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June 8 (Reuters) - Estate agents network GPEA has merged with British online estate agent easyProperty in a deal worth about 60 million pounds ($78 million), with the aim of grabbing one of the top two spots in the fast-growing online market.
GPEA expects the deal to allow its agents to tap customers going online to search for houses, helping its existing network of members in the Guild of Property Professionals and the Fine & Country organisation.
"As consumer behaviours have changed... there is a move towards people searching for their space and services in a different way," said Jon Cooke, executive director of The Guild and Fine & Country who will be CEO of the combined firm.
"Where the customer wants to have a tech-enabled offering, online, do-it-yourself at a fixed fee, then we believe we will be able to offer that to them under the easyProperty brand," he told Reuters.
The deal is expected to complete by the end of this month.
E-Prop Services Plc, as the combined firm will be known, is just one of many firms clamouring for dominance in the online market, whose growing popularity has forced shop-based incumbents such as Countrywide to invest to catch up.
Cooke said by leveraging GPEA's network of 5,000 property professionals he hoped to consolidate E-Prop's position as number two online behind Purplebricks, the Neil Woodfood-backed online firm.
"There are quite a few other players doing this at the moment with the online space and we believe there'll be two main players, a bit like there are in the portal market with Rightmove and Zoopla," Cooke said.
"The combination of a consumer-facing brand.... and a footprint of well-trained compliant property independent estate agents across the UK will mean that we're able to be that second player pretty quickly," he added.
The deal would see GPEA as well as hedge fund Toscafund, which has part-funded the deal, become majority investors, while the investors of easyProperty, which was co-founded by businessman Stelios Haji-Ioannou, would hold the rest.
He declined to specific what each party's stake would be.
$1 = 0.7728 pounds Reporting by Esha Vaish in Bengaluru; Editing by Keith Weir