Interview with Ben Brain –

February 24, 2009 by Emma Sorensen 

If you have been watching the UK property market recently, you will have heard the terms “Home Swap” and “Part Exchange” being used a lot. Late last year a series of property listing websites around this concept of swapping or part exchanging homes emerged. The new sites included, as well as and spoke to Resource Manager Ben Brain, from about the concept. The basic idea is very simple. Mr Smith buys Mr Jones’s property and Mr Jones buys Mr Smith’s property. In essence, they simply swap homes. But is this really the future – and how does it work?

Who is behind is headed by the Directors of Derbyshire’s leading estate agent, Hannells Estate Agents, who have only been running since 2004 and have already won gold and silver at the estate agent of the year awards. We are all heavily involved in Estate Agency ourselves which means that we are in a superb position to not only identify the problems that UK agents are currently facing but to offer an effective solution to these problems.

What led you to start
Towards the beginning of the market downturn, as a proactive estate agent, we were looking into other ways of creating sales. Part Exchanging or “Home Swapping” (as it is more commonly know) was identified as a possible method of creating sales. We tried rolling this concept out to the staff of our 11 branches and found that we were having some success. However, a problem from the very beginning was accurate communication between a network of offices. It quickly became clear that keeping track of what every vendor wants and matching them to suitable properties was effective but was proving hard to implement. We soon realised that if we could provide a database of relevant information from each of our vendors that was easy to access and clear, we could create a fantastic tool to create sales that would previously have not been realised.

We worked with our technical department and developed a trial site which was the beginning of The feedback from our negotiators was great and we managed to generate some extra sales through the site. It became apparent that the concept could be huge throughout the UK if we could provide what we had for our own offices to every Estate Agent in the UK. We put a lot of time and effort into creating an online tool which is both easy to use and provides very clear information about what each vendor is looking for. And so was born. Since the initial launch of the site in October 2008, we have had great success in the areas that we have visited and trialed the site. We have also added some fantastic features due to feedback from the agents using the site.

How long has this method of part exchanging homes been around for?
The theory behind part exchanging has been around for many years. Previously, the concept had mainly applied to new builders taking your home in exchange for a new home. This concept is still available and still works very well but the model is now increasingly becoming applicable to homeowners swapping properties with other homeowners in the UK.

The reason that part exchange / home swap has not been focused on heavily before now is that there has never been the need to. The UK housing market has constantly relied on a consistent stream of first time buyers to stimulate the start of the property chains. However, first time buyers are no longer available in the numbers that the market has grown accustomed to and so there has been a massive decline in sales throughout the UK.

This has led to property professionals looking to alternative ways of selling that do not rely on first time buyers. The most effective alternative way of selling is part exchanging / home swapping. The process does not rely on first time buyers what so ever. All it relies on is two homeowners purchasing one another’s property.

Ok, it’s a good idea but what are the chances of finding a swap?
Many Estate Agents will already look for suitable matches within their own offices when they take on a new instruction. However, this will only enjoy limited success due to the fact that they are only able to access information on their own properties. Companies such as now provide a national database of home swap / part exchange properties which allows users to view suitable property from all over the country.

The more people that join up to sites such as, the more chance you have of finding a perfect swap and getting moved!

So what happens next?
If you manage to find a suitable swap, the next steps taken are exactly the same as if you had agreed a sale the traditional way. Both sides agree acceptable offers (with the cheaper house paying the difference) and solicitors are then instructed to carry out the necessary work in able to get the properties to complete.

What will happen when the first time buyers return and the market picks up?
The answer to this question should be “nothing”. Many people will argue that if the market picks up, there will be a very small demand for people that want to part exchange. I would argue exactly the opposite. The theory behind the concept is fool proof and if enough agents and vendors realise this, it could be a huge boost for the UK market.

The concept works no matter what state the market is in and creates sales that previously may not have been realised. Why should we dismiss the process and risk loosing out on possible sales just because the market picks up?

If someone is selling a property and is looking to move into another home, it is worth advertising the property as available for part exchange or “swap” as they just might find the perfect swap. Even investors that are looking for extra cash can benefit as they are able to exchange for a property lower down the chain and release equity.

How have users responded to the website so far?
We have had some great feedback from users of the site so far. Obviously, we are far from listing the amount of properties we want on the site but this takes time. One of the unique and revolutionary features about the site is that it gives vendors the opportunity to get involved in their search for a new home. This has been a very successful aspect of the site and we are finding that vendors are enjoying being able to play a more active part in the process.

