While the commercial internet has been in place for nearly two decades now, the smartphone has been doing the rounds for roughly 10 years. This combination has led to the emergence of smartphone -internet generation where most of our purchases are now done through the internet on phones, including buying properties. Today, buyers resorting to property portals to purchase a property of their choice has become commonplace activity.
Sale and purchase of properties via digital platforms have increased substantially in the past few years. According to Magicbricks.com, one of the oldest and most popular property portals in the country, there has been an increase of over 40 per cent CAGR in the last five years. Such portals have now acquired scale and are increasingly becoming the demand catalyst through innovative products and services— both for buyers and sellers. More than 70 per cent of homebuyers now start their journey online and over 80 per cent of available properties today are getting posted there. With maximum homebuyers and sellers increasing their digital footprints, property portals are gradually moving towards becoming a full-stack service provider.
“In the past few years, the increasing number of netizens and advanced technology has led to the emergence of online spaces for residential property. Such platforms not only allow a user to search for options in various categories, but also provide information such as floor plans, directions, commute details and community features. With the increasing penetration of smartphones in India, real estate developers are also launching mobile apps to offer a seamless browsing experience,” said Nikhil Bhatia, MD and Co-head Capital Markets, CBRE.
In the middle of the last decade, property portals like Magicbricks.com and 99acres.com emerged and transformed the real estate space in the country. “These platforms store huge databases and information on properties in their servers. Users can now procure relevant information through just a click of the mouse. This has led to democratisation of Indian real estate and brought in a lot of transparency,” said Ankit Kansal, Founder and CEO, 360 Realtors.
However, in the early part of the current decade some new players emerged while the existing ones upped their game. These portals focussed specifically on tech-enabled database that allowed users to search for properties online with ease. They even deployed a large sales force across India.
“While the digital interfaces helped in search and identification, the on-ground sales force helped in guiding the home buyers through the actual purchase cycle. These sales forces worked as personal consultants to buyers and handheld them by assisting in multiple site visits, navigate through multiple alternatives, zero down on the right property and negotiated the price on their behalf,” said Kansal.
In order to further help home buyers, these advisories also developed large customer relationship management teams to assist them through the post-purchase cycle-legal work, documentations and informing the buyer regularly on various stages of construction till possession. “Interestingly, these advisories do not charge anything from the buyer. Rather, they charge commission from the developer against every deal closed,” he further added.
Here, one must remember that the process of homebuying is not and perhaps can never be completely online. While a substantial chunk can be done online, nearly 45 per cent has to be offline. The search and the discovery part can be done online but the deal is always closed offline. “A house is a big ticket buy and involves significant amount of investment. Hence, while people will always deeply research online, the transaction will continue to happen offline even in the foreseeable future. However, with our innovative auction platform, where properties are bid online, we are bringing the experience as close to being complete as possible,” said Sudhir Pai, CEO, Magicbricks.
“What works for any online portal is the search and discovery process and a bunch of ancillary services. At Magicbricks, we have integrated all these aspects of the home buying process in our bid to become a full-stack service provider,” he added.
There are several reasons why online property portals have become so popular among homebuyers. The most significant aspect of it being cost effective. When buying a home through a broker, one has to pay a hefty brokerage fee. There is no such thing while buying property through such portals. “Buyers do not need to pay extra brokerage—which can often run up to several lakh! Real estate portals also have a much bigger database than a standalone broker. Discovering a worthwhile property is also much simpler for users, as they can filter out unwanted properties without even needing to make a visitation,” said Saurabh Garg, CBO and Co-founder, NoBroker.com.
Even though the entire homebuying process cannot happen online, real estate portals have added tools and features to enhance the process of homebuying.
Magicbricks has an app named Magicbricks PropWorth that allows a user to estimate the value of any property in an instant. Buyers can use it to compute the current market price of any property. One can also find out the past and projected price trends, availability of property in different localities, locality rating and a lot more. 360 Realtors offers a price up and price down feature that will showcase whether property prices have risen, stayed flat or dipped in recent times. Buyers can find out detailed information on projects, types of projects, market analysis, price trends and social and physical infrastructure in the vicinity.
While buying a property, travel or commute time is an important consideration. A product named Travel Time Search offered by Magicbricks is a tool that helps home buyers find homes based on travel time—be it school or office or places of interest. Homebuyers can simply enter the destination and the desired commuting time and the app will show all the properties near a specified destination and also within the specified time limit.
NoBroker.com also has this feature. Other than that, it also has various plans available for prospective buyers. These plans give users access to value-added features such as instant property alerts, title verification assistance and home loan assistance. The plans also provide access to a relationship manager who helps buyers search for sellers, fix meetings and negotiate price, apart from providing assistance with home loan and property verification.
360 Realtors is also creating a new section for niche users such as students, singles and old-age individuals and young people.
Property portals also offer other value added services. Magicbricks offers EMI calculators and loan eligibility calculator and also expert facilities such as vastu services and advocate-on-call. 360 Realtors offers a helpline for real estate consulting, home loans, legal consultation and after sales service.
New technologies that have transformed banking, insurance and investing are also being used by these property portals to enhance customer experience and add value.
“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (ML) are playing a significant role in driving credibility by weeding out fake sellers and listings on the platform. ML is also ensuring better curation of properties and helping in providing accurate property estimate to the consumer. Similarly, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality would be able to drive consumer engagement by creating an immersive experience. These will aid during the important site visits or display homes step of the journey,” said Pai. He further added that the emergence of technology like Blockchain is certainly going to change the way business will be done in the real estate sector.
Of late, these portals have also introduced chatbot features. Commenting on the implications of the same, Bhatia said, “With the help of ML, chatbots will now be able to respond to more specific and complex queries. The key advantage is that they are ready to interact with potential customers round the clock. Moreover, based on user preferences, a chatbot can make personalised offerings. They play an instrumental role in generating higher lead conversions.”
Magicbricks has a chat feature that enables property seekers or home buyers interact directly with advertisers without sharing their mobile number. Magicbricks’ integration of ‘Chat’ for Android and iOS users is in line with its commitment to protect the privacy of users, who might hesitate to share their mobile number during the home buying journey. The feature addresses all buyers’ concerns like spam calls and unsolicited calls.
While the process of homebuying can never go completely digital, however, with the advent of such portals it has definitely become much easier. So, it can be easily said that buying your dream home is definitely a few clicks away!