Image Credit: Mutual | CEO and Founder, Max Fuller
Mutual is the ‘The Off-Market Property Platform’ for the public and ‘The Pre-Portal Property Platform’ for estate agents.
In many ways as founder of Mutual, Max Fuller is the personal embodiment of his very different platform, which gives empowerment and control back to all property stakeholders in a smart agile way.
‘We called it Mutual, as it provides mutual benefits to each party; buyers get mutual benefit through the earliest access to the newest properties. Sellers benefit through an opportunity to test the level of market interest before committing and agents get qualified market appraisal leads with qualified buyer leads attached’
To explain, Max has been in and around the ‘property business’ for over thirty years, and it shows. He understands big complicated estate agency concepts, and loves getting into the detail of things. Most importantly he solves vendor, buyer, and estate agent’s problems. Imagine Rodin’s thinker, or Mastermind’s black chair, and you are very much in Max’s territory.
Unlike some in the Proptech world, Max has been around a bit in the property industry, he started with Midland Bank, flexed into financial services before working for a Lender in the mortgage brokering vertical which brought him into contact with agents.
He then started twenty-five years ago building a property portfolio as a professional landlord, which involved ‘buying and selling numerous properties’ and experiencing the inherent problems.
Max also developed some of these properties. When I asked what his day job was prior to Mutual? in typical modest fashion he said, ‘Being a semi-retired professional landlord of a portfolio of some HMO’s other single let properties’ which in itself seems a pretty complex nine to five.
At present the company is a small elite core team, with Sussanne Chambers an experienced start up veteran, who deals with the technology, sales, and marketing functions. Supported by a collective of outsourced expert individuals, supporting at key stages as the operation, founded in 2015 grows.
Eureka and it only took 5 years
Asking when did the idea of Mutual Off Market strike? Max said ‘Five years ago, it started as a mortgage product aligning buyers and sellers through agents, the idea then morphed’ it was still around helping buyers, sellers, and agents but Max realised that he need a much bigger holistic solution to cover several property pain points from the different stake holder perspectives.
‘I wanted to solve several problems, take for example the poor registered buyer experience that I have always received when using agents, … flurry of contact during the initial stage … sporadic contact for a short while after and then you are soon forgotten, essentially treated like cannon fodder’.
For our thinker, ‘Trust and transparency was a real problem, buyers often feel a select few get first dibs and this taints the estate agency industry’. These and other thoughts became central in the coming years culminating in an ecosystem style offering that rewards collaboration on all levels, rather than a one-dimensional listing portal.
Mutual off market on a mission pre-portal
‘We have provided a platform which enables agents to pre-market their actual market appraisals as opposed to just their instructions, it places properties during the appraisal immediately into the vision of their registered buyer database. Not just their own buyer database but also other registered buyers on the Mutual platform creating a wider database for agents to launch properties of their prospective vendors’.
Image Credit: Mutual | Screenshot of agent homepage on Mutual proptech solution
This is only part of the – smart overarching solution – Max tells me with a glint in his eye, Mutual ‘gives buyers the opportunity to interact with those properties’ so they are first not last to know about new stock. But, in a revolutionary twist, potential vendors can gauge the level of buyer interest in their property as they ‘can actually see the registered buyer interest’ through their own dashboard access.
Max explains that everything is done in an anonymous way, all data is anonymized, but the whole ecosystem benefits all stakeholders. The agent instead of saying ‘Mr prospective Vendor I have lots of potential buyers’, often taken with a pinch of salt, can instead in real time show these potential client buyers exist and the level of their interest and readiness.
Also, buyers are more empowered, essentially controlling their own buyer experience, they can stay on Mutual ‘for as long as they want so, are no longer forgotten’.
Handing back the power to estate agents, vendors and buyers
Old fashioned property portals list stock or property inventory; diminish agents’ brands and keep the three key stakeholders in the property mix, estate agents, vendors and buyers segregated. In the age of Generation-Z, high interconnection, think social media and changing property consumer habits, Mutual has the Mastermind winning answer.
Agents win big
For agents it gives them three great advantages, first the ability to ‘list’ a market appraisal pre-market, which obtains buyer interest ahead of instruction. Cutting down timescales and allows the interaction between the buyers and the property.
The agent and the prospective vendor can see what that level of interest is, potentially bringing forward new instructions for the agent as the ‘vendor’ becomes influenced through the visibility of buyer interest to instruct and sooner.
