As part of our #Outlook15 series, we asked heads of online properties listing companies – 99Acres, MagicBricks, IndiaProperty, Housing.com, and PropTiger about their focus areas for 2015, and the challenges that the online properties listing ecosystem needs to address. Answers have been shortened for brevity.

– Which according to you were the top developments and roadblocks in the online property listing segment in 2014? Why?

Sumeet Singh, 99Acres

– With sluggish demand and unsold inventory piling up, developers and property advertisers have had to find new avenues for promoting and selling their properties. They have started realizing that they not only have to come up with attractive deals and packages but also improve their service.

– With more choices, buyers now demand better information quality in an online listing and better servicing too. They are also increasingly looking more closely at a property before making the purchase decision, which has led to better visualization models like ‘3D View’ & ‘Panoramic View’ and providing decision aids like ‘Map Search’ and ‘Price Trends’.

– We have also seen a lot of investment coming into the sector in 2014 from new as well as existing investors like NewsCorp, Softbank and Tiger Global etc.

Sudhir Pai, MagicBricks

– Problem of data quality and verified listings is being solved, at least to a large extent.

– The online real-estate category has grown in traffic terms by about 20% in the last 3 quarters.

Ganesh Vasudevan, IndiaProperty

Ganesh Vasudevan

– A tremendous focus on improving the user interface across players. Almost all sites have a far cleaner UI design than a year back.

– Lot of effort has gone into improving the quality of data provided in listings.

– All leading players including us have invested significantly in processes to verify various aspects of a real estate listing.

Advitiya Sharma, Housing.com

– More and more developers not only want to market online but also want to sell their projects online.

– Real Estate search will soon shift to completely mobile.

Prashan Agarwal, PropTiger

– We saw global investors put their trust with almost $300 million invested in various online property portals.

–  Online property portals also invested significantly in product development to address the core issues faced by customers while buying/selling a property right from 3D floor plans, video walkthrough, floor plan, 360 degree panorama, aerial shots, map based searches, price heatmaps and many more.

– What are the consumption patterns (online & mobile) that you observed in 2014?

Sumeet Singh, 99Acres

– Increased adoption of mobile among our users. Around 30-35% of our traffic coming from the mobile properties.

– The mobile adoption was accompanied by a very significant increase in our overall traffic.

Sudhir Pai, MagicBricks

An increasing pattern of cross-device usage leaning towards mobile. Mobile now accounts for 40% of traffic on MagicBricks, from less than 25% last year. We also revamped our entire mobile suite covering WAP, iOS and Android.

Ganesh Vasudevan, IndiaProperty

As expected, mobile web has lead the swing into the non-desktop usage of portals across property and transaction types.

Our non-desktop traffic has grown 3X in the last 12 months and contributes almost 25% of our traffic. This is not just a metro centric phenomenon but one that is gradually increasing in tier 2 towns as well.

Advitiya Sharma, Housing.com

Advitiya Sharma

– Desktop: Our avg time spent on desktop is 21 min, which beats engagement times for television. Our depth of data has also helped millions of people to perform a thorough research of different projects.

– Mobile: We had 300,000 App downloads in the last 6 months and more than 30% of the traffic on Housing.com is mobile. People used our app to find properties that met their requirements in a locality real time, when they didn’t get many options on the day of visit to a location.

– After the launch of our Slice View platform, we have also received over 1,000 requests from builders all over the country to exclusively sell their projects online.

Prashan Agarwal, PropTiger

– Significant increase in consumption of information through the mobile platform. Almost 40% of customers today access real estate information on mobile.

– How has the sector changed from 2013 to 2014?

Sumeet Singh, 99Acres

2013 was more of a period of anticipation. Investors resisted entering the real estate market due to the upcoming general elections. Most metro cities held unsold inventory but did not see price correction. There was a lot of talk of price cartelization among builders.

Property prices stood stable in most cities, mainly due to positive investor sentiments for the period after general elections and soaring cost of construction. However, the markets did not pick up pace even after the General Elections in 2014, which led to a slight fall in real estate prices across various cities.

Sudhir Pai, MagicBricks

Consumers have started to use the portal for more than just listing and price discovery.

Ganesh Vasudevan, IndiaProperty

– 2014 may well be the inflection point for the sector. There is a large market to be addressed and there are 5-6 well funded players going after it.

– There has been a collective shift in focus to the user- in terms of better UI, improved data quality and verification services to name a few- and these are steps in the right direction.

– The sector has attracted large sums of capital which will lend room for more technology driven innovations going forward.

Advitiya Sharma, Housing.com

Huge adoption of online as a medium to showcase properties, with traditional ways of marketing not able to effectively help builders and property sellers. We’ve onboarded over 8,500 builders on our “New Projects” platform in just 6 months!

