Real estate giant acquires majority stake in broking franchise

by AB27 Jun 2017
REA Group announced today that realestate.com.au has entered into an agreement to acquire a majority stake in mortgage broking franchise business, Smartline and has also entered into a strategic mortgage broking partnership  with National Australia  Bank (NAB).

Smartline is a leading Australian mortgage broking franchise group with over 300 advisers nationally, settling more than $6bn in loans annually with a total loan book of approximately $25bn. realestate.com.au will acquire an 80.3% stake in Smartline, with the remaining 19.7% shareholding to be retained by the existing management team. This team will continue to be led by executive director and co-founder Chris Acret and will operate under its current structure and brand.

The purchase consideration of $67m will be funded from existing cash reserves. The minority shareholders hold a put option to sell the remaining 19.7% of shares which can only be exercised after three years, at a price dependent on the financial performance of Smartline. If not exercised, REA will acquire the remaining shares at the end of four years. The transaction is expected to complete in late July 2017.

realestate.com.au and NAB have also agreed to build a mortgage broking solution which adds to the strategic partnership announced in December 2016 to create an Australian-first end-to-end digital property search and financing experience. To help achieve this, NAB will provide an opportunity for its Choice Home Loans brokers to join this new broking solution.

The strategic partnership with NAB enables REA to offer a realestate.com.au broking service at the launch of realestate.com.au Home Loans later this year. The acquisition of Smartline will give the REA Financial Services segment greater scale and capability for the long term.

With an average monthly audience of  5.9 million, realestate.com.au has the largest audience of property seekers in Australia. This investment and partnership further strengthens REA’s move into financing, an integral part of buying a property. The home loan market in Australia is worth approximately $400bn a  year, of which more than 50% are obtained through mortgage brokers. The share of mortgages originated through broker channels continues to increase.

It is expected that REA’s entire Financial Services segment will contribute revenue, net of broker commissions, of between $26m to $30m and EBITDA between $7m to $11m in FY18.

REA group CEO Tracey Fellows commented: “Building a strong presence in the broker market channel is an important part of our financial services strategy. These investments allow us to enter a new market with two of the industry’s most trusted and successful mortgage broking operations.

“Providing a broker solution will complement the digital search and finance experience we are building in partnership with NAB on realestate.com.au. It’s about giving people greater choice when selecting the right home loan for them, ” said Fellows.

Smartline executive director and co-founder, Chris Acret commented: “This investment is a great strategic fit for both businesses. It’s born from a shared vision to build a market-leading home loan offering, marrying our trusted network of brokers with realestate.com.au’s leading digital capability.”