The waiting goes on for staff at industry software business Expert Agent, uncertain as to who their future employer might be.
The Competition and Markets Authority has opened its merger investigation into the acquisition by ZPG of Websky – the company that operates Expert Agent.
The CMA issued its initial enforcement order on March 31, ordering ZPG to ‘hold separate’.
ZPG had announced the purchase of Expert Agent on March 1.
Invitations to comment are now being sought by the CMA, with a closing date of May 19.
The date of the decision is due to be June 30.
The decision could either clear the deal – which has already completed – or announce a second phase of investigation.
ZPG already owns estate agency software businesses CPF, Vebra, Alto, Jupix, GMW and Encore after acquiring the Property Software Group in April last year.
When the CMA stepped in after its acquisition of Expert Agent, it had been thought that this would trigger the start of an immediate investigation, with an expected timeline of 40 working days.
The ‘hold separate’ order means that there must be no contact between the two businesses, with Expert Agent continuing to operate as it did before the acquisition. The two firms can liaise in a limited way over certain HR and finance matters, but nothing else.
Mike Griffiths, founder of Expert Agent, came under fire when the sale to Zoopla was announced just over two months ago.
In a post on the Expert Agent’s user group, passed to EYE by a user, Griffiths tells agent customers: “ZPG acquired 100% of Websky from Metropolis International who in turn had brought Websky from my partners, investors and myself in August 2013.
“Initially I received a lot of criticism because of the perceived hypocrisy inherent in the consistent ‘We’re independent and not for sale’ marketing message that we’d used for a couple of years. When it was explained that the acquisition was as much of a surprise to me as it was to everyone else, the vitriol rapidly subsided and I’ve had nothing but support from sympathetic customers.”
In his post, Griffiths goes on to say that if there is a phase two inquiry, “there’s a chance that ZPG might be forced to sell us again or find some ways to continue holding us separately. The consolation for customers here is that we are a £4m pa business with a £3m pa EBITDA (profit). Nobody will want to mess about with what is clearly a winning formula.
“This is all a little unsettling for our team though.
“ZPG’s management team are nice people and excellent employers. They have dangled a whole load of perks in front of our team who are all very excited by the acquisition. They will get a day off on their birthdays, £150 of free shares per month, a better pension, days off for charity work, flexible holiday buy & sell, loans for house moving and marriage etc, plus the removal of the glass promotion ceiling that a small business always imposes – all are very attractive.
“That’s all on hold now.”
Griffiths went on: “My message to customers is the same as my message to the team here. This is a little unsettling but don’t jump ship. Our success, turnover and profit plus the continued involvement of so many committed members of our original team (myself included) will ensure a happy outcome regardless of any CMA ruling.”
A spokesperson for ZPG said yesterday: “The Competition and Markets Authority is continuing its review of ZPG’s acquisition of Websky Limited (‘Expert Agent’) and the recent announcement by the CMA is part of that review.
“ZPG continues to engage in consultation with the CMA as part of this review.”
Mike Griffiths declined to comment.