Everybody wants to build a property portal:
Estate Agents who are annoyed someone else is making money; techies who find the home search a pain (it is); former investment bankers who think 'fixing real estate' is the next big dot com gold mine.
Over 12 years in the UK, only one non-incumbent has succeeded: Alex Chesterman with his M&A-formed Zoopla.
In the US, there is certainly more opportunity, as the 50 states have different laws and licensing requirements. Zillow, Trulia and the incumbent Move are the most visible nationwide, without real nationwide coverage.
VCs are funding niche plays that are succeeding in capturing meaningful market share in the US: ApartmentList, Zumper Rentals, Cozy.co (not yet a portal, but likely to become one).
In the UK, there's a literal graveyard of challenger portals, many of which Zoopla acquired for their online traffic/audience.
Plentific, Kangaroom, FindProperly, Locatable (although they are pivoting to an online hub for your home, starting with a service to help with splitting bills in a shared home) are some of the new crop of contenders to the dominant Rightmove's crown.
Only Kangaroom provides any real differentiation, with its focus on spare rooms.
Plentific is a bewilderingly complicated site, designed to search with your finances front and centre. If property search is about passion and desire, Plentific seemingly is the antithesis of human behaviour. Using a feed from Zoopla, they have definitely created a site packed with 'features'. Ultimately, incremental improvements to the property portal do not a viable business model make. Lucky the founders have deep pockets to provide employment to designers and developers who would otherwise be working on template websites. Money also brings 'professional' endorsement: http://www.jamesdearsley.co.uk/other-technology/plentific-a-property-portal-with-a-difference/
FindProperly also takes a feed from Zoopla, and looks to visualise this information in some fascinating and news-worthy ways. Where Plentific is complicated, FindProperly's developer 'gets' people and provides a simple way into your home search. The tube map search is especially pleasing.
Locatable are beyond any doubt run by intelligent people. Their iterations have taken a winding path, but they have finally realised there is little to be gained from building a challenger portal with incremental improvements on the current experience. Their current direction is to pull together every piece of information about your home, so you have a single hub to split payments, compare utility providers and maybe even control internet-connected devices. They'll need a lot of capital to get the volume of traffic they require, but with the 'splitting bills' feature they are finally solving the 'why people should bother to turn up' problem most web entrepreneurs gloss over in their business plans.
All this makes for a lot to talk about and analyse, but at the end of the day the most potent challenger portal looks to be the agent-led initiative currently known as Agents' Mutual. How's that for irony: Rightmove and Zoopla look the same, operate the same, have the same stock; it'll be the agents providing consumers with a differentiated proposition. Choice is a powerful thing; and consumers still have no power when searching for a home.
Why does Agents' Mutual provide the most credible choice? They understand supply controls the market. And agents currently control supply.
The spanner in the works: property owners hate agents.
Only agents have cracked how to get money out of property owners, but it can't be too long before the agency service is commoditised further by property transactions being conducted online. That's when this market will become interesting, when it becomes a true marketplace.