From user to C-suite (Part 2): Navigating a challenging market
By Benjamin Cher February 11, 2016
- Tools and information for consumers and developers
- Multiple listings, playing against the big media boys
IN today’s digital world, data is king, even when it comes to buying a house. The more data consumers have, the more likely they will make a confident and informed purchase.
Singapore-headquartered real estate portal company PropertyGuru Group believes in this vision, according to its newly-minted president and chief business officer Hari Krishnan (pic), and is building the tools for consumers to do just that.
“To make a confident buying decision in this market, you need to have data,” he tells Digital News Asia (DNA) in Singapore.
“If you look at our technology investments in the recent past, one of them in particular which has been really useful are the mortgage and financial tools,” he adds.
These tools allow users to calculate the amount of debt they would incur, even taking into account the regulated cooling measures based on the country the property is in.
“We have all those calculators now, where you can just put in the numbers, and we can give you a sense of what size of an apartment you can buy,” says Hari.
“Those kinds of things are how we are going to help people make confident buying decisions,” he argues, adding that even photography plays a role in giving consumers a sense of what they’re actually buying.
But the key is choice, and that comes from listings.
“Do you have the most things to offer? Because, whether you are renting or buying, you want choice,” says Hari.
Recognising that the mobile Internet was taking off in the region, PropertyGuru – which operates a network of property portals in four South-East Asian countries – had launched a mobile app a few years ago.
“More than 50% of our visitors are coming through mobile platforms, so our app needs to improve,” Hari admits.
“We recently relaunched our mobile app, which includes everything available on the [web] platform.
“We are already beginning to upgrade our websites – if you look at Indonesia and Malaysia, there is already a new version of the website, which will roll out into other markets this year,” he adds.
With the new version, PropertyGuru is also testing out what works given the peculiarities of each market, according to Hari.
“We were operating in these four markets, but each of them has its own nuances in how people search for apartments. For example, people in Bangkok link it to the closest station.
“So how you do you filtering needs to vary, which adds to the complexity of how we do things to make it easy [for users] in each of our markets,” he adds.
Tools for developers
Navigating the property market in Asia can be tricky, with so many different regulations. Yet Hari believes that this represents an opportunity for all stakeholders.
“In a bullish real estate market, there would be a lot of crazy money being spent out there in many directions. In all of our markets, there are either artificial or ‘natural’ cooling measures,” he says.
This leads to more careful spending by developers and agents, which plays to PropertyGuru’s strengths, he argues.
And these include its data assets. “We can get a lot of relevant information in front of the buyer, and we also have a lot of B2B (business-to-business) tools – not visible to the consumer – which also provide a lot of information to the seller,” says Hari.
“One of the companies we bought last year was ePropertyTrack, which is a B2B sales collaboration tool for property developers to disseminate all the floor plans, virtual tours, and content of a new development to your sales force,” he adds.
Today, there are over 24,000 agents and 500 new projects on ePropertyTrack, and consumers are directly benefiting from this, according to Hari.
“If you, as a buyer, meet developers, they can sit in front of you with a tablet, showing you virtual tools and information.
“If you decide to buy a particular apartment, that salesperson can book or block it in real time – it greatly improves the ability for the consumer to understand what the inventory situation is.
“What if that buying decision was offline? Essentially you’re sitting in front of brochures, the salesperson is on the phone trying to understand what the inventory situation is, and the agent and 50 others are doing the exact same for a block of units.
“This should not be the way of things in 2016,” he adds.
Issues and competition
For all the improvements and tools PropertyGuru has rolled out or is promising to roll out, there is still the issue of duplicate listings – which not only artificially inflates numbers but also frustrates consumers.
Incidentally, this was one of the issues that saw the birth of rival property startup 99.co.
Hari believes the key is in educating the market. “I look at it as stages you go through in educating the marketplace and creating content.
“When PropertyGuru started out, there was no content and no inventory – at that point, you are trying to get agents used to the online platform, helping them learn how to use it, and to maximise the leads they get from our platform and such,” he adds.
But now, PropertyGuru’s dominant position allows it to educate the market and improve the quality, according to Hari.
“The big focus in 2016 is to improve the quality of listings, not just in terms of the photographs and the content, but to ensure duplicate listings are done away with,” he promises.
A mix of technology and incentives will be used to root out and prevent duplicate listings. Measures have already been implemented in some markets, Hari declares.
“We have seen a drop in the total number of listings but the number of unique listings has remained the same – so the quality has improved, and inbound traffic has increased as a result,” he claims.
Property listings have so long been the bastion of large print media companies, and while some tapped on their classifieds background to tackle the online arena years ago, the results have been mixed. But they have the financial muscle and have renewed their efforts in recent years.
Hari remains optimistic, believing that ultimately, it will be consumers who will decide who is left playing the game.
“In the end, consumers will go where there are the most options – we are part of the consumer Internet, where the consumer decides the rules of the game,” he says.
“Where the most consumers go, that’s where everything else will follow – that’s where the developers and agents will provide their information, that’s where people will go to transact,” he adds.
As an online marketplace for property, if PropertyGuru can provide the footfall, the retailers will show up, he argues.
“In three out of our four markets we are No 1; and in our fourth market Malaysia, we have massively shrunk the lead of the No 1 player,” says Hari.
“In South-East Asia we are the largest online property portal; we believe that our investments in technology are higher than anyone else.
“We have invested in technology, content and adjacency which add value to the ecosystem,” he adds.
Investors have bought into the PropertyGuru proposition, with Hari pointing out its US$129-million investment last June from a consortium consisting of global private investment firm TPG, Indonesian media group Emtek Group, and Asia Pacific-based tech venture capital firm Square Peg Capital.
“TPG puts its money in very few growth-stage companies in Asia, and we see that as a big vote of confidence,” he says.
“It has understood that we are best positioned to take this industry into the next phase of growth,” he declares.
Previous Instalment: The origin story
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