald and strong bonds exist across all the real estate companies. This is an Auckland skewed situation, but there would be few real estate companies around the country that at sometime or other don't advertise in the Herald or any of the other mastheads that the company operates (Bay of Plenty Times, Hawkes Bay Today, Rotorua Daily Post, Northern Advocate and many others across the North Island).

This trusted relationship will have been tested last year when NZME must have engaged the industry to announce their intention to launch OneRoof. That is what I assume. The fact that the site is live indicates that the industry were comfortable (I might judge this as being somewhere between grudging acceptance and supportive dependent upon which real estate company you talked to).

A big question for me is whether NZME will truly package up online and print advertising in easy bundles for agents to sell to vendors or if has been the case over the years the digital sales teams and print sales teams retain their own account books and end up confusing and forcing agents to choose?

All of that having been said the one worrying issue is that given the site was launched in beta in December and now is fully live in April the inventory support is very low. Of the major 5 real estate companies (who also remember own 50% of Realestate.co.nz) only Bayleys has jumped in 100% with listings. It is surprising and somewhat concerning that OneRoof has not secured any other major yet.

 

Media family

As mentioned the ability for bundled package selling of print & digital is a natural opportunity that NZME has created in this new platform, however the media family offers far more.

As the Australian counterparts have shown in both having media parents (Fairfax in the case of Domain) and News Limited (at least as majority owner of REA Group), there is much to be leveraged in the cross median marketing.

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Already the weekly NZ Herald property supplement has tipped its hat to OneRoof, I suspect it will not be long before the supplement is branded OneRoof, mirroring the Domain supplement in the Fairfax newspapers The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Equally the News Limited papers have used the branding style of Realestate.com.au in their property supplements.

The media machine that produces the newspapers around the country generates a vast amount of content around property which will be honey for the OneRoof audience adding to engagement.

I suspect it will not be long before OneRoof quietly smothers the fledgling specialist Commercial portal of True Commercial; it has been labouring away for many years but OneRoof Commercial makes more sense - a single platform for all types of real estate... all under OneRoof.

 

Maturity of digital media

There is a significant difference between a new competitor entering the market for real estate advertising now as compared to back in 2005 or 2009. The industry, and by that I mean the main 5 companies have a clearer view of how they operate today in the digital space. They have confidence in their industry owned portal of Realestate.co.nz. They judge that the relationship with Trade Me is balanced and they have not witnessed the total demise of print media.

Therefore in my mind, they are more likely to accept the establishment of OneRoof especially as Homes.co.nz is already an emerging competitor which has the full support in terms of listings from Ray White. This in someways demonstrates the split in the make up of the 5 major real estate companies when it comes to digital media. Ray White have always been the first mover as they were in 2005 supporting Trade Me, they equally supported Trade Me after the pricing fiasco in 2013 when Trade Me needed an ally. So they have with Homes, judging it better to take strategic advantage early on rather than follow the herd. Bayleys equally with a seasoned media person as General Manager in Greg Hornblow, can see the strategic advantage of an early agreement with OneRoof. As for Barfoot & Thompson and Harcourts they are the most staunch supporters and board members of Realestate.co.nz so it is no surprise that they are hedging their bets when it comes to Homes and OneRoof. As for LJ Hooker I don’t know, except to say they have not been known for strategic moves.

 

Burdens of incumbents

OneRoof is fortunate that the digital media landscape is somewhat fluid at this time, in this I am referencing the two main players.

Realestate.co.nz is the industry back-stop, supported by all real estate companies but feeling a little bit like it is floundering, given the current platform evolution on the web. Its strategic role as the price setter, has been a massive success. But I feel that this is now assumed by many in the industry to be what it was, not so much what it is or what it might become.

Trade Me Property is still fighting with a hand tied behind its back as a function of ‘long memories’ in the industry to the price changes back in 2013, this has limited the role it once held as a market leader in terms of business model and technical platform. Trade Me needs to establish a new platform urgently, especially in regard to the browser as the mobile apps are great but agents are not as engaged in the platform as they once were.

 

Market conditions

The property market especially in Auckland has clearly cooled and likely to remain cool for the next period, be that a year or more, with an expectation of sluggish growth as opposed to negative growth in both sales volumes and prices. For the rest of NZ the fact is what Auckland leads the rest follow (in time).