Several exchange/part exchange websites sprang up last year in the UK – how does differ from other competitors in this emerging field?
To begin with, we have built the site through the eyes of an Estate Agent. We were developing the site well before “part exchange” and “home swap” became buzzwords within the industry as we had already identified the benefits that the concept provides.

The driving force behind is to keep the agent in control of the process and to help them survive in difficult times. One big difference between and the other swap sites is that we do not allow private sellers onto the site. We feel that any site that encourages private sellers to register without an agent is extremely dangerous and a threat to any agent that is registered. We regularly receive communication from private sellers and we will always point them in the direction of local agents that are signed up to the site. We have already helped agents gain instructions rather than loose out on them.

A recent feature to is the “Possible Interest” link. I am not going to give away too much information about this section but you can ask any of the agents that are signed up to the site and they will tell you that it is a fantastic tool. It will not only provide you with genuine possible buyers for your vendor’s property, it will also contribute to winning local instructions in your area. If you would like more information, sign up for an account (there are no costs and we are not asking for any commitment).

Agents can allocate a unique username and password which grants their vendors access to the site. However, to make sure that the agent stays in control, your vendors will never be able to view the contact details for the selling agent. Instead there is a message displayed which asks them to call their own agent to find out more information about the property they are interested in. This is a totally unique feature offered by and it means that once you have registered a property, you can let your vendors do the work for you. Recent times have seen a huge increase in consumer-based websites, which demonstrates the fact that the public is becoming increasingly computer literate. Agents need to adapt otherwise they are going to be left behind.

Another big difference between and other swap sites is the ease of access and amount of information that is available for each property. A lot of agents have been discouraged and put off from the part exchange concept as they have signed up to sites that provide nonsense matches with very brief and unclear information. Our developers spent a lot of time developing a code that provides very relevant and specific matches. For every property on the site, there are photos, a brief description and very clear information on what that vendor is looking for which means that we can provide fantastic results. Also, once you are registered, you can search the site and view properties just as you would with any other property portal, again with the full details being available. There is currently no other site that provides the information about swappers that we can offer.

Users of the site can also expect the usual e-mail updates, user guides and marketing items such as window stickers and A4 display wall cards.

What are the key challenges you are facing?
The main challenge we are facing is getting people to understand the concept of a home swap. Many agents will contact us and say that they have a “couple of vendors” that have mentioned that they would be interested in part exchanging. But part exchanging is relevant to far more vendors than people realise. The more properties that are added to the site, the more chances there are of finding a perfect swap, which is why our new automatic feed is going to be a massive benefit.

It will only take properties specified (very easily) by the agent and will keep the site updated automatically without the agent having to lift a finger. This is an incredible feature that no other home swap site can provide. As a result of our feed, we will be able to showcase a massive number of homes that are available to part exchange or home swap. This will enable us to provide agents from all over the country with extremely genuine leads that are more likely to equate to sales then the leads provided by any other property portal available, period.

Where do you see the business going and how are you going to grow it?
With the addition of the property feed, we really will see ourselves as key players in the UK property market. There will be no site which can generate the high quality leads that can provide. However, we do not want to run before we can walk. Our aim is to work very closely with all UK agents to make sure we are providing a service that suits the needs of everyone.

Once we are established in the UK, we are going to go global. There is a massive demand for a successful website to take this concept overseas. Whether it be people in Spain wanting to move back to England (and vice versa), or people from America wanting to move to Portugal (and vice versa). We want to be the only site that is worth mentioning when it comes to part exchanging / home swapping and we believe that this goal is one that we can achieve. We strongly believe in the potential behind and we are determined to transform this potential into reality.

Where do you see the UK property portal market heading overall and why?
Online property portals will always play a big part in estate agency. There are many competitors in the portal industry and we believe that the future of these portals will all depend on how they differentiate.

There is no other property portal which provides the information and leads that provides. We prefer to use the term “online tool” rather than a portal as it is a site that encourages agents, or vendors, to actually use rather than sit back and wait for the leads to come through. The more you put into, the more you will get out of it.

Special Offer: Any properties that are added to before 31 December 2009 will incur no charge. Even after the expiry date, will not charge for any properties that have been added during this free period.

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