Prashan Agarwal, PropTiger

Prashan Agarwal

– No. of customers who research the Internet before buying as well as mobile led consumption has seen tremendous growth from 2013 to 2014.

This has also helped the broker community adopt Internet to further their business. Today, all the industry participants, builders or brokers, are very well versed with the benefits of Internet and are willing to try out new concepts with online portals.

– What sort of transition have consumers made from offline to online in 2014? Why? What are your observations?

Ganesh Vasudevan, IndiaProperty

– Property buyer’s information needs changes as he/she progresses along the search journey. Understanding which stage of the search the user is in is critical for an online portal to offer an appropriate experience and effectively engage the user.

The medium has to evolve, particularly on two dimensions– #1 quality of data and #2 analytics layers on top of the data to provide contextually relevant information and insights to the user. Progress on #1 has started in 2014, and the consumer response to this has been fantastic.

– We are also seeing multi-device usage growing rapidly, with nearly equal engagement on mobile devices as much in desktop web.

Advitiya Sharma, Housing.com

Online real estate is seen as a far better option, as it allows the user to remotely find, explore and search multiple properties as opposed to making several site visits. Users are also able to select and book houses online.

Prashan Agarwal, PropTiger

As per a latest Google survey, consumers contributing to 89% of real estate business by value are online today. And 57% of the buyers are influenced by Internet in the decision making process. I see this number growing very rapidly over the next 12 months.

– What is one trend that surprised you in 2014? Why?

Sumeet Singh, 99Acres

Quick and eager adoption of ‘Online Booking’. Builders as well as buyers both are increasingly showing interest in booking real-estate deals online. This is surprising because unlike other e-commerce segments, real estate is a highly involved purchase decision.

We witnessed this during the recently concluded Great Online Shopping Festival to offer over 300 exciting real estate deals to prospective buyers. More than 200 premier builders across 20 cities participated in this initiative confirming the potential of this offer of online booking.

Ganesh Vasudevan, IndiaProperty

– The total number of listings across players has not grown significantly over the previous year. With slowdown in sales and pressure on margins, one would have expected large scale adaptation of a high ROI medium like online.

Online searches and traffic have not dropped in line with market reality and logically, inventory supply should have migrated online and this didn’t not happen to the expected extent.

Advitiya Sharma, Housing.com

Online home booking of houses was the biggest surprise for Real Estate in 2014. We sold more than half of the inventory across 4 projects in just 5 days, with our Slice View technology and people sitting in USA, Africa were booking homes in Bangalore. This meant Rs 60 Cr sales for Tata in just 5 days.

Prashan Agarwal, PropTiger

Customers are not averse to booking a property online. This year saw about 200 – 300 apartments getting booked online. With the technological advancements, I see this trend gaining momentum.

– What are the likely trends that you expect to see in 2015? Why?

Sumeet Singh, 99Acres

– Mobile platform (web and apps) playing an even bigger role as the smart phone penetration and acceptance increases.

– Usage of online platform for booking the desired property and not merely restrict oneself to research and due diligence.

Ganesh Vasudevan, IndiaProperty

– Emergence of data led analytics to provide actionable insights for online property seekers.

– A significant improvement in the quality and quantity of real estate information available online.

Advitiya Sharma, Housing.com

A move to a completely mobile platform is on the cards. Since Housing is foremost a map-based portal, it makes logical sense to move to a mobile platform; where we can combine our UI with accurate and reliable home search.

Prashan Agarwal, PropTiger

Lot of innovations will happen to move the entire home buying process online – from research, comparison, shortlisting, site visit and even booking with the developer.

– What are the challenges in the online property listing segment that needs to be addressed in 2015? How do you think these challenges can be addressed for the growth of the sector?

Sumeet Singh, 99Acres

– Ensuring accurate and rich information to investors and buyers of real estate so as to help them in their property selection and purchase decision.
– Developing engaging visualization models and decision aids so that builders can better showcase their property.
– Providing a more personalized service to online real-estate buyers.

Sudhir Pai, MagicBricks

rp_Mr.-Sudhir-Pai1-250x322.jpg

– Build scale by increase penetration in the category even further – both at the user as well as at client end.
– Continue to improve data quality and listing accuracy.

Ganesh Vasudevan, IndiaProperty

Less than 30% of property supply is available online today, so growing online penetration in the category is a priority.

The enablers to drive adoption of online as the preferred marketing medium however differ between market segments. For example, the approach for new builds is different from that for used property. The challenge is in balancing the effort and degree of curation required with the scale to which it is to be done for network effects to kick in.

Prashan Agarwal, PropTiger

Most of the activities in the real estate sector is restricted to about top 10 – 15 markets. I think more awareness and penetrations needs to happen in the next year from a coverage point of view.