For property purchases, the action clearly seems to be shifting online. Over the last four years in India, real estate transactions to the tune of $43 billion (around Rs 2.6 lakh crore at current exchange rate) have been influenced by research done on the internet, says a study by Google. When segmented, it is residential real estate that takes the lion’s share of transactions at $31 billion (Rs 1.8 lakh crore).
“It is clear that internet today, is emerging as the top destination for researching before finalising any high value purchase and the consumer behaviour is no different for real estate purchases. Real estate queries on Google search have been growing consistently registering over 3x growth in the last three years, the rate of query growth is even higher for tier-II cities and growing at over 350 per cent. Our search query data shows that over 53 per cent search queries are done with clear purchase intent,” says Nitin Bawankule, industry director, Google India.
Even as buyers are carrying out research and studying the options through the internet, buying a home is a protracted affair. Some developers, however, have tasted success in selling a home online. One such developer is Tata Housing. “Last year Tata Housing participated in one of the largest online shopping festival — Google Online Shopping Festival — and had set an extraordinary record of selling more than 50 homes online with sales totalling more than Rs 25 crore in just four days,” says A Harikesh, senior vice president, marketing and sales, Tata Housing Development Company.
While the case of Tata Housing may be unique, most developers are warming up to the potential of the internet as a marketing medium and also the changing profile of the buyer who is younger, tech-savvy and is seeking information and transparency in dealings with the developer.
“There was a considerable amount of change aversion among Indian developers in the past. The general feeling was that it was a ‘new age’ medium with little potential to catalyse actual sales. This mind-set has changed drastically over the past few years, and developers are now making active use of digital media for marketing properties,” says Kishor Pate, chairman and managing director, Amit Enterprises Housing Ltd, a Pune-based developer.
Bawankule adds that his survey found 48 per cent of purchase decisions in tier-II cities such as Pune being influenced by the internet, which is fast catching up with the 57 per cent in tier-I cities. In addition to Pune, the other tier-II cities where buyers are actively searching for property on the internet are Lucknow, Jaipur, Indore, Chandigarh, Coimbatore, Nagpur, Kanpur, Surat and Ahmedabad.
“The buyers’ profile has changed drastically over the years. Now, the age group of 28-38 are the major buyers and prefer to make preliminary choices online and follow it up with the physical visits to the sites of projects. All the leading developers are in tune with this trend,” says Manish Agarwal, managing director, Satya Group and secretary, Credai-NCR.
The Google study says that over 40 per cent of property-related searches are done through smartphones and mobile queries are doubling every year. Of this, 73 per cent have used a mobile app to aid their search.
“Mobile and tablet-friendly websites have already become the norms in the sector. Plus, there is a need to keep them in tune with latest website or portal technology. Without strong content, any website having latest technology can prove to be all glamour, no substance,” adds Agarwal.
“With increasing internet usage, making a website that is friendly to smartphone or tablets users has now become a critical part of our website management. We have included property details like pricing, location, recent launches, construction updates, 3D project walkthroughs in details which are very user friendly,” says David Walker, executive director, Sare Homes.
Some developers too are gearing up and defining the USP of their project in order to leverage keywords, the ultimate factor that determines the ranking of a search result.
“Real estate developers with a clear USP — such as projects in exciting new locations or within the affordable housing price bracket — have clear advantage if they leverage the power of keyword searches properly,” says Sachin Agarwal, chairman and managing director, Maple Shelters, a Pune-based developer.
While internet-ready technology is at various stages of adoption among developers, buyers are flocking to the websites of real estate portals for their information needs, with some 62 per cent of traffic directed to what Google calls “aggregators” in its report.
Property portals are gearing up to meet the challenge by collecting more data and placing it in the public domain, says Advitiya Sharma, co-founder and marketing head, Housing.com, a two-year old start-up for whom it has been a steep learning curve.
“It is great to see how buyers’ house selection process has been refined. More than 75 per cent buyers look for a house via maps. In the beginning, this ratio was less than 50 per cent. People have got more selective with their house-hunting requirements. Now their search specifications are more about nearby availability of hospitals or nearby commute stations,” says Sharma.
Buyers are not logging on to search for preliminary information. The searches increasingly are turning towards hard data on appreciation potential and construction quality.
“Property buyers today are extremely particular about the amenities and construction quality of the property they are buying. As people are spending more on houses, search queries are shifting towards higher appreciation potential areas. Amenities are becoming important as families usually look for availability of essential facilities for their children,” says Sumit Jain, co-founder and CEO, Commonfloor.com.
The one need a buyer seeks to fulfil through their property search online is validated and current information, says Ganesh Vasudevan, CEO, Indiaproperty.com.
“In the context of real estate, this means reliable information on availability, selling price, floor plans, amenities promised, legal and statutory approvals amongst others. We have over 1,500 projects where we have verified the legal documents. In addition, we provide a video of the last mile approach to the property, to give an accurate picture of the surroundings and neighbourhood,” says Vasudevan.
Developers say that 25-30 per cent of sales now originate online, which is why they see a need to tie-up with some of the real estate portals and leverage their technology and transparency.
“Tie-ups with leading property portals are now de rigueur and a default route for major developers in cities like Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi-NCR, Chennai and Kolkata. Since the on-ground conversion factor is also quite high, this trend is bound to gain increasing traction in the coming years,” says Arvind Jain, managing director, Pride Group, a Pune-based developer.