Wednesday 16 January 2019

Digital estate agency out to shake up market and cut commission for sellers

Local Heroes

Tony Deane, head of Moovingo, says by eliminating unnecessary costs it can pass those savings onto the customers. Picture: Frank Mc Grath
Tony Deane, head of Moovingo, says by eliminating unnecessary costs it can pass those savings onto the customers. Picture: Frank Mc Grath

Gabrielle Monaghan

One of 33-year-old Tony Deane's earliest introductions to the property industry was when he and the rest of the family were roped into getting showhouses ready for the 1995 launch of Camberley Oaks, an estate built in the south Dublin suburb of Churchtown by his developer father, Tony Deane Snr.

Deane Homes, founded the year Tony Jr was born, built more than 2,000 houses in Dublin, including Foxrock Wood, Brighton Wood and Kilgobbin Wood - as well as the Foxrock house the Deane family grew up in.

But the property crash called a temporary halt both to Tony's plans to enter the construction industry and to Deane Homes's ambitions.

By the time Tony graduated in 2009 with a masters' degree in project management from the UCD Smurfit Business School, Ireland was in the throes of the one of the worst property slumps in the world.

Like hundreds of thousands of his peers, Tony left Ireland after graduation. In New York, he secured a job with the Wall Street brokerage firm JH Darbie, sharing an apartment with his friend Tom Gleeson, who owns the Bunsen burger chain. After a brief stint working as a risk analyst for Merrill Lynch in Dublin in 2011, Tony relocated again in 2012, this time to London, where he worked for RISQ Capital, a financial services provider for the sports and gaming sectors.

The same year, Deane Homes went into receivership in 2012 following judgements from its lender Ulster Bank.

In 2013, when Tony Jr found a job with the sales software giant Salesforce in Dublin and decided to put his London apartment on the market, he was taken aback by the commission agents were charging to sell his Canary Wharf home.

"It ended up costing £8,000, and the agent had merely visited six times and put ads up on Rightmove and Zoopla," Tony says.

"It really hit home that the business model of traditional estate agents was broken."

While working with Salesforce for four years, helping small and medium-sized businesses market, sell and service their customers more effectively, Tony's frustration with the outmoded practices of bricks-and-mortar estate agencies lingered at the back of his mind. While researching potential new customers for Salesforce, Tony came across - a hybrid estate agent that charges vendors a flat fee - in a list of the top UK startups of 2015.

In the UK - where the stock market-listed company became known for its TV commercials referring to the "commisery" - or sinking feeling - vendors experience when they realise how much they have to pay an agent for selling their property - its success prompted Savills to invest in a digital rival called Yopa.

"I thought, 'that's just what the Irish property market needs'. In 2016, I went to the UK and met with the founders of Purplebricks at an event," Tony says. "They encouraged me to set up a business in Ireland."

The developer's son combined his experience in the family property business with his expertise in technology and finance to create Moovingo, which he describes as Ireland's first hybrid estate agency. He set it up with Jack Brady, a former estate agent with Turley Property Advisors.

Instead of charging a percentage of the sale price as commission, Moovingo aims to undercut traditional competitors by offering sellers a fixed-rate fee. In return for €1,500, property vendors get everything from professional photography of their property to sales negotiations and advertising on digital platforms - as long as they are willing to host viewings themselves. For €2,500, customers get the entire package.

In addition, vendors can sign in to Moovingo's platform at any time of the day or night to review offers for their property or arrange to host viewings. Likewise, buyers can book a viewing or make an offer instantly, without having to wait for an agent to return a call or email.

"Some 70pc of property activity happens outside office hours - people view properties on Daft between 6pm and 10pm," Tony says. "Instead of waiting a day for a reply from an agent to sort out a viewing time, our customers can click on a viewing time and book that automatically."

Tony argues little has changed in online property technology in Ireland since the creation of portals and almost 20 years ago. "Daft and MyHome really helped agents and buyers, because buyers no longer have to knock on the doors of every agency," he says.

"But nobody has thought of anything to help sellers reduce the fees they pay."

He says Moovingo can afford to undercut established incumbents because it doesn't incur the rents, local authority rates and other overheads that come with operating bricks-and-mortar branches.

"We eliminate unnecessary costs and pass those savings onto the customer," Tony says.

Moovingo operates from just one office at Sandyford Hall, an office block built by Deane Homes, and shares office space with Molior Construction, a company set up by Tony's brother Ciaran, a qualified carpenter. In March, Moovingo acted as the selling agent for the launch of Kenler, a development of eight new homes in Sandyford built by Molior. By opting for Moovingo's online platform, Molior saved some €30,000 in estate agency fees, Tony claims.

Deane Homes, meanwhile, emerged from Nama last year and has three new developments in the pipeline, all of which will be handled by Moovingo. Tony is also in talks with other developers to sell their schemes.

Tony and Jack spent more than a year working with developers on their digital platform before launching to the market in October and kicking off a marketing campaign in December.

They attracted visitors to the website by publishing links on Facebook and other social media to catchy content aimed at vendors and buyers, with titles such as "The true cost of selling your home" and "The biggest mistakes every first-time seller makes". The strategy is reaping rewards, with the site attracting as many as 800 visits a day.

Tony's ambitions for Moovingo include hiring in-house estate agents to help the company establish itself in the Dublin market within the next year and then expanding nationwide and to foreign territories that don't have an online estate agency. "In South Africa, for instance, up to 9pc of the sale price is charged in commission and in Spain you can get charged up to 5pc," Tony says.

"There are lots of countries out there with opportunities, such as in Eastern Europe, where markets are only starting to get their own version of Daft."

While Tony and Jack drummed up a six-figure sum from their own resources to fund the company to date, the pair plan to raise outside investment if they get the opportunity to expand abroad. However, one of the biggest challenges they face is hiring agents to staff the operation.

"Graduates from the Dublin Institute of Technology's property courses all have roles waiting for them at Savills and Sherry Fitz, which all have graduate programmes set up," Tony says.

"There is going to be a huge shortage of agents and competition for talent is going to be tough. I know a few older agents who say we are mad going into the industry because everything takes a wet week to go ahead."

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