The largest companies in the world today are most probably online based businesses. Think Facebook, Google and even the latest one, Alibaba.com which just got itself listed and its owner one of the richest men in China. In the online real estate world, there are many prominent names. In Singapore, Propertyguru.com.sg is the leading property portal. Famous enough that its name was even mentioned during the recent Singapore national day speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. In terms of its property market, Singapore is considered a developed market even if it has a population of just 5.4 million today. It is not just the property market which is gaining huge attention amongst the international buyers. The number of property portals which are trying to serve the market has just increase by one recently. 99.co is the latest addition, on top of propertyguru.com.sg, iproperty.com.sg, stproperty.com.sg and many more smaller ones. I do not know why it uses the number 99 instead of a ‘property’ or related word. Perhaps this 99 would allow many to remember it easily though personally I do not think so.
What’s the special thing about 99.co is that it said it is trying to be fair to all agents, especially the beginners. This is because it said that the more famous sites are favouring more established agents who are paying more to get ‘sponsored listings’. In other words, when you pay more, you get shown at a more prominent space in the said property portal. It also said that when users search, its results are much more relevant with its ListRank algorithm. According to its founder, Cheung, the reason 99.co came about was because he had to search for a new apartment and he found the existing portals way too tough. He said that in these sites, ‘the quality of the search results are not important’. It is more of ‘premium listings’ instead. 99.co differentiates itself with its ListRank by making results much more relevant by focusing on 30 data points from listings including listing quality which looks at how complete and specific information is provided and is even able to tell if agents have copied-and-pasted the same text for different ads! 99.co is also able to understand the user behavior and able to return a similar listing result. Besides that, even the agent ratings would be taken into account too.
For a property portal to be successful, I feel the most important thing would be how popular the portal is. It can have the most number of listings in the world but after 1 month if not many people saw the listings, the agents would lose faith and neglect to repost their listings. As for the potential buyers, for those who come after one month and saw that many of the listings are old ones, they would lose trust and venture to other more popular and updated sites. This is why many newer portals which tries to challenge the existing players would need lots of financial muscle to continue pushing. After all, during the beginning, no agent would be willing to pay you and yet your service must be greater and not just the same level as the existing players. If I am a buyer, I expect to see the most number of listings, whether relevant or sponsored. Not many potential buyers would venture to more than two sites because just going through and calling the agents in the first two portals would have taken most of their time and effort. This is not unique to just property portals but any other businesses as well. Even when you want to do window shopping, you would go to the largest malls near you and would not be going to the largest mall, followed by the second and then followed by the third and so on. This is not the usual behavior of any typical user.
As for whether 99.co would be successful or not, it takes more than just a few months to find out. At the very least, it should be in the market for up to 24 months to know if its business model works better compared to the current players. I think it should be around for a longer time. Its owner Cheung said that when the time to charge comes, it will adopt a similar revenue model as its competitors. It will charge real estate agents for listings but the difference is that it will not allow the agents to pay more and thus influence the results. In other words, a flat fee only. Let’s wait and see then.
written on 12 Nov 2014
Next suggested article: iProperty, still losing money as at H1 of 2014.