Sarah Beeny: “Estate agents will be extinct in ten years”

“Estate agents are a bit like travel agents to me,” says Sarah Beeny. “No-one books holidays on the high street any more – they do it online. The same thing will happen to estate agents.”

Foxtons, Savills and Haart must be quaking in their boots. Not only is Beeny after their customers, her new service is completely free.

Sarah Beeny is at the forefront of a new wave, bringing property transactions online. Her new startup, Tepilo, is unique in the property market: catering for both buyers and sellers. Existing sites concentrate on the latter, with firms like Rightmove.co.uk and FindAProperty.com masterminding the listings in conjunction with offline estate agents.

Sarah Beeny’s startup property portal, Tepilo, allows any homeowner to upload their property, answer queries and ultimately sell their home through the site, without paying exorbitant estate agent’s fees.

Tepilo has been live for two weeks and already boasts thousands of registrations and nearly 2,500 uploaded properties. Beeny is already celebrating her first sale, too. “About a week and half after launch, we sold our first property, ” she says. “Not bad for a completely new site.”

The benefits for users are obvious. “If you’re selling a £300,000 home and paying three per cent plus VAT to your agent, that’s a huge amount of money,” explains Beeny. “Not to mention legal fees and mortgage advisors. We help buyers and sellers through every stage of the selling process, using automated reminders and forms on the site.”

“Selling your home can be a daunting process, especially for first-timers,” continues Beeny. “Tepilo explains everything in a clear and concise way. No jargon.”

But what about the business model? “It may sound stupid,” she says. “But we’re not thinking about making money at the moment. Everyone who’s involved in the business is doing their part in return for an equity stake. There’s been no start-up fund, no money raised.”

But eventually, surely you want Tepilo to make money?

“If the idea works then we’ll consider sponsorship options,” says Beeny. “We’ll associate our brand with selected companies. Honestly, this is simply an idea I’ve had for a long time. Something I genuinely wanted to do for sellers and buyers in the UK property market. I’ll be happy when you search for any postcode in Britain and at least a few good options come up on Tepilo. That’ll be a great moment for me.”

Beeny is a dab hand at starting “accidental” businesses. This is her second entrepreneurial venture: the former Property Ladder presenter founded MySingleFriend.com in 2005 “because I wouldn’t go on a dating site, but I wouldn’t have minded my friend doing it for me” and has watched the online dating startup go from strength to strength. The site turned over £3m last year and is still growing with half a million members and 6,000 to 8,000 new sign-ups every month.

That’s a point. How is Sarah Beeny making time for MySingleFriend.com with a new business and a new baby on the way?

“I’m not so involved in the day-to-day running,” confesses Beeny. “My co-founder Amanda Christie is in charge on a daily basis.”

Indeed, Tepilo has proven to be a full-time job. While Beeny has made no financial investment in the firm, she has invested her time: she personally answers all the queries that come through the site. “It’s quite a task,” she says.

Once a month, she also contacts a property seller and offers to come and give them advice on selling their house. “They don’t always say yes,” she laughs. “They probably know that I’ll turn up and eat all their chocolate biscuits.”

Still, what ‘s a few digestives in return for sound property advice from a TV celebrity?

Indeed, Beeny’s going to be back on our screens very soon. She’s just finished a hard day’s filming for Channel 4 when Real Business calls up. “I call this programme The Dry Rot Show,” she quips. “Though I think it’s just me that’s obsessed with dry rot.”

But Beeny is incredibly down to earth about her celebrity status. “Plenty of people don’t know who I am,” she says. “I don’t doubt that for the people that do, its been useful for my businesses. But I do always try and be totally fair and honest about everything I say and do so that I don’t make anyone believe anything that’s false.

Best of luck with Tepilo, Beeny. Real Business would never lie to its readers either. And it’s got a good feeling about this one…

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