Max, hits me with another of his quick facts, ‘thirty per cent of instructions have not occurred 30 days after market appraisal’ by which he means the remaining 70% of those coming to market do so between immediately and 30 days. Mutual acts like a magnet, Pre-Marketing draws buyer interest, in turn pulling the prospective vendor towards the Mutual agent.
Max goes on to explain that as most vendors get three agent appraisals, 66% of the time the agent statistically won’t be the last person through the door, and following the market appraisal second and third contact is often tricky, agents do not want to be pushy for fear of losing the instruction.
If the agent is seen as trusted advisor utilising Mutual rather than a ‘salesperson’ they are more likely to win the instruction and increase their conversion rates.
The second advantage for agents and it is very powerful is it gives a member agent the ‘ability to offer an Off market selling strategy’, without investing tens of thousands of pounds in designing and running their own system. In London, with vendors of HNW, it is extremely common to go down the ‘Off market route’ based on the black book connections that bespoke agents have.
Again, whilst on a market appraisal, agents can add this to their armoury of ways to sell property as the first alternative to sale by private treaty, auction, or other variations, it will help differentiate their offering.
The third advantage for agents is in this data rich, voyeuristic society, the Mutual platform protects agents’ listings from being poached and it allows vendors to have private lives. Many sell properties for deeply personal and emotionally draining reasons, death of a loved one, divorce, loss of job, end of relationship, even empty nest syndrome.
Max makes another thought-provoking statement, he says that portals until now have dictated how property gets to the masses, vendors surrender their rights to be a stakeholder the moment the traditional portals gets involved.
The deal is this, your property is there for all to see in forensic detail maybe with fifty photographs, seen by anyone who wants to look, plenty of voyeurs, not necessarily buyers. Furthermore, vendors are disadvantaged by the portals giving buyers information such as time on market and price reductions.
From the moment the vendor is on Mutual, it is a complete journey, and for agents if the property sells then there is no need to utilise other portals, as 30% of sales agreed do fall through even this is catered for by the ‘re-market’ status that, ‘allows an agent to line up a second buyer if the first buyer is not performing.’
If the vendor and agent want to go full throttle the property status goes to ‘open market’ and the vendor and agent has the comprehensive back story, from dipping their toe in the water (Pre-Market) to dealing with initial buyer interest (Off-Market) to being fully on the market (Open-Market). If unlucky, a potential fall through (Re-Market).
Simplicity is built into the platform, willing prospective vendor’s properties can be uploaded in five minutes, and the vendor will have their own account to see the anonymized buyer interest.
Showing another insight gained from decades of property agent interaction Max then explains that Mutual helps to overcome the age-old problem of taking property to the market at too high a price, costing agents millions in time and marketing.
Often vendors wish to try optimistic pricing, but this damages the freshness of an instruction, a pre-portal platform negates this, keeping the agent and potential vendor relationship in good shape.
‘It enables an agent, without risking marketing and board costs to take on a property at the vendor’s value’ suggesting to the vendor ‘we can test the reaction to your price and adjust if required, preserves the dialogue and positions the agent as a trusted advisor – so more likely to keep the instruction’.
As Max explains, ‘Going onto the market involves ego’s and face-saving, a lot of justifying a market price and the difficulty in getting it down later, vendors get stuck and will not adjust price once their home is fully out there, or if they do adjust the price they will change agent to publicly save face. The Mutual platform gives them buyer intel, and they can consider reducing price without a public loss of face, so a win-win situation for vendor and agent.
Incognito mode gives an agent the ability to gain more instructions, gain them at the correct price, and position the agent as the enabler so building their brand through trust. Whilst also reducing withdrawals and associated costs, reducing loss of stock from poaching, and increasing turnover and profits.
Vendors win big
Showing further insight Max explains the interconnections in the property ecosystem and how he wants to help vendors. ‘A lot of sellers (vendors) are buyers first so they will start their journey this way, but they also have a home to sell, so we tempt them.
Upload your property onto the Mutual Platform, if you get interest you will need a market appraisal through one of the Mutual agents. Psychologically, it works on the bird in the hand principle, the only way to get to the buyer interest shown is through a Mutual member agent.
And once a Mutual agent is in the mix, they get additional buyer insight they can share with the prospective vendor such as buyer readiness.
