Zoopla boss Alex Chesterman on how Brexit will affect house prices and his plan to be the Amazon of homes

Shruti Tripathi Chopra
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Chesterman began 2017 by acquiring property data company Hometrack for £120m in January

From Lord Sugar to Lindsay Lohan, everyone has offered their two pennies' worth on Brexit’s impact on Britain. But how many have really done something about it?

Enter Zoopla boss Alex Chesterman who backed law firm Mishcon de Reya in a landmark legal challenge to the Brexit vote last year. The lawsuit argued the government must get parliament’s approval to trigger Article 50 and formally begin departure from the EU. The Supreme Court ultimately found in favour of the law firm and its clients in January.

The CEO and founder of the property listing giant is “very disappointed by the way the process has been handled by the government” and wants the UK to “get its act together” to ensure businesses don’t get stung by Brexit uncertainty.

After all, Chesterman has a £2bn business to think about in the form of Zoopla.

After selling online DVD rental service Lovefilm to Amazon, Chesterman set up Zoopla (now Zoopla Property Group or ZPG) in 2007.

Read more: Zoopla boss: "It's not acceptable to simply say Brexit means Brexit"

Over the years, ZPG has snapped up digital platforms including price comparison website Uswitch and British property portal PrimeLocation.

The company, in which the publisher Daily Mail and General Trust has a stake, debuted on the FTSE 250 in 2014 with a valuation of nearly £1bn. ZPG’s websites attract over 50m visits per month and over 25,000 UK businesses use its services.

“Amazon of the home”

Chesterman’s ultimate goal is to make ZPG the first point of call for anything and everything related to homes.

“Our mission at ZPG is to be the most useful resource for consumers when finding, moving or managing their home and the most effective partner for related businesses,” he says.

He does not hide his lofty ambitions. The entrepreneur who started off with building a simple property listings website now wants ZPG to become one of the world’s biggest tech companies.

“Some analysts have phrased it as us looking to become the ‘Amazon of the home’,” he says proudly.

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How it all started

Chesterman began 2017 by acquiring property data company Hometrack for £120m in January.

Earlier this month, the property giant bought Expert Agent, a software provider for estate agents, for an undisclosed fee.

“There is a lot we want to do and we simply can’t do it all ourselves, so acquiring or partnering with best-in-class businesses in areas of interest to us is a key part of our strategy,” he says.

“We have recently invested in and formed strategic partnerships with some of the UK’s most interesting and innovative proptech and fintech startups that are complementary to our strategy. Each of these businesses is seeking to do something transformational in its respective space and include Bricklane, the UK’s first online property ISA, and Trussle, the UK’s first online mortgage broker.”

Chesterman is also an active angel investor and tends to invest in startups in their early stages. He has backed a range on businesses including healthy snack firm Graze, members-only travel company Secret Escapes and fresh fruit provider Farmdrop.

“I’m attracted to large markets, ripe for disruption and where technology can make the market more efficient. Above all I invest in people,” he points out.

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Zoopla versus Rightmove

Over the years, Zoopla and Rightmove have been the two main sources feeding the nation’s obsession with property porn. That is why Chesterman counts Rightmove as one of its main competitors.

“Our business is quite diverse and we view the world slightly differently than our peers, so we don’t have a direct competitor offering all of the same services as us, but the closest competitors in the different areas of our business include Rightmove and Moneysupermarket,” he admits.

Did Brexit wreck the property sector?

The ZPG head honcho feels the EU referendum has put the property industry on shaky ground and he is not feeling upbeat about the sector’s growth this year.

“The Brexit vote has had an impact and that is not surprising given the resulting uncertainty.

“We saw property sales volumes fall quite significantly in the second half of last year, compared to the period before the vote,” he says.

“Buying a home is one of the biggest and longest term decisions that people make so they tend to hold off making such important decisions in times of heightened uncertainty.

“2017 is unlikely to see any material improvement in sentiment until we have clarity around what Brexit actually means.”

Chesterman feels a “good Brexit” offers a bright future for the UK but warns that a “bad Brexit could be very costly with long-lasting consequences”.

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