FOUR WALLS: Virtual realty

FOUR WALLS: Virtual realty - The internet and property sales looked like a match made in heaven. Bung your home on a web site with plenty of detail and some photos, let potential buyers sift and then arrange to look at the kinds of property that suit thei

by Rory Ross is a freelance journalist and property owner

The internet and property sales looked like a match made in heaven. Bung your home on a web site with plenty of detail and some photos, let potential buyers sift and then arrange to look at the kinds of property that suit their needs. Removing the middle man in the Next double-breasted could save you between 1% and 3% of the sale price. That's many thousands of pounds for most of us and far more than we pay the solicitor.

It didn't work out like that. The agents took over most of the independent sites, and of the dozens of portals left, most are ill-designed, slow, and filled with sold buildings. They are cyber ciphers designed to hold users upside down and shake out of them all their personal details, which are then fed into databases.

But a site that may survive the dot.bomb is primelocation.com, whose pitch-perfect chief executive Ian Springett, 42, sprang from NatWest's offshoot Lombard Bank - which he managing directed at 35 - when NatWest fell to RBS. The site went live in April as a virtual high street of estate agents. It is owned by 250 top agents - led by FPDSavills, Knight Frank, Strutt & Parker and Chestertons - who have clubbed together and agreed that primelocation.com will be the only portal on which they show properties and that they will weed out sold properties. Renegades risk being blacklisted or obliged to fall on their cellphone aerials.

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