It took two years for Priyanka Bhide, 26, to find her dream house. She scanned newspapers and prodded numerous friends and agents. Finally, it was a real estate website which gave her the crucial lead. "Besides being a very good source for phone numbers, I found real estate web sites very easy to use and definitely better than newspapers where the listings are just cramped together," she says.
A survey by real estate portal makaan.com agrees with Bhide. While around 5.5 lakh properties were listed on nearly 170 property sites in May 2009, only 42,000 homes were advertised in leading newspapers in the seven big cities. In popularity these web sites are only behind job and matrimonial portals.
Real estate web sites often work as a reference point for what is on offer at what price. "They are just a starting point in your search. Don't go there thinking you will find a house," says Bhide.
Given the traffic on real estate web sites, it is not uncommon to find many suitors for the same listing. The need is to act fast. Says Bhide: "Whenever I found something within my budget, it was sold off by the time I got in touch with the broker. Things move really fast on the web sites."
The advertisement and listing model of real estate portals have in the past raised doubts about credibility.
Admits Aditya Verma, business head and vice-president, makaan. com: "Given the number of property web sites in the country, there are many that do not have the skill to validate the information on the web site. So there could be instances where the listed properties could already be sold off or the contact numbers could not be genuine."
To make the most of the database on real estate web sites and get the most relevant information, fine-tuning the search is very important. The key is to be sure of what you want—the size, the location and the budget. "If people want to sell they should give more information right up. The price is still considered a mystery. The other thing is, people hike the quoted price by 15-20 per cent from real price, and then complain that they did not get any response," says Singh.
Also, sifting through the long broker list can often be cumbersome. Advises Verma, "It is better to speak to brokers who have more property listings on the web site. The more the properties listed the better are the chances of cracking a deal with that broker as he will have more options to offer." Another recommendation is to post your requirement on the web site. The web site will give you the contact details of the seller/buyer matching your requirement. But, says Vineet K. Singh of 99 acres.com, "Remember that the entire due diligence, the legal checks on the broker and property have to be done by the users. The web sites do not do it." After all, these web-sites are media platforms and not valuation or broking companies, says Singh. The slowdown in the real estate sector has spawned a new breed of diversified real estate web sites. One strategy is to improve user-generated content through reviews. Says Shreyans Chopra of 100nests.com, "We had started out with lOOfloors. com, which is a true-blue property web site. We realised that buying or selling a home was only a narrow band of activity. So we added another web site—100nests.com— which offers a continuous touch point for users for their day-to-day home service needs." The web site allows users to register their home profile to connect with the neigh- bourhood, offers a free home valuation, and information on service providers like interior designers, architects, builders and developers, carpenters, plumbers and even lawyers.
Persquarefeet.in, a recently launched web portal, offers contacts of service providers you will need after you have bought a house. Also, its database is linked to other property web sites. "Such information is missing both online and offline. Hence the idea to diversify," says Manish Sahajwani, CEO, Persquarefeet.in. The web site lets users leave reviews about these service providers as well.
Relocateeasily.com, another web site, helps users complete the entire home-buying cycle right from finding a new home to settling into it. Says Sudarshan Purohit, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, and co-founder of the venture: "The business feasibility was there in front of us. After graduating from IIT, three of us faced problems in relocating when we found a job in Bangalore. It was a nightmare hunting for an apartment. We thought we will fill this gap and also manage deals for movers and packers, electronic appliances, gas connection, etc."
The bigwigs in the field also plan to cash-in on the trend. "There is a need for such allied services but we need to see how we can monetise it. We need to be able to, for example, find out how to get the relevant service providers to list," says Singh. Similarly, Makaan.com is planning to provide the next level of services such as neighbourhood information arid allied property services, as real estate web sites look for a wider reach.