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From 0 to 40k. Propertybook has a new angle to property classifieds in Zimbabwe

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In just 5 months a new Zimbabwean property classifieds website, Propertybook, has grown from ‘nothing’ to 40,000 monthly visits. For comparison, consider that the largest property classifieds in Zimbabwe, property.co.zw, which has been in existence for over a year now, is reported to have about 90,000 monthly visits.  Or compare to Lamudi, the Rocket Internet site considered up to now to be the main contender in the market, in existence for a year and some 6 months now which only gets some 8,000 desktop visits a month. 

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How did Propertybook do it? Facebook groups.

Founder, Jonathan Fennell, whom we spoke to recently, explained that Propertybook the site, is new, but Propertybook the community is over 9 years old. In 2006, after returning to Zimbabwe from studying abroad, Fennell realised his friends and family needed an effective way share information about property rentals so he created a group on Facebook.

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Eventually, the group grew as people outside Fennell’s circle asked to join.  Estate agents started joining too so they could access this growing audience. Combined, all the Propertybook Facebook groups (they created city specific ones) have some 72,000 members now. This community contributes the second highest source of traffic to the Propertybook site, second only to direct visits, which no doubt were cultivated from the same community.

Propertybook’s business model is similar to Webdev’s in that they charge estate agents a monthly subscription fee to list. So far the startup has signed on 32 of the agents in Zimbabwe which, by the looks of the market, is roughly 20% of the agents in the country.

Fennell told us the community aspect has meant that members don’t treat the groups just as a marketplace. They help each other with answers to renting questions, buying property questions and the like. And having the Estate Agents as part of the community means people get credible information. Propertybook has carried this aspect of community to the site where they have a community section with frequently asked questions about renting, leasing, selling and other things. Visitors can also download estate laws and information about estate agent regulations so they understand better an issue that most first time buyers property who are the majority in Zimbabwe, will benefit from.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of such information in a country where a lot of the those looking to make such buying decisions are first generation owners of city properties. It’s easy for these first time buyers to get mixed up in shady deals by bogus estate agents or cooperative initiatives gone wrong.

Such information is so important I got the feeling even though Propertybook is pioneering this aspect, they may not understand fully how pivotal it is to their startup. The community page on their site looks like a side thing to just help along without paying much attention to it. For example, some important questions in their FAQ section like “What is a bogus agent?” have been left unanswered and at least 2 of the 7 downloads are broken links. And in the Facebook groups, most posts I see are just them posting links of properties on their site and not enough (I didn’t see any actually but I probably didn’t scroll down far enough) sharing of information to just keep members informed about opportunities and problems to look out for.

If you take away the community knowledge sharing aspect, Propertybook is just another site listing properties and this takes away some of the unique fire power they are taking to established companies providing listings for a fee.

That aside, it’s refreshing to see a startup that’s committed to building an online properties marketplace in a market dominated by just one player. One that’s 9 years serious! Competition is a great thing for the customers (estate agents that is) and also us the users because the players work harder to make their service uniquely useful to us.


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22 thoughts on “From 0 to 40k. Propertybook has a new angle to property classifieds in Zimbabwe

  1. Have used their service to find a house to rent. What i like is that they do not list bogus agents.

  2. Having been a “friend” on the Harare Rentals Facebook group for many years, i was very excited to see that a website dedicated to property sales and rentals had come from this. The Propertybook website is easy to use, and constantly has new listings. The best thing i found about this particular site is that all the houses that i was interested in where still available on the market and were not properties that had been sold or rented and then not removed from the site. Well done Mr Fennell and your team.

    1. Hi Kylee,
      Thank you very much for your positive feedback 🙂 It is greatly appreciated & are so happy that you have found our new website easy to use, we have definitely tried to give our amazing following a great user experience as we can and promise to continue to strive to keep improving it! 🙂

  3. 40k views is a lot! But (there is always a but), I’m not sure its the right ‘metric’ for this type/category of website. The number of agents is closer to the right metrics.

    I would have thot that Rentals facilitated, Sales facilitated, Properties listed or income were more important. But then again, this is not a shareholders report 🙂

    1. Good afternoon Baba Dikondo,
      Many thanks for your comment Sir… Yes, agreed, more particularly number of EAC registered agencies! We do hope to have all registered agencies on board as soon as we can 🙂 obviously, this is just a process 🙂 Also agreed on the facilitation which, well I will leave one of our listed agencies to comment on, better coming from ‘the horses mouth’ so an honest review is made 🙂

    1. Hi Batsai,
      Many thanks for your comment 🙂 May I ask if you have tried within our Facebook groups ( http://www.propertybook.co.zw/harare-rentals-facebook-groups/ all links are mentioned on the left of the page within this link, great thing is if you post what you are looking for within one of the groups you will see our community begins assisting you in finding properties 🙂 ) as many of the agents are still uploading properties or alternatively if you have tried contacting one of the agents directly through our agents tab ( http://www.propertybook.co.zw/registered-real-estate-agents-in-zimbabwe )

  4. I have been following Jono on facebook Harare Rentals and am thrilled to see the leap they have taken. In the short time that PropertyBook has been running, I know of 4 friends within my circle who have found places to rent, and one who has BOUGHT her first home. The sight looks amazing, is easy to use, and I am excited to see the progress. Well done guys!!!

