In the western world, looking for property online is as commonplace as buying a book or shopping for clothes using the internet. It seems natural to flip through the latest real estate listings on your smartphone while waiting at the bus stop or relaxing at home. In fact, it’s almost hard to imagine a time when these tools did not exist.
In the emerging markets, the picture is very different. In many countries across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, online property hunting is a relatively new phenomenon. Traditional means like newspaper classifieds and real estate fairs are the norm, while internet penetration rates remain low.
But in recent years, people in these regions have switched on to the idea of finding property to buy or rent using the web. The primary reason for this is increasing internet usage. Regions such as Southeast Asia are seeing high annual growth in their online audience. The Philippines, for instance, has the fastest-growing internet population in the region, with the number of web users increasing 22 percent from March 2012-13.
Recently, big players have come on board, with Facebook launching its Internet.org project to increase network performance in the emerging markets. A trial in Indonesia, where the social networking giant partnered directly with mobile carriers to help improve network coverage, increased speeds by up to 70%. Facebook will now roll out the project in other markets. Google has also unveiled several projects to boost access to the internet in the developing world, including spending $US1 billion to buy 180 satellites to boost access.
In this environment, the battle for dominance over the online real estate space in the emerging markets is intensifying. Global property portal Lamudi entered the race one year ago this month and already operates in 28 countries worldwide. The platform now hosts more than 680,000 property listings across its global network, attesting to the demand for online services within the real estate sector in these regions.
However, the development of online property hunting in the emerging markets has had a different focus. Now more than ever, e-commerce companies must concentrate on mobile, as global smartphone penetration is also rising rapidly. As networks improve and the cost of devices falls, smartphones are beginning to replace feature phones in these regions. In Africa and Asia, mobile now accounts for more than a third of all internet usage.
Kian Moini, Lamudi’s Global Co-Founder, said: “The challenge for our company is very different from what some of the world’s leading property portals, such as Zillow and Trulia in the US, faced when they first launched.
As recently as five years ago, the mobile internet sector was still in its infancy. But for many people in our markets – from the Philippines and Indonesia, to Mexico and Colombia – the first time they access the internet will be on a mobile device. For this reason, taking a mobile-first approach is crucial to Lamudi’s success.”
Lamudi rolled out its Android and iOS apps earlier this year, with about 90,000 downloads since June. An updated app is set to be released in the coming months.