This property market is going to be very interesting for the property portals; for whilst a cooler market spells ‘longer time on market’ with a rising inventory (with the attendant rise in revenue for per-listing services) it may not depress overall advertising spend, quite the opposite as a cluttered market with high inventory will require smarter marketing to get properties to stand head-and-shoulders above the rest. The real estate industry is likely to go through a structural shift with a large number of agents exiting, but the overall size of the cake of advertising spend may not reduce markedly.

Given the requirements of smarter marketing a new entrant with smart premium advertising options matched to package bundling of print and digital could well reap huge rewards – OneRoof is so well placed.

 

The kill switch

With all this believe and positive encouragement for OneRoof you would think the champagne corks may be popping down at their Central Auckland head office, there remains though one nightmare reality. It is that the real estate industry holds the ignition keys – the listings.

As long as OneRoof fails to gain a decent foothold of listings inventory, the consumer will lose interest and repeated marketing attempts to re-attract them may reach a point beyond which the consumer may ignore the site completely. It is one thing for Trade Me Property to continue to succeed with 92% of listings it is a vastly different matter for a new site to offer at best 25% of listings. OneRoof needs to be very careful not to offside the major 5 real estate companies as without them they will struggle to get beyond 35% of the market even with Bayleys.


The battle for listings between Trade Me and Realestate.co.nz

by Alistair Helm in


A quiet celebration may well have been heard in the Trade Me office in Wellington earlier this week. Such an event will come as a welcome reprise, for when it comes to the Property division of the company, the last 5 years have not been an easy ride; I should know, as I spent the past 3 years working as part of the team to build out a comprehensive platform of tools for Trade Me members and real estate agents.

The celebration would have been for a milestone in the comparative inventory of properties for sale. As of Monday night the number of active listings of properties for sale (excluding bare land and building sections) advertised on Trade Me totalled 28,883, whilst for their competitor Realestate.co.nz it was 28,876 – a small margin of just 7 listings, but for Trade Me a major milestone. For the first time since late 2013, Trade Me has reasserted its mantle of leadership for the inventory of property for sale.

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The past decade in which digital advertising of property-for-sale has really become established as a critical marketing platform, has seen a somewhat chequered performance by Trade Me; but by no means a smooth road for Realestate.co.nz (I was CEO of Realestate.co.nz from 2006 to 2012).

The initial period up until mid 2010 was the most challenging time for Trade Me. Their initial launch in 2005 was not greeted warmly by the majority of the real estate companies with lacklustre support in the earlier years with the foundational move to get Ray White as an early strategic customer; this lead to key regional operators like Tommy’s and Leaders coming on board, as well as medium sized operators such as Professionals and First National before seeing one-by-one the majors of Bayleys, Barfoot & Thompson and then finally Harcourts bowing to the pressure generated by their agents to list on Trade Me. By 2010 the writing was on the wall that Trade Me was accelerating towards 100% inventory of all property for sale.

Between 2010 and the end of 2013 things could not have looked rosier for Trade Me. That period did see a significant tightening of the overall market, leading to a significant decline in overall listings, however given the fact that Trade Me's business model was a monthly subscription irrespective of listings, the money was rolling in as all offices around the country signed up to Trade Me. For Realestate.co.nz this was not an easy time, as given the unparalleled awareness of the Trade Me brand and its massive audience advantage, fighting for relevance was tough and despite the significantly cheaper subscription offering, offices were wavering on their commitment to this industry-owned site.

All that changed in September 2013 when as anyone with any knowledge of the history of this industry will tell you, Trade Me made a mistake. A mistake that has ended up costing them dearly and creating deep divisions within the industry. It was (if you don’t know) a price change for agents and agencies moving from a subscription to a pay per listing model. The consequence of this mistake was a much publicised boycott by agencies of Trade Me listings which saw a listings' leadership over Realestate.co.nz of 27% in mid 2012 slip to a deficit of 18% by the end of 2014 with overall leadership in inventory conceded in February 2014.

