Ohmyhome banks on technology to take the stress out of finding a home
By Tan Jee Yee July 9, 2019
- Serves as a one-stop shop for housing transactions
- Rebuilds trust in agents by using tech to refocus their tasks
HOME may be sweet home, but buying a house can be a bitter experience. It’s not just the challenge of saving up enough for the down payment, or applying for loans – there’s the whole slog through marketplace after marketplace in search of the right unit, not to mention dealing with agents who are either absolute angels or the personification of a migraine.
Then there’s the whole aspect of looking for painters and renovators, plus the hassle of engaging with lawyers and banks and what have you. In short, it’s not a stroll in the park.
The whole process is not likely to change, though it should at least get easier and smoother. This is an area primed for a makeover with the help of technology, and one Singapore-based startup is working on just that. They are called Ohmyhome, and they have just made Malaysia their second home.
Ohmyhome is changing the real estate marketplace scene in two ways: by allowing homeowners to list their own property for sale without the need to engage an agent, and by serving as a one-stop shop for home transactions.
The proptech company has been a success since its 2016 start in Singapore. To date, about 2,500 home units have been transacted through Ohmyhome, to a combined value of US$724.9 million (RM3 billion).
Coming to Malaysia is a natural progression for chief executive officer and co-founder Rhonda Wong. She, with her sister (and co-founder) Race, are Malaysia-born. “It’s a natural step for us,” Wong tells Digital News Asia.
“We didn’t choose to start here first because we were living in Singapore; and with Singapore being a service-based nation with very high standards for things they are paying for, we decided that it was a good market to start with to ensure that our service standards are good and strong.”
Ohmyhome started off with a focus on government housing in Singapore – within four months of launch, they became the top app for the HDB (Housing and Development Board) sector.
“What we think consumers can benefit from is that, through leveraging on tech, we can provide very good standards of service. And our team is very committed to giving the best level of customer service throughout the entire housing transaction,” Wong elaborates.
By housing transaction, Wong doesn’t just mean buying, selling and renting. “It’s from deal-closing to mortgage conveyancing, from home staging to renovation to painting and moving. Every part of the way, we aim to have a seamless transition for our customers – the first one-stop marketplace for homes.”
Essentially, Ohmyhome’s services go beyond the mere listing of houses to buy or rent, to include the entire host of services homebuyers need. The platform has partners that provide these services, which range from banks to contractors and even feng shui experts.
There are 20 such partners in Singapore. The full list of services won’t be available in Malaysia at the start, though Wong has assured us that they have already secured some partners in Malaysia, with a primary focus on banks and lawyers.
“They are the most important people in the transaction journey, so we secure them first before going to renovators and the like,” she says.
Ohmyhome's partners are carefully curated – Wong says that potential partners in Malaysia will receive a few customers first in order for Ohmyhome to fully gauge their capabilities before on-boarding them as more permanent associates.
Their partners aren’t limited to renovators and painters – according to Wong, real estate companies like Sime Darby are key to their Kuala Lumpur launch. These companies advertise their units on Ohmyhome, and this forms one part of the platform’s revenue stream.
Ohmyhome also earns from the commissions paid to them when users engage their in-house agents, and banks pay them for advertising their services. The platform also charges partners using their system.
Making agents relevant again
As they’re laying the first bricks in Malaysia, the Wong sisters learned through research that one of the biggest issues with the real estate market here is trust. “There was very little trust in agents, despite them being professionals,” Rhonda Wong says. It’s a little different in Singapore, where the issue with agents is more about how people found their services too expensive.
“Over here, it’s not the price, it’s the trust.”
Ohmyhome allowing homeowners to list their units for sale without engaging agents is one way to sidestep this distrust, but the platform is actively hoping to change the way agents work. Unlike other marketplaces, Ohmyhome’s agents are not freelancers. They are full-time employees earning fixed salaries.
These in-house agents, Wong says, have to go through rigorous and strict training using the platform’s own methods. Here, their job is not to market and sell property – that’s the job of the app and the website. They’re also not the central customer service – when users engage Ohmyhome, they first go through customer service, who assigns them an agent if need be.
Rather, the agents are here to do what agents are supposed to do – help customers make a decision. Without needing to close sales or earn through commissions, the agents just need to focus on tasks like showing the property and facilitating transactions.
This benefits the customer in that agents are still important to help them understand the real estate industry. “They still need to be assured by the human touch,” Wong says. But it also serves to help the agents, who – without the constant stress of closing deals – have a more stable career and stick to providing advice and guidance.
Ohmyhome also provides an added bit of flexibility, in that users can request for customer service to assign them another agent if one turns out unsatisfactory, while agents can request to serve other customers if they can’t get along with the one initially assigned to them.
Changing the industry
The ultimate goal, Wong says, is for Ohmyhome to better serve the customer by providing them with options. Users can sell a house by themselves if they like, or only engage the platform for specific services, like lawyers for instance. If they prefer convenience, they can work with an agent.
There are other features on Ohmyhome that are aimed at rebuilding trust in the real estate industry. For one, the platform doesn’t allow duplicate listings, a problem plaguing other marketplaces where different sellers list the same unit. Ohmyhome also doesn’t allow external agents to list other people’s units for sale.
The platform is more or less set up in Malaysia, having gained their required licenses. What’s left is for Ohmyhome to overcome the hurdle of being a newcomer in a new city. They’re starting out with Kuala Lumpur, with plans to expand to other Malaysian cities once they’ve gained trust and traction.
The focus isn’t only to expand its market reach, but also to establish itself as a proptech company that uses technology to further simplify housing transactions.
Now that they have launched in Kuala Lumpur, Ohmyhome is a cross-border platform – users can use the same app to view rental properties in both countries.
In this way, Malaysians can more easily seek a place to rent in Singapore and vice versa.
As for new technologies they may implement, Wong says they’re looking at setting up a chatbot to service customers reaching them late in the night. When asked about implementing 3D and virtual reality tech on the platform, Wong says that while they want people to have a more visual rendering of the platform in order to better view property offsite, they won’t want to implement anything too intensive.
“This is because 3D and VR can overtax the application and also make customers wary of using more of their phone data,” Wong says. “We choose features based on how consumers are using the platform. There’s no sense giving them what they don’t need.”
Ohmyhome appears disruptive, but Wong says a challenge to overcome is for the real estate industry and agents to understand that they’re not here to kill the middle man. “We’re here to hire them,” she says.
The human touch is still needed in the home industry. You just need the tech to build a better one.