Home search sites have a new kid on the block

With Rupert Murdoch's might behind him, the man launching the latest property website, Globrix, says the market leader Rightmove is there for the taking. David Parsley reports
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The Independent Online

Daniel Lee is a confident man. It is six weeks since he launched the trial version of his property website, and already he believes he can succeed where many have failed by knocking Rightmove.co.uk off its perch to make Globrix.com the nation's favourite home search site.

There is some justification for his bold claim. He has the backing of a certain Rupert Murdoch, who last October took just under half of Globrix via a multimillion-pound investment from News International.

Lee is Globrix's chief executive and, together with his team, retains a smidgen over half the company. In a year's time he's certain he will blow rivals such as Primelocation.com, FindaProperty.com and Rightmove out of the water.

"We're in the trial, or beta, phase," says Lee. "But people can still log on to the site and use all the unique search methods. We're planning to enter full launch in two to four weeks and, by then, we'll have at least 85 per cent of all properties for sale in Britain available to view."

So what makes Globrix different from its competitors? For a start, it takes a fresh approach to the property search website model. Rather than charging estate agents to list homes on a centralised site, it works like an internet search engine such as Google, automatically indexing agents' websites in a searchable database. When users log on, they are given links to relevant properties on the estate agent's original site.

"Why should agents pay for listing on other websites when they can list on ours for absolutely nothing, and get users directed to their own websites?" asks Lee. "We're entering an economic slowdown and many agents may be looking to cut costs. Therefore, why pay the £400 monthly fee for each agency branch to list on something like Rightmove or Primelocation?

"If you're an agent with 10 branches and you want them all on these sites you'll have to spend something like £48,000 a year. You'll have more eyeballs on our site and your listing is free."

Many of the UK's 14,000 estate agency branches list on both Rightmove and Primelocation. Lee believes there is a strong case for dumping at least one as the pressures of a slowing property market begin to tell.

Globrix will try to make its cash through advertising. Lee claims the group will make a profit in its first year of trading. "We've seen how things have gone in just the last six weeks and we're already attracting a great many advertisers."

The company has signed three launch advertisers – the agents Foxtons, Knight Frank and Savills – and many more are said to be committed to using the site. Advertisers can buy space against keywords entered by users – for example, ensuring that their advertising appears whenever a user enters a regional search term. In addition, they can promote their regional "property of the week" whenever a user looks for homes in that area.

Lee also claims Globrix makes the often tiresome process of trawling the internet for your ideal home far simpler. While its rivals have limited search criteria, Globrix users can add preferences such a barn conversion, stables or even the number of en suite bathrooms required.

"It's much easier to find exactly what you're looking for with us and that saves huge amounts of time," says Lee.

Rightmove has spent seven years building up its brand and becoming the site most visited by homebuyers. It has three million users, about double the number of Primelocation and FindaProperty. Six weeks in and Globrix has more than 400,000 users, claims Lee.

Miles Shipside is the commercial director at Rightmove. If he's concerned by the new kid on the block, he's not showing it. "Many have launched new sites and claimed they will beat Rightmove to the number-one spot," he says. "But no one has."

Perhaps Shipside shouldn't be quite so gung-ho. Shares in Rightmove, the only independently listed property website, have had a tough time in recent months. The company hit a year-high last October at 634p, valuing it at £1.2bn. In just four months this value has almost halved to £640m as the share price has plummeted to 347.5p.

But not even that fazes Shipside. The fall has got nothing to do with Globrix, he claims. It's the slowdown. "All the others promised great things," he says. "And some have had major backing. Lord Rothermere thought he was going to take our top spot when he bought Primelocation but it's still a long way from us, as is his other site,Findaproperty."

When two years ago, Rothermere's Daily Mail & General Trust, publisher of the Daily Mail paid £48m for Primelocation, few thought Rightmove could take on such an empire. It did and still has twice as many users as its closest rival. Rightmove is expected to present a stellar set of full-year results on Friday, with some observers claiming the company could repeat last year's trick of more than doubling profits from the 2006 figure of £17.7m.

So Murdoch's first task will be to batter his old enemy DMGT before he can present himself as a challenger to Rightmove for the property website crown.