    1. Hi Anonymous,
      Wow! That is fantastic news! Please pass our thanks for the support to your friends and congratulations on to your other friend who found a property to buy, over the moon for them and hope that she has an amazing life in her new home! Kindest regards from the whole Propertybook Team!!!

  5. This is impressive. One key in my opinion that is has worked well for them highlighted in the article is ‘Youlity” i.e. providing helpful information and advice. people want help first and where they can get that that is where there will frequent. I would like to see more start ups adopting such an approach. A question though, is it free to list a property for renting when you are not an agent.

    A quest

    1. Hi Tinashe,
      Thank you very much for your comment & query… With regards to private listings, we are looking for a solution so this may happen, the problem faced though is the unregistered agents taking advantage. Unless homeowners are willing to provide a copy of their title deeds and ID it makes this a difficult process as we do not wish to allow any cracks for anyone in our community to be ripped off by these unscrupulous individuals that take advantage of so many of our friends and family. This is why the great thing about EAC registered agencies is they are answerable for their actions and must conform to its rules and regulations or stand chance of being deregistered. I have dozens of friends whom have had this happen to and detest it when my community is taken advantage of and lets face it, the amount of money involved in buying or selling a property, would you rather not give it to a professional who will dot the i’s and cross the t’s. If I owned a new Mercedes I wouldn’t go and buy filters from “magaba” and fix it myself, I would take it to Zimoco, cutting corners I don’t believe is worth it, not with such high value assets… If anyone has a solution though, please do kindly let us know…

  6. @khal drogo webdev is a monolith bt properrty book choose the right path build an audience on things webdev doesnt do. And webdev should take note cz this wld be same as nokia laughing at the iphone and galaxy

  7. Just to add a little note: I believe, and maybe I will be called naive in doing so, if you use your head but work from your heart anything is achievable… We, through our various “Harare Rentals” Facebook groups gave about 9 and a half years of completely free time to our community before the idea of Propertybook came to life, assisting many of our +72 000 members in finding homes and helping educate, with great assistance from the registered agencies and EAC on what what their rights were when buying, selling or renting. Many of our community, now whom we call Propertybookers are loyal to us as a result and with a communities backing, well… as long as we don’t stuff up hope to achieve great things for our community and the industry as a whole…

    Thank you very much to TechZim and your following and very much look forward to any constructive criticism that anyone may have for us. Feel free to contact us through the following link http://www.propertybook.co.zw/contact-us/

    Have a great evening and hopefully see you all on Propertybook.co.zw soon 🙂

  8. Thanks for the refreshing web service you are offering.

    I think the key to having a successful web based service in the long run is trust, and not really views. I do hope web content developers take a cue from this. The greater the trust you have, the better the business will be the long run. generating and keeping trust is the most important thing in a web based business. Marketing, with such a model is viral and you will see growth with time. Look at sites like alibaba and ebay for instance, we are not afraid to part with our money on the sites because they have built trust and they have kept it. They are not the only online sites selling things, neither are they the most user friendly but they are te most trusted.

    For any service, find ways to safegaurd your customers and you will have greater chances of keeping them. Let classifieds laugh about views all they like, just let time be the judge…

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words WebIntelect, we certainly do hope to create a safe place for our community and would rather close it down than open up to bogus agencies 🙂

  9. The google maps interface is cumbersome and slow even for someone with proper broadband. If you click on one property you can’t go back to the same place in the list by clicking browser back button. I checked your site and quickly got tired of reloading the map and zooming in after hitting the back button.

    One more thing I must point out is the presence of some rather dubious looking adverts. If someone is advertising a property for sale with a 6 or 7 figure price tag, I expect to see a much more professional presentation of the package with a reasonable number of quality pictures each with a description, accurate google map location, correct name of suburb – e.g. Shawasha not Chishawasha Hills, Gletwyn not Gletwin, no general typographical errors, accurate property size, accurate square footage of home, title or no title deeds, etc. Just as you are interested in serious buyers, potential buyers are also interested in serious sellers only.

    1. Hi Marek,
      Many thanks for your views and we will look into solutions for this and many others to make it more user friendly, by any chance have you tried changing the view from map to list view? Many thanks for picking up the typo’s too, will rectify them and if anybody sees anymore please do let us know 🙂 With regards to presenting the properties better, I do agree and we do encourage the agencies to give as much information as possible for their potential buyers and will continue to do so but if you do wish for more information in the meanwhile please feel free to contact them with all and any queries you may have 🙂 I know they will be happy to assist 🙂

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