Dubai: Over 150 real estate brokerages in the UAE have joined hands against the online portal Property Finder after it did not give in to demands for a three-month advertising fee waiver in wake of the coronavirus slowdown.
As a mark of protest, they have withdrawn around 20,000 property listings from the website. The numbers are rising as more brokerages join the campaign. The unprecedented move has send shock waves across the industry, already reeling from the pandemic.
Estate agents said they were forced to take the drastic step as the portal had declined requests to relax advertising charges, paid upfront in post-dated cheques as per annual contracts. Brokerages pay between Dh10,000-Dh30,000 each month to advertise on Property Finder’s website.
Bigger firms fork out up to Dh1.2 million annually. Online portals Bayut and Dubizzle, which charge less, have already waived charges.
Brokers feel shortchanged
Mahmoud Khalil, CEO and managing partner at Royal Real Estate, said they expected similar gesture from Property Finder. “At a time when everyone from governments, landlords and corporates are offering sops, one thought Property Finder would also come up with something to ease our burden - more so because it’s among the biggest real estate portals in the UAE.
“All what we want is a three-month relief. Is that asking for too much?”
All what we want is a three-month relief. Is that asking for too much?
Raj Bansal of Homesmith Estate Brokers, who signed an annual contract with Property Finder last month, said the pandemic has thrown the industry into disarray.
“Deals have collapsed, house viewings have ground to a halt and our phones have fallen silent. We urged the portal to help us tide over the crisis by either waiving the advertising fee or allowing us to cancel the contract without paying high exit fees - but they remained adamant.
“We had no option but to hit back by delisting our properties.”
This, he reckoned, would lower the ratings of the portal and impact their business.
Many also accused the portal for using predatory tactics. An agent who removed dozens of listings last week said they were told they could advertise on the portal for free for three months as long as they commit to leaving Property Finder’s rivals.
“That’s monopolistic and unethical,” he said.
Sara Waqar, communications director, Sky Links Real Estate, said brokers are struggling to survive amid near-zero demand. “Restrictions on agents to step out for property viewings, and no significant concessions on part of portals like Property Finder that form the biggest part of costs. are killing our business.
“Property portals have benefited immensely from us in the past. They have the ability to extend us a three-month free relief period, optional short term contracts and flexible contract cancellation. This is the only way to combat unemployment and forced liquidation of brokerages in the UAE.”
Property Finder said they have given a Dh7.5 million relief package to clients besides a host of products and services to help agents perform their duties during the COVID-19 restrictions.
“We have maintained constant contact with our clients, with our CEO reaching out personally to all of them to find ways to relieve strains. Agencies have been given multiple options from which they could choose from, the most popular being a two-month relief option,” a spokesperson said in an email to “Gulf News”.
The portal claimed they have not seen any significant drop in listings, adding that people were still searching for properties and they continued getting a “good number of enquiries”.
“The real estate market is still transacting contrary to popular belief. Just last week 510 sales transactions took place in Dubai worth Dh1.09 billion,” said the spokesperson.
But the brokers are far from convinced. “I haven’t had any leads for weeks and want to terminate my contract,” said Bansal.
Meanwhile, Haider Ali Khan, CEO of Bayut, said in the current situation, it is more important than ever to work together as a community, stay connected and raise the bar on the level of service to emerge successfully out of this situation.
He said their relief package announced on April 2 has elicited an “overwhelmingly positive response from the brokerage community”.
“The fact that we have not compromised on our marketing spends to give agencies extra visibility in these challenging times, shows our sincerity and commitment towards our partners and our industry,” said Khan.