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Easier plc, an online estate agent, says it will not need to return to the stock market for further funds.

In a statement prompted by the recent fall in the company's share price, it notes that advertising costs for its easier.co.uk Web site were "significantly lower" than it had originally anticipated, and that the number of registered users and properties on its books - 60,000 and 13,000 properties at an average price of £160,000 - were higher than it had envisaged at this stage of the game.

The company says that as of 30 June 2000, the cut-off for its half-yearlies, it had a positive cash balance of £8.15 million.

The company raised £11.3 million, after expenses, in February. Most of the cash spent since then has gone into launching the Web site, it says.

All very interesting. But how is it going to grow more quickly without secondary finance, and what is it going to do with the cash that it's got left?

Big is Better

It doesn't take too much to work out that residential property sites will become the province of the big.

Advertising and selling residential property online looks like a surefire bet - anything to avoid paying commission to estate agents, a breed that ranks even lower than journalists in the estimation of the public, should be welcomed.

But right now, there is a wealth of property sites and a dearth of users and properties

Easier.co.uk's Web site stats sound impressive enough, but 13,000 properties really isn't that much, when they're scattered across the UK. For instance, there are just three properties listed for the post code where I live (ME9) and seven for the adjoining district (ME10), an area with a population of more than 50,000 people. The local paper, by contrast advertises hundreds of properties from a dozen or so agencies, all with offices in the local high street.

Maybe property Web sites aren't meant (not yet anyway) for local transactions - perhaps they come into their own when punters are looking further afield. But wouldn't it be easier to register with some estate agents in the areas one is interested in moving to than to check out a Web site containing details of just a few houses?

The one that got away

So what about the usefulness of property sites for people selling their houses? It just so happens that my parents-in-law registered their Chislehurst, Kent des res several months ago with Fish4, a rather better known property site than Easier. Not a sniff from this source.

Perhaps they were just unfortunate.

Property sites will not achieve their full potential until they have tens and tens of thousands of properties on the books, which will in turn encourage hundreds of thousands of potential buyers to sign up. Big databases means big software and big computer systems, and these cost millions to develop and to maintain.

By combining databases, the big off-line agencies have the best chance of achieving this sort of scale - if (and it is a big if, when things are still going so well in the British residential property market) - they can overcome their natural disinclination to cannibalise offline commissions. ®

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