Also the rise of online agents shows that people are open to new ways of selling property, these inquisitive self-helpers thinking about selling can use Mutual to self-list, in a pre-market exploration mode ahead of making a decision.
However, Max emphasised ‘it will never be a direct route to market for these vendors’, rather a way of gaining anonymized data about the interest in their property, prior to actively moving onto the next step, whichever route they choose.
It will act as a prospecting funnel for several agencies simultaneously, the chosen agent winning the contact details of the buyer insight. Turbo charging agents market appraisals and increasing speed of sale.
Vendors properties on Mutual are anonymized, in fact, agent, properties and buyers are all hidden from each other, when a vendor lists their property, they have three internal photographs only, no full address, a stripped-down version of the under a microscope version of present portals. ‘We are creating a greater level of intrigue.’
Empowering the vendor, many vendors given the choice would not want to market all guns blazing, especially those with families who have not yet found a new home to buy. Selling a property too soon in the vendor journey creates a potential fall through situation later when the vendor won’t or can’t commit until they have found their next home.
Then and before you realise it Rodin’s thinker has you in a metaphysical headlock again, ‘Old style portals create buyer over- confidence, a belief that they know the property before they know the property’. His point being that property that is eminently suitable goes un-viewed as the perfect buyer discounts viewing having seen it snap wrapped online.
‘Most agents say that if they can get the customer (buyer) through the door they will often get the sale’. It is all about the feel, and potential is not always obvious from photos and a floorplan. ‘The journey to the property can appeal to the buyers hidden wants and needs but can also dispel some imagined issues too. ‘A local park close by, a grocery shop conveniently situated, a whole range of stuff influences buyers that is why we list property in a different way’.
Buyers win big
Buyers are often third-class citizens in the world of property, and first-time buyers often sit at the bottom of that pile. They are often low on property knowledge, have no property to sell, and so agents are not so ‘charming’ to them as they do not hold an asset, they would like to market.
Traditional portals compound this buyer schism, by listing property, scooping up the agent’s buyers and transporting these buyers via a one-way conveyor belt to agents via email. Only 40% of these buyer leads are utilised by agents, many not even gaining a response from agents for a variety of reasons, mostly agents do not have the time to service the 97% of applicants they receive who do not buy or rent through them. We are back to Max’s cannon fodder analogy.
So, what has the genius dreamt up? ‘Buyers get to see more property and sooner. Agent market appraisals and self-listed prospective seller properties where they can immediately show their interest anonymously.
No more emailing the portal, who sends an email to the agent who 40% of the time does something with that buyer, but mostly does not as they do not have the time.
Instead, potential vendor’s property is in ‘come and get me, I am in incognito mode but your criteria says I am a good fit’, immediately buyer says – I really like you, BOOM vendor has positive response, marketing price tested, buyer is linked into property, down the line Mr Agent gets to run the show, zero lack of communication, no wasted time and effort.
Sounds complicated? Not really, a buyer can use statuses of; Like, Super Like or Not interested. And unlike old fashioned portals, the properties are filed into the buyer’s personal dashboard, ready for retrieval where they can change their status preference later if they wish.
Mutual is an interactive platform, not a listing portal, it helps and facilitates as the buyer’s choices are automatically updated in the agent and vendor’s dashboards too. This means no duplication of buyer interest and the information at the agent and vendor fingertips is bang up to date and more importantly accurate.
In another game changer Mutual allows buyers to have a ten-point criteria selection matrix, so it is not all about the price or number of bedrooms, empowerment to the buyer again, fine tune what Gen-Z the Uber consumer as well as the baby boomer consumer wants. After all we live in a digital age. This allows a greater level alignment of search which means a better, quicker outcome.
Show me the money
Who pays for what? For sellers and buyers there are no fees, if a vendor instructs an agent then the agent charges as normal, no fee to Mutual. Revenue is generated by estate agents paying a monthly licence fee to utilise the system on a universal ‘all you can eat model’ so no extra charge if you are combine-harvesting industrial amounts of new instructions.
The 3 estate agent membership plans
Essential – Qualified MA Leads, with qualified Buyer leads attached – no limits, Free listings of properties at any status. Access to a wider & deeper buyer database.
Core – In addition to Essential, Agent gets co- branding and three-virtual offices which must be situated within a five-mile radius of the mother office.
Premium – In addition to Core, Agent gets a further three-virtual offices (total 6) plus exclusivity, meaning: their own buyers they registered to the site only have the option to choose them for an appraisal.
