A new ERA for real estate?
By Gabey Goh October 31, 2012
- ERA Malaysia has launched its Business System in the country, following the successful completion of a pilot program
- Industry and market remains under-represented online with many players not 'tuned in to IT'
FOR a company whose core business revolves around actual, physical brick-and-mortar assets, ERA Real Estate claims a few milestones that are more technological in nature.
It is no stranger to the concept of embracing new technologies to better enable or enrich its business. Back in 1972, the company opened its doors for business in the United States and became the first real estate franchise system to use the fax machine to transmit listings across the country.
In 1994, it became the first national real estate franchisor to post listings online with HomesAndLand.com, giving house-hunters a way to easily search homes. A year later, ERAOnline.com was launched as an online listing and marketing platform.
Today Era boasts 3,500 offices and 40,000 member brokers and sales associates in 51 countries, with Malaysia joining the list in 2008.
ERA Malaysia recently hosted a gala event at Renaissance Hotel Kuala Lumpur to celebrate the official launch of the ERA Real Estate Agency Business System in the country, following the successful completion of a pilot program, which yielded four member agency offices and 150 associates.
The occasion was graced by Dato’ Seri Chor Chee Heung, Minister of Housing and Local Government, and attended by over 300 guests from the real estate and property industries.
The company is now ready to roll out its business system to the wider real estate industry in Malaysia, with the ultimate aim of “enhancing industry visibility and member involvement via best practices and standards to accelerate industry growth and global appeal.”
“Malaysia is strengthening its position as a regional real estate hub and our business system would prove essential in helping professionals operate optimally to identify new revenue streams and deliver enhanced value to their clients,” said Christopher Lim (above pic), managing director of ERA Malaysia.
ERA Malaysia president Dr Lee Ville drew comparisons of the company’s business system to global brands McDonalds and Starbucks.
“It’s similar in the sense that it standardizes the experience; the system ensures consistency of delivery and consumers need to be well served,” he said.
The ‘T’ in team
The system is predicated on the T.E.A.M. (Technology, Education, Awards and Marketing) philosophy and seeks to improve the quality of service and support for member agencies.
“Real estate agents can be very individualistic in how they practise their profession and this is where ERA would come in and provide not just the network, but a digital platform as well,” said Lim.
The technology component of the system is one that the company invests heavily in on a global level to ensure it takes advantage of new advancements.
It has already begun its foray into augmented reality applications, exploring ways to enhance the way buyers visualize potential homes.
In Singapore, ERA’s members are provided with tools such as enabling a Letter of Offer to be signed on a tablet and listing searches via mobile devices based on location.
ERA shared that mobile phone and tablet usage by real estate agents, who are consistently out and about, far outstrips laptops.
However the full range of technology tools which are currently being used by offices in other markets are not yet available in Malaysia.
For the Malaysian operations, the company currently spends RM80,000-RM120,000 (US$26,000-US$40,000) a year on maintaining its online platform which serves as both an agent-centric housing listings directory and resource portal.
The platform was developed in partnership with a local MSC-status software company which ERA declined to name.
For David Tan, ERA Malaysia's head of technology who is tasked with the development of the organization’s IT and marketing initiatives, it is not so much about deploying the latest technology but deploying the right technology for the market that is friendly and useable to its intended audience.
“Pace is important when deploying technology; you don’t want to overshoot and launch something the market’s users are not ready to adopt,” he said.
“Take for example when the Government introduced electronic forms. When it was first launched many didn’t take to it right away due to mistrust over the medium and lack of understanding about it and its benefits, but after a while adoption began to pick up,” Tan added.
Current government regulations also restrict what features or tools can be launched in the market with certain forms for property transactions still requiring a hard copy and not a digital version.
The company is in the process of aggregating data from local property sites such as StarProperty, iProperty and PropertyGuru into its platform and facilitating the flow of data back to these sites.
“Currently agents have to go through multiple sites to do research and the chances of missing data or reading it wrong is there,” said Tan, adding that it was a personal mission to push for automation tools which help ease the more menial aspects of the real estate agent profession.
ERA is working towards building a unified data repository with the platform currently undergoing re-development work, with an eye on expanding the platform and its features to mobile devices such as tablets.
“The problems face by real estate players are the same globally, and for Malaysia it’s only a matter of time before we adopt solutions to solve these problems. The upside to being a late adopter is that you get deployment insight and for ERA, we can leverage on economies of scale with the tools already used by other markets,” said Tan.
Another challenge, he admitted, has nothing to do with technology at all, but rather the people the technology is for.
“Right now, it’s not the whole market that’s represented online with about 80% of the industry not tuned to IT as a tool just yet,” he said.
Lim echoed the sentiment, sharing that 50% of the property and real estate players in the market currently do not advertise on online portals, with the preference for traditional advertising mediums such as newspapers or magazines remaining high.
With the first phase of the ERA Malaysia online platform now almost complete, the second phase will see further integration and more features. Lim said that there were five phases planned over the next two years but declined to provide a ballpark figure of the investment commitment.
Internet marketing will be one component of the upcoming phase, in addition to tracking tools for property trends and prices which will tap into the platform’s data streams.
“Technology makes up about 40% of the company and we are committed to deploying the right tools at the right pace, starting with the fundamentals,” said Tan.
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