Singapore property rental portal 99.co makes official debut
By Digital News Asia November 6, 2014
- Goes to market with new interface, proprietary search algorithm for listings
- Agent-facing mobile app now available, consumer-facing app in 'a few weeks'
SINGAPORE-based online rental property search portal 99.co is now open to real estate agents and rental seekers after nine months in development.
At a soft launch event hosted for real estate agents and the media, chief executive officer and cofounder Darius Cheung expressed excitement over the portal’s general availability.
“We believe we have created a unique, cutting-edge solution that delivers the most relevant search results to users 10 times faster and better than any current solution,” he declared.
In an interview with Digital News Asia (DNA) in May, Cheung (pic) had outlined how personal experiences dealing with the rental market motivated him and his founding team to build a better solution.
At the time, 99.co had secured S$700,000 (US$561,200) seed funding from 500 Startups, East Ventures, Fenox VC and Golden Gate Ventures, and had launched a beta portal.
The portal’s main target audience will be people looking to rent property in Singapore, with a mission to become the preferred platform for landlords and real estate agents to list and rent out their properties.
Cheung claimed that 99.co has grown four times since its beta launch, with 2,000 listings on offer, and that today there are 1,200 agents listing 9,000 properties on the portal.
He said the portal’s launch also marks a new user interface, with the team inspired to create a "beautiful search experience that is simple, relevant and reliable."
It features a fast and intuitive map-based search interface that is complemented with relevant information such as transport.
The team was already working on an algorithm and software that can detect fake or inaccurate listings back in May.
At the launch event, the company unveiled a new proprietary algorithm called ListRank, which currently takes in more than 30 data points to rank search results that are specific to users.
The data points range from the quality of the listing, the relevancy of the description, users’ profile data, and browsing behavioural data to property data, that is used to calculate various affinity scores.
The algorithm measures something labelled “specificity” in listing descriptions. For example, if six listings have exactly the same descriptions, then the description is likely to have a lower quality.
ListRank would rank a listing with a differentiated, substantial description higher than one that looks like it has been copied and pasted from another listing.
The algorithm also picks up clues from behavioural data, so that a listing that is clicked and enquired about often will also gain ranking to rise up as well. In addition, agents who consistently generate high-ranking listings will also accumulate a modifier score that would enhance their ranking.
“Combining that with a business model that does not allow listers to buy their way up in ranking, we believe it will be a quantum leap in terms of search quality,” Cheung said.
The team is also looking to implement machine-learning algorithms to beef up ListRank, so that over time, based on what behaves according to the expected model and what doesn’t, the algorithm can be automatically adjusted for accuracy.
That commitment was expressed with the addition of Grace Tang to the team, a recent doctoral graduate of machine learning from Stanford University, to lead ListRank development efforts.
There are also plans to incorporate ratings and reviews as a feedback system to continue to improve the search results.
The 99.co service is free for consumers and is priced at S$29 a month for real estate agents. Agents who sign up in November will enjoy a free six-month subscription.
However, the business model remains a work-in-progress as the team continues to take feedback from various real estate agent leaders on what would be the correct pricing model to encourage the best behaviour and efficient business for all stakeholders, Cheung said.
Key to the launch is the mobile experience, with an app called 99.co Pro for real estate agents to operate their daily business and manage leads now available for download.
According to cofounder Anuj Bheda, a simple, easy to use consumer-facing app that enables browsing for apartments while on the go is slated to be launched in a few weeks.
UPDATE: The 99.co reports that the consumer app for iOS, was approved on Nov 6 and is now available for download from the App Store.
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