Yet again, Max surprises us with more innovation! The virtual office. When prospective vendors request a market appraisal, the customer chooses from a display of local member agencies ranked in order of nearest proximity to their property. The first listed agency will be the agency who had registered/invited that prospect to the Mutual platform followed by the remaining agencies.
Image Credit: Mutual | Screenshot of membership options found on Mutual website.
Obviously, agencies situated in the middle of a high street would always be listed further down the list than those at either end. Cunningly Max has introduced a bit of ‘gaming’ into list placement. An agency can choose any actual physical address to situate their virtual offices and they can change them as often as they like, instead of one listing in the selector you get four or seven! Meaning, agents can protect areas of their patch or try to win new areas – who knew work could be such fun!
Mutual utilising the site
Looking on the Mutual Off Market site in buyer mode it is amazing how agile it is, if you register as a buyer superficially you appear to be in traditional portal territory.
But soon you hit the deeper search features, and instead of having all your matched properties hitting you in one go, the ultimate customer instant gratification show, Mutual teases the buyer with only one property opening up to you at a time in order of relevance.
Also, buyers can make as many searches as they want, automatically saved with an alert, meaning they can have simultaneous searches for different types of properties in different areas.
This is new territory, a more intimate and discreet service displays just internal photographs, a brief description, and features, with the ability to thumbs up – like, thumbs down not like or star – super like. Only if the buyer super likes a property will their contact details be shared with an agent and then only once the target property has been instructed.
And the property as star – sits at the heart of the Mutual proposition, it is not the agent, vendor or buyer or the old-fashioned portals who are the star, it is the property. No Agency branding on each listing creates even more buyer intrigue.
When the property is listed Mutual tells the ‘super like buyers which agency and the agency receives the contact details of the buyers and it tells ‘Liked’ buyers that the property is now available ‘Super Like’ if they don’t want to miss out.
Switching to Vendor mode, as Max navigates me through his platform, it is again a simple matter for a person with a property to sell to load their home onto the platform, and ‘see how many likes, or super likes they have, prompting vendors to get a market appraisal.’
Remember it is not a public listing site, it is more a test bed for prospective vendors who can test their home, then push on and have an agent market them like a celebrity in full Mutual Off the Market mode, until they and the agent decide if needed to go full throttle onto all the portals.
All the ‘just exploring options vendor’ has to do on Mutual is complete their address, add three internal photographs, indicative price range, and use menus to populate some basic information and features, set up an alert of buyers interest.
At this stage they have an option to request market appraisals but can return later once they have buyer interest – there is no ‘hard sell’.
In Agent mode, the process is seamless, the potential agent receives the contact details of the vendor, plus all the great background data, and all the (anonymised) buyers who are interested in the property. Instead of starting from square one the vendor and agent can set about a Mutually beneficial strategy to get the property sold.
The agent is not hampered with a high-flying asking price hoisted on them by the vendor, the agent armed with a number of buyers can calculate pretty precisely the upper quartile asking price to maximise best return for vendor, everyone is winning.
The market appraisal request is delivered into the agents dashboard, including a best date & time to contact the prospective vendor, the agent can add another three photographs, add a little more detail and adjust the asking price. There is no draconian heavy hand of Mutual saying how long the property is offered on Mutual, it is up to the agent and the vendor after all the agent is instructed by the vendor.
To keep the platform clean and unclogged prospective vendors get 60 days to ‘float’ their homes before needing to request a market appraisal, otherwise the property is removed, typically after 30 days they get a gentle reminder that time is running out to help focus them on their selling journey.
In agent mode the whole property journey can be mapped start to finish, statuses of pending to sold, archived etc. Mutual also helps greatly re-balance the loss of company branding and company loss of profile on the old portals. It is a focused tool nimble and agile.
Max thinks that what is key ‘Is agents can increase their conversion rates of existing and past appraisal opportunities by offering the pre & off-market options to prospects, tempting more instructions and importantly SOONER’.
As Max puts it,
‘In a post Covid world we are placed beautifully to take advantage of the technology accelerated space that is opening up in estate agency, property consumers are setting the pace, dictating that they want to call the opening shots and drive faster and more communicative ways of transacting property.
Mutual Off-Market is the perfect partner for switched on 2020 generation agents who want to grow market share and digitally reach out to vendors at source when they are off market.