"Every property that one sees on housing.com has been physically verified by our operations team. We collect high-definition photos and 100 plus data points on our physical visit" - Rishabh Gupta, COO, Housing.com
When banker Ajay John wanted to buy a property in Bengaluru, he started checking newspaper classifieds. It was, however, tiresome because he could not filter listings according to price and size. After about a year without any luck, he shifted his focus to the online real estate portals, where he could customise his search in price and size brackets, do price comparisons and do area- and locality-based searches. Soon, John bought a property at Whitefield from a listing on the portal indiaproperty.com.
A study by commonfloor.com, a real estate portal based in Bengaluru, says an Indian, on an average, takes around a year and travels about 320km to buy his dream home. It is one of the most important financial decisions in a person's life and often the biggest investment. Picking the right property is the most important aspect of this investment and this is where real estate portals score. “A home buyer goes to an online real estate portal mainly to list out properties in one go. Shortlisting of properties is very easy and it is convenient to eliminate properties one is not interested in. Plus, the real estate portals provide the home buyer with added information on different localities,” said Sudhir Pai, CEO of magicbricks.com.
Market reports say one in every two prospective buyers in India uses a real estate portal at some point of their house hunting. And it is not just about the convenience. “There is a high level of competitiveness among online property portals in India,” said Sanjay Bajaj, managing director of real estate consultancy JLL India. “These portals are basically search result aggregators that target clients by means of search engine optimisation and generic content designed to drive traffic. Developers have also woken up to the need for having dynamic and user-friendly websites.”
The tough competition has made these portals come up with many innovative features. For instance, housing.com, which is often referred to as one of the most promising startups, offers features such as 'lifestyle rating', 'price heat maps' and 'child friendliness index' that help prospective home buyers shortlist according to their priorities. The portal has also introduced an interactive home booking platform called Slice View, which allows users to literally slice through each floor of a new project, select a flat and make a booking.
Similarly, indiaproperty.com's TruView feature allows users to have an aerial view of a housing project so that he can select a tower, floor or a unit of his choice. The portal has launched an augmented reality mobile app which integrates print and outdoor advertisements with digital media. It allows a potential buyer to scan a quick response code on a print ad or brochure using a smartphone and see a three-dimensional visualisation of the whole project.
Commonfloor.com has a feature called Retina, which is said to be the world’s first virtual reality innovation in the real estate sector. “This technology allows customers to view, review and assess properties from anywhere at any point of time,” said Sumit Jain, co-founder and CEO, commonfloor.com. “Currently we have around 200 projects on Retina and in the next 3-6 months we plan to have around 2,000 projects.”
It is not just these digital gimmicks that are driving the popularity of real estate portals. Indiaproperty.com, for instance, offers the service of legal team to customers. “We are an end-to-end player in the real estate space,” said Ganesh Vasudevan, CEO of indiaproperty.com. “We have recruited a set of legal experts who help in giving legal advice to the home buyers on the property documents. It is drawing a fairly good response.”
Housing.com says it lists only genuine sellers. “Every property that one sees on housing.com has been physically verified by our operations team,” said Rishabh Gupta, COO. “We collect high-definition photos and 100 plus data points on our physical visit. The data collected is processed by our data sciences lab to display the various useful indexes for our end consumer.”
The booming popularity of these portals has made them darlings of venture capitalists. Commonfloor.com has got funding from Accel Partners, Tiger Global and Google Capital. Housing.com has received several rounds of funding in the last two years from Nexus Venture Partners, Helion Venture Partners, Qualcomm Venture Partners, SoftBank and Falcon Edge. Indiaproperty.com has raised $19 million from Bertelsmann India Investments, Canaan Partners and Mayfield India. It is planning to raise another $50 million for expansion.
None of these portals, however, has a significant presence in the affordable housing segment, where the big volumes come in. Because of that, said Bajaj, online searches were still not the stand-alone route to property hunting in India.
Investment: So far it has raised $19 million. The last round of funding was of $12 million in 2013 by Bertelsmann India Investments, Canaan Partners and Mayfield India. It is planning to raise another $50 million for expansion.
Innovation: Its TruView feature provides customers with virtual representation of the project. It has also launched an augmented reality mobile app which integrates print and outdoor advertisements with digital media.
Investment: Owned by a publishing house
Innovation: Provides financial and legal advice. Has extensive tie-ups with real estate agents.
Investment: The latest round of funding was of $90 million by Japanese telecom and internet giant SoftBank, Falcon Edge Capital and some existing investors.
Innovation: Offers features such as 'lifestyle rating', 'price heat maps' and 'child friendliness index'. Its Slice View, an interactive home booking platform, allows users to slice through each floor of a new project, select a flat, and make a booking.
Investment: The latest round of funding was of $30 million from Tiger Global Management.
Innovation: Its Retina technology, which works on Android platform, offers the virtual tour of a selected property.