 

Apples with Apples

The figures I have used in this analysis, being the number of listings of property-for-sale, does have one glaring issue which lives under the classic phrase of “comparing apples with apples”. The Trade Me total inventory includes private-for-sale listings and of course Realestate.co.nz being an industry-owned site does not list private sellers . Not wishing to rain on their parade, the sad news is that when an adjustment is made to remove private-for-sale listings from the Trade Me inventory the slim advantage disappears and Realestate.co.nz retains leadership of the market of agent listings of property for sale.

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Thanks to Core Logic I have been able to estimate the extent of private listings from the total Trade Me listings inventory (an estimate based on proportion of private settled sales to total settled sales as a surrogate at least). This revised picture shows that Trade Me still lags Realestate.co.nz for leadership in listings, the margin represents some 2,500 listings with Realestate.co.nz having 9% more agent listings than Trade Me.

 

Regional picture

As ever with real estate there is never a single market, there are multiple markets on a local basis and so it is when it comes to inventory.

Analysing the regional inventory at this time shows that Trade Me can take comfort from the success they have had in the Auckland market, where as of today they hold a leadership in inventory of 3% with 10,277 properties for sale in a market. Adjusting for private-for-sale listings (which are low in this region) means that Trade Me has practically 99% of all the agent listings across Auckland.

In contrast looking to those markets where the 2014 boycott was strongest. Trade Me continues to lag significantly behind, specifically in the Manawatu / Wanganui region as well as the Hawkes Bay. Trade Me in these regions have between 60% and 70% of all agent listings.

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Online Property Valuation Models – how accurate are they?

by Alistair Helm in


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As might have been anticipated, my recent article providing a guide to the current portfolio of providers of online property valuations models triggered the inevitable question – "just how accurate are they?"

So I thought I would do some desk research. However before I unleash a barrage of criticism stating that there are heaps of examples where the Automated Valuation Models (AVM’s) are so wide of the mark to make them laughable, let me simply say this. There over 1.5 million AVM’s or potential AVM's for NZ properties – there will always be outliers and extremes. I do not have time nor patience to review thousands of properties, or even hundreds of properties. I chose to select just 12 properties.

The method I have used, is to track the latest auction results as published by the team at Interest.co.nz as the auction year started after Christmas. I simply took the first 12 I saw which comprised 8 properties in Auckland and 4 in Tauranga. So again I acknowledge that my sample is hardly representative nor truly random. It is made up of auction sales only, the sales are only for those 2 areas of the country and represented a very quiet period of the year.

With these 12 property sales results I went to each of the 5 providers:

I knew none of these providers had updated their valuations to take account of any of these actual 12 sales neither would the sale records have been picked up through local council sales or agent reporting so there was no bias of an AVM being influenced by these recent sales.

Another point to note is the analysis compared the sale price at auction to the mid-point of the price range of the AVM.

So here is the table of results. The colour code used is blue where the AVM equalled the sale price exactly, red signifies an AVM below the sale price with green where the AVM is above sale price. Finally, grey indicates that the provider had no AVM for the property.

As you can see, the visual skew towards red indicates that based on this sample set most AVM’s were below sale price.

The original version of this article I used an average variance measure, after receiving valuable feedback I have now used the calculation of Gross Median Error.

All providers achieved a gross median error of less than 10%, with Realestate.co.nz achieving less than 5% which is impressive. I would deduce that a factor in their accuracy, is they benefit from the very latest REINZ data each month of unconditional sales, whilst all other provides rely largely on settled sales which come through at least a month to 2 months later.

Another perspective I was keen to examine in respect of the accuracy of AVM's was the indicative range they provide to reflect the level of confidence. For each provider, for each property I assessed the range as a percentage of the midpoint price.

This analysis is very illuminating. The provider with the tightest range (in theory indicating confidence factor) is MyValocity, closely followed by Homes, both just under 10%. This effectively meaning that their AVM range is 5% below the midpoint to 5% above which I would judge as fairly acceptable given this is a computer based estimation with no detailed knowledge of the specifics of the property.

Of interest in this analysis is the very wide margin in the range from Trade Me Property at close on 30% with their tightest range being for a single property at just 19%. Similarly Realestate.co.nz seem to apply a standard c.21% to all AVM’s.


For completeness here are the raw numbers