Despite having to be held via Zoom, this year’s Property Portal Watch Conference for the APAC region was an interesting meeting of minds in which a lot of pertinent topics were discussed by C-Level leaders from the region. For those who couldn’t make it, here is a summary of some of the topics discussed by the esteemed panelists and presenters.
The conference kicked off with a presentation from our Executive Chairman Simon Baker centred on a questionnaire carried out among property portal and classifieds professionals over the last few days. The questionnaire was a follow up to three previous versions, and some of the changes seen over time were striking.
For example, the length of time that participants thought that the negative impact of Covid-19 would last has steadily increased every time we have run the survey, with the majority now believing that the negative impact will last well into 2021 whereas at the start of the pandemic the majority optimistically believed it would only last 6 months.
It also seems that portal companies in emerging markets are suffering more than those in established ones as 58% of respondents from emerging markets reported being worse off since the beginning of the pandemic as opposed to 35% of respondents from mature markets.
Among several other interesting points to come from the survey was the positive news that 75% of respondents said their business is currently hiring, while 68% said that they are increasing marketing spend.
Sign up for free for the European version of the conference on the 7th of October for more insights from Simon’s questionnaire.
Moving into the transaction
A common theme from Property Portal Watch conferences over the last few years has been around portals and classifieds companies getting into transaction revenue streams. This year more than ever it seems that this is a pertinent question.
Malcolm Myers of European Internet Ventures was pessimistic about what traditional players can achieve by staying with subscription and ancillary transaction-based models. As a venture capitalist who does not have to appease any agent customers, he was enthusiastic in using data to suggest that companies should get into the transactions despite the risks to client relationships.
Michael Layani of Property Finder on the other hand said that his company’s business model is working well in the paid advertising subscription model and he sees no reason to anger customers by moving into the transaction.
Georg Chmiel of Juwai IQI sees banking and the inherently slow movement around property sales as the part of the transaction around which there is still great opportunity for his company.
Mani Rangarajan of Elara Group (parent company of Housing.com and Makaan.com) sees his business revenue continuing to be 50% from subscription advertising and 50% from transactions going forward because of the massive opportunity in India where only 7% of the internet active population visit portals and because those that do are becoming familiar with the idea of reserving a property online.
Justin Sway of ShweProperty Remarked that the only real way to make money in an emerging market such as Myanmar is by getting into the transactions as there are perhaps only 25 agents with enough budget and size to spend on advertising.
Matthew Care of Digital Classifieds Group admitted that if the portals that his company runs moved too fast towards the transaction they will lose key customers. For them, it needs to be done over time.
Tanuj Shori of Square Yards said that the primary market is the most fragmented property market in India and as such was easily identified as the best possibility for moving in on the transaction for his company.
Scott Holmes of The REA Group Mentioned that the company had recently bought a property loans company and brought out a new branded product for realestate.com.au users to get closer to transactions via ancillary services. This is something that Michael Lahyani highlighted as an avenue that Property Finder has gone down as well.
Joe Hanna of The PropTech Group Told the audience how merging businesses during a crisis, while a challenge from a logistical point of view, has at least meant that the workforce was distributed from day one.
Justin Sway said that the aggressive lockdown and lack of adoption of online transactions means that market is totally paralysed as soon as people are unable to leave the house in Myanmar. The tactic for his company has to be to sit tight, preserve cash and concentrate on processes and building out technology.
Challenges of emerging markets
Mani Rangarajan Remarked that as a business with a lot of listing agents, his company was not looking to monetize the smaller long-tail customers for now as, similarly to the situation in Myanmar, these smaller agents just don’t have the inventory or monetary means to contribute advertising budget.
One very interesting point to come from the speakers was that of lead leakage. Justin Sway told us how ShweProperty has built out a back end as well as processes for its sales team whereby they see all of the leads at all points to prevent leakage and also make sure that they hire and train the right people to avoid corruption. Tanuj Shori also mentioned that in the beginning, lead leakage from unreliable agents was an issue for Square Yards which is why you have to hire your own sales team
Matthew Care, expanding on this point, said that portals can be a beacon of professionalism in emerging real estate markets. This is something that can also occur in mature markets as Scott Holmes showcased the training platform and presential webinars that the REA Group have been doing recently to train agents in all aspects of digitising and improving their marketing.
Michael Layani, in his talk around expanding to new countries, remarked that the dynamic of the property market is never the same between two countries even if they share some cultural and linguistic traits. He also posited that there is more depth in core markets than people perhaps think, pointing out the example of Rightmove being able to grow year over year despite not moving overseas or changing its model.
Role of the agent
Commenting on a perennially hot-topic, Georg Chmiel speculated that the role of the salesperson may become more about being an emotional support person rather than actually selling.
As someone whose company servies the agent industry directly, Joe Hanna was of the opinion that it is important to embrace and not replace the agents and that CRM systems will more and more become the “de-facto source of truth” for all property industries.
Malcolm Myers in his closing presentation speculated that Tech-Enabled-Brokerages such as Redfin are a real threat to the portals as they are starting to rival the portals’ traffic in some cases and building real brand awareness.
It was a fascinating few hours this morning. We hope you can join us for the European version of the conference with some exciting speakers to be announced in the coming days
The video of today’s APAC conference will be available on our YouTube channel in the coming days.