Malaysian Real-Estate Goes Online
By Mohd Azhar Ibrahim
KUALA LUMPUR, July 8 (Bernama) -- The real estate industry is highly competitive, and receptive to technological advancement. The advent of the Internet has drastically changed the nature of interaction between players in this industry.
In advertising, for instance, the Internet has outpaced traditional newsprint, magazines and billboards, in terms of the pull it exerts on customers, making it the most powerful tool for buying and selling today.
It has created a shift from hard-sell advertising, to quick, custom-tailored responses to consumer enquiries, helping them make wise decisions.
Gone are the days when the property buyer would scan through print advertisements, or scour streets looking for properties on sale. He would then contact the real-estate agent who would act as an intermediary between the property seller and buyer.
Today, highly specialised property websites provide instant connectivity between agents and clients, and dispense invaluable guidance.
These online realtors serve as meeting points for property buyers, sellers and investors. Each of these parties benefits, greatly, from the free flow of consumer-friendly information, round-the-clock, on the Internet.
According to the National Association of Realtors in America, over 80 per cent of home buyers in the U.S. start their search online.
The Internet is the most effective tool, today, to advertise and find real estate. But creating an Internet presence is a tremendous challenge in itself. Online realtors have to constantly be on their toes to adapt, innovate, and strategies, to remain cost-effective and competitive.
As in any other commercial undertaking, a good reputation goes a long way in bringing success to the online business.
To find out what it takes to be a successful online realtor, BERNAMA, recently, posed an online questionnaire to iProperty.com's Chief Executive Officer, Shaun Di Gregorio.
iProperty.com, which is owned by the Australian Stock Exchange-listed IPGA Limited, is Malaysia's leading online realtor. The company maintains websites for the Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, India and Philippines markets. Its portal in Malaysia generates over 300,000 leads and 916,000 hits per month.
BERNAMA: In what way can this virtual culture be a win-win situation for the broker, the agent and the consumer?
GREGORIO: Online property portals are designed with key stakeholders in mind. This means we think in terms of what is important for consumers, agents and property developers. We have invested significant resources into our infrastructure and intellectual property, to ensure our partners and customers always get the best experience when navigating our various online properties.
For consumers, it means 24/7 access to some 255,000 properties that are for sale and rent. They can easily search across the country, at the click of a button, and access hundreds of thousands of properties. Or, they can set automatic email alerts that will notify them when a property that suits their needs comes on to the market for sale or rent.
For agents and developers, it means access to a huge audience of property hunters, right across Malaysia and the region. This was evidenced in the fact that iProperty.com, Malaysia's website, was ranked the 12th most visited site in March 2011.
To demonstrate how far we've come since we began nine years ago - our 6,500 or so agents and 500 property developer partners can advertise properties with unlimited text description, and load up to 20 photos per property, allowing for it to be showcased in the best possible way. Consumers can email, SMS or call the agent and make an enquiry.
Providing both consumers and agents, alike, with the best in information, all our listings are also distributed to seven property channel partners, which include Malaysiakini.com.my, mySimlipfieds.com, e-Media (New Straits Times), Sinchew-i.com, MSN Malaysia, Bernama.com and Lelong.my.
BERNAMA: What are the prospects and challenges in online real estate? What trends are we seeing in property portals?
GREGORIO: Every month, we are seeing more and more consumers turn to the Internet for their property needs.
The challenge, and opportunity, I might add, is how fast we can embrace technology and work with our agents and property developers, in helping them better utilize the Internet and grow their business, in partnership with iProperty.com.
In this respect, we have pioneered many firsts, and are proud of our ability to leverage the team's innovativeness. We were the first to launch a crowd-sourcing tool, iExpert, in Malaysia, that is designed to foster connections between real estate enthusiasts and portal users; the first to launch an iPhone and iPad property app in Malaysia (this, before iPad even made it to Malaysia); the first to launch an android app for property search in Southeast Asia; and the first to launch a mobile property portal http://m.iproperty.com.my too.
People are learning to trust the Internet as they become more technologically savvy, and more importantly, trust brands like iProperty.com that have been in Malaysia for nearly nine years. On an average, our site gets over 916,000 unique visitors each month, with each spending about 15 minutes, browsing through our pages.
Consumers are also, increasingly, looking online for information that can help them make informed decisions. Online resources that provide details on topics like price trends, interest rates, local neighbourhood information, the best places to buy, and financing options, are just some of the things consumers seek.
The internet is all about information, and property consumers are enjoying the benefits of this.
BERNAMA: What kind of property, in terms of classification, price range and locations, is best suited for the online model? How is the pricing mechanism for online advertising different from traditional print media?
GREGORIO: There's no one type of property that is best suited to the Internet - all types are suited for the online model. Online classifieds businesses are not that different from traditional classifieds business. In our case, real estate agents pay a monthly subscription, and for that fee, they upload and advertise their properties on our website. Our focus is lead generation, and ensuring our advertisers get value for their monthly subscription.
We also have a large number of property developers advertising with us. They, too, can purchase a subscription, although they tend to favour display advertising. This type of advertising is also purchased by many other companies, such as financial institutions looking to target property buyers. It's a profitable model. Last year, our online advertising revenue grew 161 per cent, generating about RM7.6 million in income.
We believe in providing value to our partners and consumers.
BERNAMA: What are the advantages of this medium over traditional print media, in terms of cost, market reach, and returns, for the seller, buyer/investor, broker, and estate agent?
GREGORIO: The internet reaches a larger audience 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, compared to any other media, and at a lower cost. Cutting across language barriers too, is a unique feature. Our site is readily and easily accessible.
Research shows that about 33 per cent and 29 per cent of our visitors converse in Bahasa and Chinese respectively, as their first language. It's that simple!
BERNAMA: Creating an internet presence is a tremendous challenge in itself. What are the strategies for a real-estate agent website to be successful? What tactics should be used?
GREGORIO: Websites should always be designed with consumers in mind. Some things to remember:
Make sure the website is linked to a leading website
Provide as much information as possible about the properties and the agents, themselves
Ensure the website is professional looking - don't cut corners
Use lots of images, and ensure all of this, and the property information is current and accurate
Make it as easy as possible for a consumer to make an enquiry. You must be accessible
Always return emails!
BERNAMA: What can an investor look forward to in an expo organised by iProperty?
GREGORIO: The biggest range of properties available, anywhere! iProperty.com Malaysia owns and manages four to six regional property expos a year, under the brand name iProperty.com EXPO, which brings together a showcase of local and international investment properties for discerning home buyers and investors.
At our EXPOs, we provide meaningful information and helpful tips on making an investment in property, both for agents and consumers. Our various talk sessions often involve Malaysia's leading property experts, who provide great tips, tricks and investment advice.