Would you buy a house with a click of your mouse? If the answer is yes, that could be the recipe to catalyse India’s beleaguered real estate sector out of the dumps.
India’s once-booming housing market has not seen too many sunny days since the financial meltdown of 2008-09. The then-sky-high prices never really recovered, as a spate of events conspired against the industry, from demonetisation to RERA, GST, the NBFC collapse and now, COVID-19. But, as green shoots of enthusiasm get visible, the industry is pinning its hope on a reversal of the curve with a very dramatic post-pandemic twist—online home buying.
“Preference of the new age home buyer has changed owing to the crisis and it is imperative for us to adapt to new technologies that will ease the entire home buying process for this new age home buyer,” argues Rajeev Talwar, CEO of DLF.
Adds Niranjan Hiranandani, the billionaire co-founder and managing director of realty major Hiranandani Group, “Homebuyers are worried about jobs and salaries and how they will pay their EMIs if something happens. That is the primary reason for procrastination (in actual buying). But if you go online to property sites, they are packed with people interested in buying!”
“When the issue of unemployment gets mitigated, people will start buying again,” adds Hiranandani, but explains how things cannot be run the same way as before. “We will have to present real estate as a product.”
The digital footprint of real estate, as yet, is still nascent. Despite property websites being around for years, homebuyers had always preferred to stick to the physical world modes—checking out newspaper classifieds, word-of-mouth or going through a real estate agent, visiting properties and vetting paperwork before deciding. Online realty was still majorly a realm for rental at best, or for initial prospects.
But realty majors now feel the digital boom of the past three months and the increased comfort levels of Indian consumers with buying and interacting online has finally tipped the scales. While earlier you had only photos of properties, webinars where prospective homebuyers were scouted with presentations, to even drone tours of sites had popped up in recent days. Virtual Reality (VR) tours of the properties have also long been an option, with some companies offering 3D walkthrough services.
Going forward, Hiranandani believes the millennial home buyer is ready to even buy online, provided the industry is upfront and start catering to his requirements.
“As an industry, real estate needs to adapt to a tech-savvy future in terms of digital platforms for sales and marketing as also adopt enhanced automation at sites,” he suggests. Product displays, social media plugs and blog reviews will all be significant in this change, he feels.
That may already be happening. “We [had] a home fest with an initiative to sell homes online and offline, and an online booking platform with coupon-based campaigns” points out Ashish R. Puravankara, managing director of real estate company Puravankara.
“We were also the first to introduce the concept of virtual real estate currency. We continue to run these programmes as they have seen much traction from prospective buyers.”
“Even closure and payment of loans have begun to happen online,” predicts Dhruv Agarwala, Group CEO of housing.com, makaan.com and PropTiger.com. “Online buying of realty is a near-term reality.”
Housing.com's survey with the National Real Estate Development Council indicates that while not too many home buyers are biting the bullet, interest remains high. More than half of respondents, from 8 cities across India, had said that they had only postponed their home buying and not put it off.
That, and the recent reduction in interest rates and possible reduction in prices, coupled with the realisation through the pandemic and WFH requirements that having a spacious home was not only needed but a safe investment option.
“The coronavirus pandemic has made people realise that home is the safest investment option. Post-Covid, we are hopeful that people will be investing in homes,” says Jaxay Shah, national chairman of The Real Estate Developers' Associations of India (CREDAI). “The affordability and low-interest rates will be a great pull factor.”
Talwar of DLF does add a note of caution. “The physical world is equally important. [Even if the transaction is online] people would still like to see and meet other owners and get reviews. [Online and offline] These two things will go hand in hand.”