The property sector in the digital age

The property sector in the digital age

Thailand-based DD Property is one of the many Southeast Asian affiliates of Singapore-based Property Guru, the region's most successful real estate portal.
Thailand-based DD Property is one of the many Southeast Asian affiliates of Singapore-based Property Guru, the region's most successful real estate portal.

Technology has brought about disruption that has forced many businesses to change to ensure their survival and growth. Digital platforms are revolutionising the way business is done in some sectors. This has introduced new buzzwords to the world, such as AdTech, FinTech, HealthTech, and now in the property sector we have PropTech for property technology. PropTech aims to reduce paper-based processes and provide ancillary services across sectors, leading an inevitable wave of change.

List and search: PropTech using online platforms is shaking traditional real estate agencies, with potential growth of around 93% per year. This platform signals a paradigm shift in tackling problems ranging from commercial leasing to residential property by removing the presence of middlemen disrupting traditional agencies.

Typically combining new technology for data access with essential analytics and connecting home seekers and property owners directly, this disruptive technology will result in traditional agencies facing hard times because the insights and information PropTech provides, such as current market pricing or recent sales transactions, create a more transparent and efficient market and lower barriers that formerly made the market very difficult to enter.

PropTech also provides alternative lending channels for property development through crowdfunding, and funding of this type has persistently increased by around 40% each year. PropTech startups offer hassle-free property investment with extensive information on investment, valuation, rental reviews and diversification reports.

Moreover, it offers an opportunity for small investors to become property investors by raising small amounts of money from a large pool of people through an online platform. This competes with traditional lending by financial institutions, but is limited to loans for small-scale development.

Geographically, the United States accounts for almost 50% of the billions of dollars in global venture capital injected into PropTech startups from 2010 to 2015. The real estate sector in the world's largest economy accounts for around 13% of GDP, with a total value of around US$2.4 trillion in 2015, making US-based PropTech startups the largest such market in the world.

According to a report by CB Insight, the top five funded segments were property information (29%), tech-enabled brokerage (19%), list-and-search services (17%), crowdfunding investment (9%) and property management (8%). In fact, property management and list-and-search were the fastest growing segments in 2015.

China and India are the biggest two Asian markets for PropTech, capturing around 26% and 8% respectively. Undoubtedly, the large size and diverse populations of the two countries, around 1.3 billion and 1.2 billion people respectively, attract investors interested in lucrative business propositions. A number of deals were struck in 2014, with India taking twice the number of deals as China, while China enjoyed a higher value of venture capital.

Many US-based companies are trying to expand to China, but the Indian market is performing better than China. This is primarily because Indian policies offer a more business-friendly environment, and communication is largely in English.

In Singapore, which aims be the hotbed for startups in Southeast Asia, locally based PropTech startups have absorbed around 6% of venture capital funding. Although limited resources and a small population mean that Singapore-based businesses need scale, the government's tactical strategy is to promote startup incubators or innovation labs, from which startups can grow and further expand to neighbouring countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Property Guru is the most successful PropTech startup, raising US$49 million in 2012 and $129 million in 2015 and acquiring top property websites all over Asean, including DD property in Thailand. Furthermore, top property developer CapitaLand recently announced the setup of C31 Venture for $11.05 million, and it eagerly plans to invest up to $73.6 million to expand beyond Singapore.

Thailand's property market is in the sights of PropTech startups given the scalable size of its market of nearly 25 million registered houses in 2015. Each year about 618,000 additional houses are completed nationwide, fostering a resale market and presenting potential for PropTech startups related to the resale property process. Following the global trend, list-and-search and tech-enabled brokerage PropTechs would be the first two pioneer segments to roll out at an early stage.

The recent Startup Thailand 2016 event introduced more than 200 top startups. One of the PropTech stars is Hubba, which reshapes ordinary workspaces into meet-and-share co-working hubs for freelancers. Thus, PropTech startups could be very attractive to a new generation of entrepreneurs.

One of the pitfalls for startups, including PropTech, is that cold, hard statistics indicate that their failure rate tends to increase at a progressive rate for every year of operation, with nine out of 10 startups failing. The first three reasons for failure were a lack of market need (42%), followed by lack of sufficient capital or running out of cash (29%), and poor teamwork (29%).

The data also revealed that startups founded by an individual with no partners are more likely to fail because of poor marketing and the lack of a team. Thus, the key to being one of the 10% of startups that survive is that the product must meet market needs. New PropTech startups should start by rethinking everyday problems faced in a difficult property market, and improve their visibility and transparency in order to empower homebuyers and other participants.

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