Vast swathes of British industry may have been brought to a complete standstill by the pandemic. But the property market has defied all expectations.
Thanks to a stamp duty holiday, a stampede to the countryside and a chronic housing shortage in many areas, prices continue to soar.
Speaking via Zoom from his home office in Battersea, South-West London, Zoopla’s chief executive Charlie Bryant tells me his company is already pulling out the stops to invent new ways of simulating the housing market and feed Britain’s fascination with property.
Fast track: Charlie Bryant has seen demand surge at Zoopla
Zoopla’s bright idea is a new database for every home, a sort of CV for your house, that Bryant says will encourage more homeowners to enter the race for plum cottages in the Cotswolds and the Chiltern Hills.
The website, called My Home, will allow homeowners to view and edit a page dedicated to their property, and track other homes they might want to buy – even if they are not on the market.
‘Just over one million people move home every year, but that pales into insignificance compared to the ten million people who are active on property portals every month,’ says the boss of the online property giant.
‘If we can help equip them with the information they need to turn that aspiration into a transaction, then that will play a massive part in driving this industry forward.’
Every page will list all of the details about that property, alongside photos and valuations. It will also display a timeline of key events for the property, such as sales information, historic floor plans and home improvements.
Ten million Britons are active on property portals
Bryant says: ‘This site will provide encyclopedic knowledge of everything a homeowner, or prospective homeowner, needs to know about the house they own, or would like to buy. We will also let people track properties they are interested in, so they can come back to them time and again, and see what is happening in the neighbourhood.’
Homeowners will be able to log on to the page for their own house and add details of renovations and all the essential documents they might need to sell. They will then be able to contact an agent for a valuation and, with the documents at the ready, they can quickly share this with the agent to speed up a sale when the time is right.
‘Currently it takes around 14 weeks on average in the UK to sell a home,’ Bryant says. ‘We need to speed up this process and in the years to come, My Home, with other Zoopla products such as those enabling faster mortgage underwriting, will play a role in this.’
Zoopla has around 19,400 estate agent branches on its site, while Rightmove has 19,197
Zoopla already stores a lot of data on its main site. But My Home will give a far more comprehensive and colourful view of the housing market and encourage homeowners to update their listing even if they aren’t considering a move.
The business generates its income from estate agents listing properties on the site, and from selling software to them. If My Home generates more sales for agents, then it will attract more to list on Zoopla.
The portal has around 19,400 estate agent branches on its site, while Rightmove has 19,197. Bryant thinks his team’s data expertise will keep increasing their numbers. And he is convinced the property market will remain buoyant as people continue to compete for space in Britain’s most attractive rural areas.
‘We are seeing demand 80 per cent higher than in the same period in previous years,’ he says.
Big swing to commuter and rural properties
‘As long as that demand outstrips supply, the property market will remain strong. And we’ve seen a big swing towards commuter properties and the rural hinterland.
‘For every house that is for sale in the Cotswolds, there have been over 50 expressions of interest. People are reconsidering their lifestyles, they don’t need to be in the office every day of the week.’
The technology industry is still reeling from Deliveroo’s disastrous flotation, when the takeaway firm’s shares tanked 30 per cent on its stock market debut. But Bryant, 51, who worked as an investment banker for 14 years, thinks other technology firms will still want to float in the London market.
‘Every company has its own peculiarities and I don’t think that in any way shows souring relationships in tech between UK investors and UK corporates,’ he says.
‘There’s always been this widely-held view that European tech investors don’t understand the industry the way US investors do. But you can see people get it from the success of big tech icons like Ocado.
‘The City does recognise the UK is a service-based economy, and that it can make a real difference in tech. I think the City can see the returns for investors, but valuing tech businesses is never easy because they are so high growth.’
Charlie Bryant, 51
Family: Wife and three children.
Book: The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz.
Restaurant: Daphne’s, Italian restaurant in South Kensington, London.
Film: The Thomas Crown Affair 1999 remake (above).
Hobbies: DIY and refurbishing properties.
Ideal holiday: Zanzibar, post-lockdown.
Bryant was chief executive of property data firm Hometrack before it was acquired by Zoopla in 2017, and he became head of the wider group soon after.
Since Bryant took over at Zoopla, the company has been on a hiring spree, recruiting 258 new staff since the first lockdown – a third of its current workforce.
He is thrilled to have so many new people join the company, but he hasn’t met any of them in person yet. Some started going back to the London offices last week, but it won’t be fully staffed until September.
Bryant is still mainly based in his home office in Battersea, and he says employees will also be allowed to work from home in future.
‘I’m excited to meet all the new colleagues, and hopefully they are dying to meet us,’ he says.
‘But every job will be flexible by default now. We know that a lot of the best innovation happens face-to-face, but there are times when people don’t need to be in the office, such as when software engineers want to get their heads down writing code. It will be a bit of an experiment though. We don’t have all the answers yet.’
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.