An interview with Upad’s James Davis
How James Davis is transforming the letting space online
Regarded only slightly more favourably than politicians, bankers and journalists, landlords don’t bask in a glowing reputation. James Davis was determined to take on these negative attitudes to the industry and the result is his online letting agency Upad.
Started in 2008, Upad streamlines the letting process for landlords by advertising properties on 1,000 portals at a time – around 500 more listing sites than its competitors are able to offer, according to Davis.
Today Upad is the UK’s largest online letting agent and Davis plans to match this success by also becoming the UK’s largest offline agent, revolutionising the letting space along the way.
Upad uses a similar approach to online dating sites, pairing landlords with tenants rather than singles with GSOHs (good sense of humour). Thus, Davis claims that sourcing a tenant through the site is 90% cheaper and five times quicker than using traditional high street letting agencies.
“We are listing between 400 and 600 properties a month, which is 20 times the average high street agent, and whether you are using a free route or paying with Upad your void period (the time in which the house is left empty) is eight days rather than 27 days,” says Davis.
The business charges landlords a one-off fee of £69 until the property is let and also offers management, valuation, tenant referencing and rent collection services for a fee. Davis explains: “Rather than going on a high street agent site, which is rather like taking a sandwich board to the middle of the Sahara, you are maximising your chances of finding a tenant. Last month we averaged over 20 tenant enquiries per property advertised.
“There are probably around 30 or 40 other organisations out there, but there is no-one else that goes on as many listings as we do, not even the six biggest competitors combined,” he insists.
By partnering with technology incubator Ortegra, Davis was able to access £45,000 to build Upad’s platform in exchange for equity. With Ortegra’s help he then made a deal with two online letting agents, allowing Upad to go live with 70,000 properties listed, which encouraged landlords to list on the site for a fee.
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Upad’s turnover last year was a healthy six figure number and Davis is projecting a turnover of around £450,000 a month, continuing the company’s trend of 10% growth a year within the next two years. In total the business has received around £1.5m in investment – a cash injection that will be important to the business’ growth.
“We are a well-funded organisation in the sense that we have reserves for partnerships and acquisitions,” says Davis.”We will grow the business through acquisitions rather than just organically, which will help fast-track us into becoming not just the largest letting agent online, but the largest letting agent in the UK.”
To this effect, the company has embraced social media, which it uses to offer landlords guidance on running their property as a business through blogs, newsletters, webinars and video. This guidance also helps to increase landlord traffic to the site, adds Davis.
“Social media such as Twitter generates 8% of traffic to the site,” he says. “Our newsletter is sent out to more than 20,000 landlords and third party websites. We also do three blog posts a day, which produces around 12% of our traffic.”
This educative strategy will be significant in improving negative perceptions of the letting space, according to Davis:”I think there is a huge appetite for this type of guidance. Landlords would be more profitable, tenants wouldn’t have such a negative attitude, and letting agents would have a better name.
“The internet has changed things dramatically as it helps landlords to self-manage. This wealth of information is perhaps why more landlords have come into the space,” says Davis, who’s hoping that the technological change in the industry will result, through Upad, in a change in the perceptions too.