There are already plenty of places where would-be property buyers can browse homes online.
But a new start-up claims to bring something new to the mix, offering buyers four ‘tricks’ to help them get ahead in a hot housing market.
It says it can get them in to view homes before they are listed, for example, and ‘matchmake’ buyers and potential sellers.
Boomin officially launched on 2 April last year, but has been on a marketing drive recently with adverts online and on television.
This is Money decided to take a closer look at the model and whether it could be helpful to buyers.
Boomin aims to provide a deeper view of market activity beyond just live property listings
Its founders, brothers Michael and Kenny Bruce, were behind the hybrid estate agency Purplebricks, and are not afraid of upsetting the status quo.
According to them, Boomin will be a ‘game-changer’ for buyers, sellers and estate agents alike.
They also say there are 8,000 estate agency branches already signed up to list properties on the site.
Michael Bruce, founder and group chief executive of Boomin says: ‘Whilst Boomin operates as a portal, it is only one element of the overall proposition.
‘We are very different to Rightmove and Zoopla. They are classified advertising sites that post property ads and do little else to deliver a better experience for consumers and agents.
‘Boomin is a game-changing property platform that uses our unique features and tools to connect agents and homeowners earlier, encourage more sellers, buyers, landlords and tenants into the market, and help to increase transaction numbers and win agents more business.’
What are its ‘unique’ features?
The first of the four features Boomin is advertising is called SecretProperty.
This allows house hunters to see properties that are being valued by estate agents before they come to market.
Typically, buyers might rely on their agent to call them about such properties in advance, but Boomin wants to make this possible online, too.
Its second feature, SneakPeek, allows buyers to book viewings of new listings up to 14 days before the full details are available online, potentially getting ahead of the competition.
Its MatchMaker feature, according to Boomin, is deigned to connect buyers with would-be sellers in particular roads, streets or school catchments, whose properties aren’t on the market yet.
Buyers can post a free advert, and potential sellers can ask to be introduced.
When a buyer asks to be introduced, the seller decides whether they want to take things forward via a professional estate agent.
Boomin claims to offer four unique features that will get buyers ahead of their competition
Finally, its ChainMaker feature will notify buyers if a sale falls out of bed and a property that had been under offer suddenly becomes available again – before it is officially back on the market.
These features could be tempting to buyers operating in today’s fiercely competitive market.
On average there are currently 19 homes for sale per estate agency office compared to an average of 552 registered house hunters, according to Propertymark, the membership body for estate agents.
This means that a typical estate agent has 29 potential buyers for every available property.
Prior to the pandemic, this level of buyer interest was last seen as far back as early 2004. In April that year there were 487 house hunters registered per branch.
However, the average branch had 52 properties for sale in 2004 to meet that demand.
‘Boomin’s timing is very good,’ says professional buying agent Henry Pryor.
‘We have a property drought at the moment and we’re missing 40 per cent of stock.
‘Any service that appeals to buyers by saying we might be able to find you houses you might not be able to find elsewhere, will get some interest as there is such a thirst for listings at present.’
But despite admitting its arrival is well-timed, Pryor is sceptical about whether what Boomin is offering will be of value to buyers.
Although Boomin might offer buyers the opportunity to see them earlier, the properties it lists will still ultimately be listed on other property websites.
‘I’m afraid I’m not taken in by the four features,’ he says. ‘As a buyer I just want to find properties that I can’t find anywhere else.
‘The internet is littered with the graves of young pretenders who aspired to take on Rightmove and lost – I even had one.
‘Unless you can tempt me to come and see your site by offering me something I won’t find elsewhere, I’m never going to read all about the clever things you say you do.
‘When you suggest that there are four tricks this is exactly what you should expect to get. It’s just that they aren’t performed by paid-up members of the Magic Circle.’
Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and a former Rics residential chairman is slightly more optimistic about Boomin’s prospects, but believes the appeal of its unique features will rely heavily on the state of the market.
‘The SecretProperty feature can be valuable for some, but other sellers wish to ensure their property is exposed as widely and as soon as possible to the market,’ says Leaf.
‘The relevance will also depend on the type of property and whether it is in short or over-supply at a particular time.
‘The MatchMaker feature is useful, but we find that buyers change their requirements quite frequently as circumstances alter.
‘It may be the case that it has some use initially for those wanting to see what sort of bang they can get for their buck.’
What else is Boomin offering?
Boomin also claims to offer homeowners the ‘most accurate online property valuation ever’.
It claims its SmartVal feature can get an accurate online house valuation carried out by a real, local agent and delivered back to the buyer in just 15 minutes.
With SmartVal, Boomin says customers can request an accurate online sale or rental valuation of their home, delivered in ‘real-time’ by real estate agents
Once again Henry Pryor is very sceptical of its claims.
‘It’s a marketing gimmick, says Pryor. ‘Online ‘valuations’ are a nonsense.
‘It’s just a cheesy way to flatter sellers by suggesting that their property might be worth more than it really is.
‘These are just the latest people trying desperately to commoditise homes. There is a wall of money trying to convince us that people pay for a property by the square foot.
