Singapore’s Property Guru is the dominant portal in this real estate obsessed nation. According to its own statistics, it commands more than 85% of all time spent on local portals and living here I would say that feels about right. The iProperty Group, which Australia’s REA Group acquired late last year for US$534m, can’t seem to make serious inroads with September 2016 traffic reaching 150,000 compared to Property Guru’s 1.5 million (according to www.similarweb.com).
Meanwhile, 99.co, which made waves here when it announced a fresh investment round of $1.6m in January 2015 (largely due to the participation of Facebook co-Founder Eduardo Saverin) promised a superior search experience based on a Google-like search. It has a more modern interface and an algorithm called ListRank which focuses on quality rather than sponsored listings, but the ultimate experience remains more or less the same – consumers are still sorting through listings advertised by Singapore’s 30,000 plus real estate agents.
So how much innovation is there in the Singapore real estate tech scene? Here are the top 6 reasons why things are about to get interesting:
Capitaland VC Fund
In June this year, one of Singapore’s leading property developers, Capitaland, established a SGD$100m fund to invest in real estate related start ups. Named C31 Ventures, $75m is mandated for global investments while $25m is earmarked locally. Of this, $10m was contributed by the National Research Foundation under its Early Stage Venture Fund.
The significance of this move is threefold. First, very few global developers have set aside this type of capital for tech start ups making Capitaland a first mover in this space. Second, as a developer and owner of retail, residential, office and hospitality projects, it will be interested in a very wide range of business models and will be able to provide its investments with access to its property portfolio giving them instant scale. Third, this sends a message to the local start up community which, in turn, should mean more founders moving into this space.
Singapore’s objective to become a smart nation is well known and well on track when you look at examples like Jurong Lakes District, or a range of initiatives relating to public wifi, logistics and driverless cars. Specifically relating to property, the Minister for National Development was recently quoted as saying the industry needs to brace itself for Disruption so there is an awareness even at the highest levels that change is on the horizon.
On top of this, Singapore has declared its intention to become a FinTech hub, with the Monetary Authority of Singapore establishing a FinTech Innovation Hub, creating a regulatory sandbox for FinTech startups and sponsoring the inaugural FinTech Festival on 14 November 2016.
FinTech and parts of PropTech are interlinked. Crowdfunding or peer-2-peer lending for property is relate to both property and finance. Thus, for Singapore to become a leader in FinTech you can expect property related platforms will receive government blessing.
Orange Tee Agent Rankings
In February, Orange Tee, one of the leading residential brokers launched Singapore’s first agent rating platform called Agent Bank. Similar platforms, which operate like tripadvisor for real estate agents, are quickly gaining traction in the US, UK and Australia with Singapore seemingly a year or two behind this trend. In Australia, Westpac (one of the big four banks) recently invested in OpenAgent indicating how much they expect agent ratings to become part and parcel of how people transact residential property.
Online Agents promise to replace human agents, or at least substitute much of their role. For a fixed-fee rather than a commission, they provide professional photos and list them on the major portals and give you all the tools you need to sell your property.
This year both Snappy House and Direct Home have launched in Singapore. On top of that, ohmyhome specifically targets HDB (Housing and Development Board) owners, allowing over 80% of the population to trade their properties directly. While in their infancy, the online agent product has arrived and will undoubtedly appeal to the budget conscious end of market, and this segment will mature quickly in the next 24 months.
Virtual reality hit the mainstream when Property Guru launched a pop-up VR showroom at Raffles Place (CBD) earlier this year. This allowed people to walk into their truck and view condo showflats via VR googles and proved that VR can take property mobile. Earlier this month, another developer Keppel incorporated VR into its show suites when it launched its Highline Residences condominium allowing prospective buyers to experience their apartments using Oculus Rift.
Both the government and property media have now taken notice and are keen to see more of this from developers. Thus, VR will quickly become another weapon in the marketing arsenal, augmenting the traditional show suite launch experience.
Most importantly perhaps, the range of real estate related startups is beginning to broaden, moving closer to what’s happening in other markets. In addition to property search, Singapore now has platforms ranging from home design and renovation (Qanvast) to property management (Pegaxis), property investment research (DREA) to agent bidding (Yotcha), and Internet of Things such as air quality sensors (uHoo).
This diversity will continue to expand, both as the real estate tech scene gains exposure abroad and the local ecosystem matures. Even last week we saw the launch of a smart cities VC accelerator calling for start ups in the areas of VR, IoT, robotics, big data an AI.
Government, capital, talent and industry awareness – the necessary ingredients are coming together and Singapore’s real estate tech scene has begun to simmer.