Two new names up the ante for already crowded online property portals

Singapore

THE online property portal market may have reached saturation, at least according to some industry experts who have noted that two new portals have been launched here in the past six months, and at least three existing players responding with comparable offerings to entice the same small pool of homeowners, house-seekers and real estate agents.

The two new platforms, Ohmyhome (OMH) and Yotcha.com seek to empower homeowners by lowering their property transaction costs. While OMH is a free app for HDB owners to connect directly with buyers, Yotcha.com runs a free property listing service and agent bidding platform for homeowners to find an agent at a reduced fee.

Race Wong, who launched OMH with sister Rhonda last September, said Singaporeans spend an unnecessary amount of fees on agents. "OMH's business model is simple. We connect buyers to sellers, landlords to tenants - directly for free'' said Ms Wong.

Users can create their own listings of properties they wish to rent out or sell, and no longer need to pay fees to agents after successful transactions. But for those who still need help, OMH provides full agent services at a relatively low-priced flat fee of S$2,888 for sellers and buyers, or S$988 for landlords and tenants.

Asked why there is a need for an HDB-only portal, Ms Wong said: "HDB is the building block of our nation, serving 82 per cent of our population who will greatly benefit from having free or affordable help (in property transactions)."

Tim Lin, co-founder of Yotcha.com, told BT that his platform offers listings for free as the search for homes is a basic service, for which users and agents "should not have to pay too much". Yotcha.com is also said to be Singapore's first agent matching site, which helps users find their preferred agent based on transaction records and client reviews.

"We want to empower homeowners more by letting them set the commission rate, have agents bid for their job, and then select the best one based on reviews and publicly available information'' said Mr Lin.

"This also encourages the exclusive appointment of one agent, who will be guaranteed the job, and eliminates the case of duplicate work by several agents."

Yotcha.com, which launched in January, charges a flat fee for every match made between an agent and homeowner. It also offers free information such as recently transacted prices in a neighbourhood as well as tools that allow homeseekers to compare condominium projects in a vicinity based on amenities or resident profiles.

Meanwhile, existing online property platforms are also stepping up their game. StreetSine, a subsidiary of Singapore Press Holdings which runs online portals SRX Property and STProperty, last month launched Mortgage Connect which digitises the mortgage process - including forms, checklists and workflows - and in partnership with MayBank, offers an attractive fixed rate home loan (from 1.58 per cent per annum).

PropertyGuru, one of Singapore's leading property portals, recently launched Virtual Reality (VR) Showroom, which lets homeseekers visualise - while wearing VR goggles - a property that is still under construction or in the pre-selling stage. It is said to be an industry-first in Singapore. PropertyGuru said: "While developers have previously offered 360-degree video or virtual tours, this is the first time property seekers have been able to put themselves in the planned environment - a true VR experience."

99.co, tipped to be Singapore's fastest-growing portal since it was launched in 2014, last week expanded into Indonesia. There, it will focus - for a start - on the primary property market, where it will feature only units that are newly built by developers and to be sold directly to the first purchaser.

The homegrown startup will be exporting its portal's leading features (including a map-based property search function, comparison service between similar properties, and live chat tool) onto its Indonesian platform - demonstrating the viability and scalability of its offerings.

While observers hailed the above tech-driven solutions as positive developments - they boost efficiency in what has been a fairly traditional industry - some have remarked that these do not distinctly set any portal apart from the competition, and also asked if the small local market warrants this many online property portals.

Isaac Ho, chief of private investment group Venturecraft, and former head of sales at Sotheby's International Realty Affiliates (Singapore), said: "One sign of a saturated market is the sluggish speed of customer acquisition. The customer base of these portals is too small. They comprise the same 30,000 agents, who are not exclusively advertising on one portal. I don't think the Singapore market size requires another competitor."

Christopher Quek, managing partner of startup incubator Tri5 Ventures, agreed that in the property industry, there is no loyalty for agents or buyers to stay with one portal. "Agents are more than happy to have as many avenues to promote their listings and close a sale as quickly as possible."

He noted that even as Singapore does not need this many portals given its small market, there is staying power for portal operators to "ride it out", due to the low costs required to run an online property portal operation, and the lack of a need to manage agents, regulations or properties.

He added that this is different from the ride-hailing industry, for instance, where high costs are necessary to manage drivers, vehicles, marketing, as well as regulations. "Consumers are more likely to stay loyal to one ride-hailing app for convenience, given their high-frequency usage. This is why you have seen a consolidation, where only two dominant players exist."