‘They want to replicate what happens with commercial property but homes are like art – what price is the view from the kitchen or that feeling when you walk over the threshold?
‘If you could price in such a way, then there would be an app on your phone that would tell you what a property was worth and I would be out of a job.’
Boomin’s ‘Playground’ page allows potential buyers to save images of properties and interiors into collections, and share their ideas with friends
As if designing a new property search portal wasn’t enough by itself, Boomin also wants to help buyers plan the interiors of their new homes.
Its Property Playground feature allows users to browse images for inspiration, as well as find the furniture and homeware to kit out their homes.
Boomin has partnered with over 30 brands to deliver this service, including M&S, Farrow & Ball, Cox and Cox and Made.
It can also connect users with professionals, such as interior designers, landscapers, and architects.
Can it take on Rightmove and Zoopla?
With its array of features, Bruce believes Boomin has what it takes to attract customers to its website.
However, to succeed it will need to wrestle market share from the giants of Rightmove and Zoopla.
At present Boomin lists more than 100,000 properties for sale across the nation, and a similar number to rent.
Boomin also claims to have had 20million visits since its launch last year, with traffic growing incrementally every month.
Rightmove recorded over 260 million site visits in March 2021 alone and currently has more than 800,000 properties advertised for sale on its portal
‘We currently work with over 60 per cent of the top 100 agencies in the UK,’ says Bruce.
‘It’s the fastest ever accrual of branches in UK portal history. It took Rightmove about eight years to reach this position.
‘We have had many millions of unique visitors to the site, and we are continuing to grow our traffic as our media mix starts to attract different audiences.’
However, despite its impressive start, there is unsurprisingly still an enormous gap between Boomin and Rightmove or Zoopla.
Rightmove recorded over 260 million site visits in March 2021 alone.
It currently has more than 800,000 properties advertised for sale on its portal, which it claims equates to 95 per cent of all property for sale in the UK.
Zoopla attracts over 70 million visits per month, with more than one million listings for both sales and rentals.
Michael Bruce, founder and chief executive of Boomin, previously set up Purplebricks with his brother, Kenny
Despite this, Bruce sees Boomin as the innovative young upstart that is in a position to out-manoeuver the old establishment.
‘Property portals were born out of the world of classified advertising, and therefore they think like advertisers not innovators,’ says Bruce.
‘They do not possess entrepreneurial instinct and as we’ve seen in so many other categories, once you’re trapped in the “innovators dilemma,” powerful new entrants can very quickly approach and overtake the legacy players.
‘We’re excited to continue bringing even more game changing innovations to this market.’
Whilst Bruce is confident that Boomin can some day overtake the likes of Rightmove and Zoopla, there will be many within the industry that will be more doubtful.
‘I don’t think it will take on Rightmove or Zoopla,’ says Pryor.
‘To compete with the big boys you need to set up something that will attract buyers.
‘This is usually homes for sale, preferably homes not listed elsewhere, and you need a budget the size of Test & Trace to promote it.
‘As a professional buyer, why would I use Boomin? If they have listings that I can’t find on Rightmove then that would be a great inducement, but this is one of the few claims that they don’t actually make.’
Ewen Bunting, a property expert at estate agents James Pendleton is equally unsure that Boomin has what it takes to challenge the likes of Rightmove.
‘Boomin should be applauded for trying to break Rightmove’s grip on the market, but face a huge uphill battle to do so,’ says Bunting.
‘Ultimately, market penetration is key to a property portal’s success. Unless you have all the agents signed up, you will struggle to convince house hunters of your worth, however many nifty features you have.
‘Rightmove has 20 years of people’s trust as a brand and even big-spending rivals like OnTheMarket have struggled to make a dent in their armour.
‘They have risen to the top of the property food chain and most agents can’t afford not to have a subscription.’
Boomin will begin charging estate agents to use its property website from April
Boomin’s fate will likely depend on whether estate agents continue signing up, and whether those who have already joined remain with it.
At present it claims hundreds of branches are signing up every week, enticed by the fact it is currently offering a fee-free service.
However from April, Agents outside London will pay £399 a month for its sales and lettings service, whilst agents within London will pay £499.
This could be the moment of reckoning for Boomin. If estate agents decide the fee isn’t worth paying, then it is hard to see how it will succeed.
That said its fees may still be low enough to keep estate agents on board, particularly given the amount Rightmove charges for its service.
As of 30 June 2021, the average amount that agents and developers spend on Rightmove was just over £1,160 per year.
‘Estate agents always sign up for something that is free, but they will need a compelling reason to pay for Boomin and at this stage I’m not sure what they would get for their money if they did,’ says Pryor.
‘There is a lot of respect for what the founders achieved with Purplebricks, but there are slightly more who expect it to go the same way.
‘Purplebricks listed in 2005, the shares went to £5 in 2017 but today you can have as many as you like for 20p.
‘My advice to all these startups is give me half the money you’ve raised.
‘Give the other half back to whoever gave it to you, and and you will only have lost half what you could have lost.’
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