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Homebuyers hit the internet for information

By | May 13th 2010

By Allan Olingo

In the past, many real estate firms primarily offered property listing services in newspapers. This is no longer the case thanks to improved online shopping services and the spread of broadband connections, which have allowed sites that specialise in real estate service to take advantage of new technology.

Sites such as propertyzote.co.ke, propertyleo.co.ke, property.co.ke, and nyumba.co.ke property information can now be accessed anywhere on the globe.

For those poking around the real estate market, it is worthwhile to check out real estate sites to see just how much online home shopping has changed the industry. From rentals to buying, residential and commercials everything is available online.

Mr Ferdinand Kaptich the founder of propertyzote.co.ke, a website with listed properties across East Africa, shares how frustrations and logistical issues led him into establishing this site.

"I was frustrated when I went online in 2007 to search for property because the web content at that time was disorderly and not structured properly. I found the websites that listed properties were not user friendly or easy to navigate," says Kaptich.

At that time, according to Kaptich, the search tools did not allow the users to meet their intended objectives and even after locating certain properties, some were not up to date or valid.

Low downtime

"I was frustrated when I went online in 2007 to search for property ... the websites that listed properties were not user friendly" {Ferdinand Kaptich, Founder, Propertyzote.co.ke}

"There was also lack of professionalism by estate agents. Whenever I tried to contact them via email, they never responded or sometimes did after a month or so," he notes.

Following the frustrations, he decided to publish a real estate website that would underpin online search for property. The Property Zote website is hosted in Australia with the main office here in Nairobi. The decision to host it abroad was due to low downtime in Australia compared to Kenya.

"Indeed, in the last three years, the website has only been down once, and this was a year ago due to a server upgrade, which lasted for ten minutes. Downtime is a major setback to most online businesses in Kenya and East Africa," he adds.

Looking back Kaptich believes it was the best decision ever, not only in terms of revenue but also in managing to simplify real estate.

With now about 150,000 hits a month, over 320 real estate agents and over 1,060 properties valued at over 32 billion shillings, Property Zote is perhaps one of the many stories that will emerge on how Internet in Africa is brewing a new way of e-commerce, resulting in success.

Real estate sites

Wanjiku Muiruri, the Managing Director of Property.co.ke says theirs too is another success story. Currently, Web Solutions Limited, which owns property.co.ke boasts of having on board over 40 top Kenyan real estate companies with over 800 properties and over 1,000 units listed, making it another popular real estate site in Kenya.

"Once agents and individuals sign up on our website, they list property on their own in the administration section. Individuals who are not estate agents can also list property directly on to the website," she adds.

"We don’t carry out aggressive marketing, not yet, we simply show agents our rÈsumÈ and they usually sign up thanks largely to our referrals," she notes.

"Once someone sends a request based on their interest, the real estate agencies are able to get mail inquiries directly into their web mails and we are given a copy too," says Kaptich.

The copy of the mails helps in monitoring responses and follows up on payments by the real estate agencies.

What’s more, as a means to drum up business, these sites have looked to expand their features to include services such as mortgage calculators, advertising banners, real estate articles and news, currency converters, complimentary company directories as well as real estate website links.

"The stakes are high with the scramble for online shoppers. We even have a monthly newsletter with over 21,000 subscribers, which contains the latest real estate news, topical issues, new property and so forth," says Muiruri.

"The big winners here are consumers who spend less time before making decisions. Traditional real estate brokers have been forced to rethink their marketing strategies," says Muiruri.

Internet advertising has no boundaries and it reaches a global audience or at least everyone with access to the Internet — approximately 1.4 billion people or a quarter of the global population.

Internet shopping

"It’s less expensive than print media. Property Zote offers free listing for four months, followed by membership that costs a fraction of the cost of print media," says Kaptich.

An obvious advantage of Internet shopping is availability of the search tool, which basically allows browsers to search a specific listing like a house in Lang’ata, Nairobi, for between Sh3 million to Sh5 million. This literally narrows the searching, saves time and money.

Value for money

With most websites allowing agents/individuals to manage their own listing, real estate agencies are able to get their value for money through this kind of advertising. The Internet provides pay per click or cost per mile (CPM) modes for example $10 (Sh750) for every 1,000 viewers/click as opposed to print media whereby tracking value for money is difficult.

"Not only does your listings stretch globally but also ensures a targeted audience because only those who are interested in property will find your site, meaning your shop will be open throughout for potential buyers," says John Rajwayi of Erdemann Properties.

The website also offers a bigger space, meaning more images and detailed descriptions of the properties. This is one trend that real estate agents have adopted with zeal.

According to Rajwayi, online shopping makes it possible for potential buyers to go through almost double the listings and narrow down the search to their desired interests faster.

"You will save hours on property viewings and buyers can browse for properties in the comfort of their own home. Time is money not just for you but most likely for your clients too. The Internet also shortens the time it takes real estate agents to track potential buyers," he adds.

Kaptich, says online real estate marketing has its challenges too. Slow Internet and website download speed, expensive Internet and inaccessibility, especially in to the rural areas, lack of trust in using e-pay and credit cards are among the obstacles in e-commerce.

"Downtime by both Internet Service Providers and websites is quite common. It is not strange to open a site and get a message ‘website is currently down’," he adds.

He, however, reassures his clients that Property Zote has invested a lot of resources to improve its platform through increased bandwidth, with the website taking an average of four seconds to download with normal Internet.

Muiruri says online fraud and hacking is another big challenge she has faced as an administrator but she has put in place measures to counter them.

"Other websites copying photos/listings from our website is rampant and we are putting measures in place to curb this," she adds.

According to Kaptich, it is illegal to pull pictures of properties from their site and there is a disclaimer notice prohibiting it.

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