Amit Gupta, an IT professional, bought his first home in Greater Noida (West) around seven years back. He made dozens of visits to different property locations and met a number of real estate agents before narrowing down on an under-construction three-bedroom flat. Even after deciding to purchase that apartment, he remembers how he had to visit the builder’s office several times for different formalities right from booking to taking possession.
Gupta, who now lives in Sydney with his wife, is considering investing in the Indian real estate market, which he sees as a good investment opportunity. However, living thousands of miles away now in a completely different continent, he is no longer in a position to again make those multiple visits and go through all the hassles.
There are many such investors, not just NRIs, who want to invest in the Indian real estate. And since their goal is financial returns, rather than end-use, many are open to make the purchase without a physical visit as long as the location is desirable and the builder has a good reputation.
While buying a property without visiting the construction site and the office of the builder multiple times was not possible when Gupta bought his first home, many reputed developers are now adopting digital technologies to make this possible. In light of the COVID crisis and ensuing lockdown, this transition has picked up pace. Many state governments are even making the registration process online, with Maharashtra taking the lead.
According to Yukti Nagpal, Director, Gulshan Homz, digitisation has helped in reviving the sector to a certain extent after it was brought to a standstill due to the lockdown. In order to overcome the mobility challenges, Gulshan Homz started digital marketing and virtual tours of their properties for their target buyers.
“Virtual tours bring to you the ease of visiting projects within the comforts of your home, scrolling through your screens via latest technology integration. Now as we study the ongoing trends, tailoring our approach and digital tools have become an elemental part of the process,” Nagpal explains.
With availability of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality, the developers and real estate agents are using drone cameras and digital tours giving a 360-degree view of their properties. According to DK Aggarwal, President, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, these virtual tours are giving a more realistic and picturesque view of the property and its surroundings. A customer sitting at home, with family, can view the intricate details of the property and get a bird’s eye view of the surroundings from the virtual balcony of their proposed property.
“The new virtual site visits have been more realistic and convenient for both the customer and the agents as now the customer does not have to travel long distances to view the property. Also at times, when a building is under construction, getting a clearer and first hand view of the surrounding is not possible. Now it can be done digitally,” he says.
India has the second largest Internet user base in the world after China and it is on a rapid growth especially in the tier 2 and 3 cities and remote locations. Mobile data in India is the cheapest in the world. These factors create a significant opportunity and most stakeholders are making the most of it.
Housing.com, a leading online real estate portal, uses several technology focused products to reach out to potential homebuyers, homeowners and tenants, including online booking platforms, real-time video connect, virtual realty and virtual tours, rent payment and webinars. While their website traffic initially declined during the first phase of the lockdown, it has since increased to record levels. It hosted over 30,000 buyers over the last two months using video calls, webinars and other digital mediums. Over 90 per cent of real estate transactions on their platform have taken place entirely through online channels during this period.
According to Mani Rangarajan, Group COO of Housing.com, Makaan.com and PropTiger.com, searches for buying and renting homes have moved online over the last few years with about 90 per cent of all buyers and tenants using the internet to research potential buying and rental options.
“While we have seen buyers book properties with reputed developers without a physical site visit, we do not believe that this will be the new normal. However, we have seen the number of site visits per transaction decline by more than 30 per cent and given that site visits will be challenging given social distancing, the trend of fewer site visits will likely continue,” he says.
He adds that during the pandemic, his group hosted several virtual tours of under-construction real-estate properties through tools such as live drone shoots with their property consultants and the developers’ sales teams answering live questions from potential buyers. PropTiger.com has built an online platform where users can complete the entire process from searching a property to buying it in a few steps.
However, for end users, digital solutions may not be enough as they like to visit the site themselves. However, even for them, the number of site visits prior to home buying has come down owing to digital initiatives. To boost their confidence, some developers are offering full-refund of the entire booking amount in case buyers change their minds after the site visit.
Sudhir Pai, CEO, Magicbricks, feels that COVID-19 has disrupted existing patterns across industries and is ushering in a change that shall set a new order for businesses even after the crisis is over. He says that while the home buying journey in India has been a mix of both offline and online aspects, digital scrutiny has been steadily growing its share in the process. “Getting all critical processes online with the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning would be another emerging trend. Virtual video tours may gradually take eminence over site visits and the sample home. With an amalgamation of all these technologies, the real estate space is getting ready to emerge as a future ready sector able to handle challenges using technology,” he explains.
From the buyers’ perspective, digitisation will facilitate more efficiency in the home buying process with quicker discovery, access to better information about the project and locality, better price comparison, less time in site visits and ability to make transactions online. Developers, on the other hand, will be able to focus on more interested buyers, expand their reach to buyers, convert transactions quicker and reduce cost of customer acquisition and site visits.
Dr Niranjan Hiranandani, National President, NAREDCO, says that in the real estate sector, barring the actual construction, most of the work has quickly shifted to digital mode getting synced with the post-RERA world, where transparency and accountability are the watchwords.
“Post COVID crisis, digitisation and digitalisation will be the new normal, transforming real estate to a cutting edge. It has uplifted the industry’s presence beyond geographical boundaries and connected the people across the borders to invest or buy in Indian real estate. The unprecedented crisis demands unprecedented actions, and digitization is the new future,” he concludes.
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