Digitising the property buying process
Ang Hui Hsien 
The residences in Grid are hailed as the first build-and-buy homes online to be introduced in Malaysia and Singapore

As homebuyers become more discerning in their property-buying decisions, developers have also evolved and come up with innovative ways to market their products.

This is not a recent occurrence, as PropertyGuru Malaysia country manager Sheldon Fernandez explains.

“Developers, for decades, have been trying new and unique approaches to reach consumers, whether for branding and awareness purpose or to generate marketing leads and sales,” he says.

The only difference between then and now, he says, is greater use of technology. Easy access to market intelligence has helped the current generation make more informed decisions and assume more control during the property buying process.

“They (consumers) are driving the onset of new marketing strategies designed to deliver maximum reach and impact pulled together with clear and measurable ROI (return on investment),” says Fernandez.

For the developers, they are looking for optimal marketing methods that can help deliver the best ROI.

“They want to make sure their message is reaching the right audience at the highest frequency possible and delivering their unique proposition in ways that engage and impact consumers better,” he explains.


Going online

As a major player in the online property sphere, PropertyGuru has been actively promoting the role of technology in the branding and marketing of properties via close collaborations with developers.

This includes the first-of-its-kind partnership in Malaysia with Malaysian Resources Corp Bhd (MRCB) on its Sentral Suites project, in that online takes a lead role in the promotion of a property.

At more than RM4 mil, it is considered the largest digital investment in the country’s property sphere.

“Under this arrangement, various new technologies were used such as virtual and augmented reality. Drones were also used to capture bird’s-eye views and 360° aerial vistas of the surroundings to give prospective buyers the actual sights and views from the development,” says Fernandez.

MRCB’s move to use technology to promote Sentral Suites has paid off, as the project experienced strong sales in spite of the market downturn.

Also jumping on the digital bandwagon is Sunway Property, the property arm of conglomerate Sunway Bhd.

Last month, the developer unveiled its mixed development called Grid in Sunway Iskandar, Johor, consisting of residential, office and retail lots.

Targeted at the younger demographic, the apartments are priced from RM350,000 and are hailed as the first “build-and-buy” homes online to be introduced in Malaysia and Singapore.

The project’s website will, once launched, allow customers to customise the layouts of the apartments and make their purchases without having to visit a sales gallery.

Unsurprisingly, this concept was inspired by the current generation of property buyers who place importance on transparency and ease of information during the buying process.

“We have done our own research among the millennials to understand their needs better. Hence, the inspiration to deliver the build-and-buy-online concept to cater to the target audience,” says Sunway Iskandar CEO Gerard Soosay.

Soosay says customers are guided throughout the online buying process 

Complementing old with new

Soosay admits purchasers’ buying behaviour was a concern, due to the relative newness of e-commerce in the country.

As such, many might view making an online investment as risky as property is a big-ticket item.

To mitigate this, the team came up with a buying mechanism which allows users to preview their chosen layout and re-customise it if necessary, before putting down a reservation fee. “This fee is refundable and we actually require customers to formalise their reservation within seven days.

“As much as Grid is tech-savvy, we have also incorporated gentle reminders of communication by our sales department to guide our customers thoroughly throughout the process,” says Soosay.

PropertyGuru’s Fernandez agrees it is important to have a good mix of new and conventional methods.

“Visual or augmented reality does not fully replace good old printed brochures, and a 3D (three-dimensional) walkthrough does not replace a showroom. Rather, they complement each other.”

He stresses the importance of bearing in mind that while technology is the enabler, the focus remains very much on the consumers.

“The key is not to just implement and leave buyers to figure things out by themselves, but to always put consumers at the heart of the process and accept feedback to further improve the experience,” he says.


Suited for all target groups

Fernandez also puts to rest concerns that the use of technology comes with the risk of alienating certain segments of the target audience, in particular the older demographic.

He points out although Gen Y and millennials may naturally seem like the intended target audience for technology-enhanced marketing, people from almost all demographics have become increasingly more tech-savvy, connected, well-informed and urbane.

“These include baby boomers, Gen-X and others. They are more comfortable using technology in their everyday lives for just about everything hence, have little aversion to doing the same for property,” he says.

This is also aided by the local population being generally quick to adopt technology. “Malaysians are generally receptive of technology as long as the technology is practical, cost-effective and integrates seamlessly into one’s daily life.

“If this is achieved, then it can and will be embraced by people from all demographics,” says Fernandez.

He believes as long as developers continue to listen to buyers’ preferences and focus on guiding them through the process, the risk of alienation is small.

Offline innovation also relevant

Innovative marketing methods are not necessarily limited to the online sphere as demonstrated by Bon Estates Sdn Bhd.

The boutique developer organised The Bloc Party last July which featured show units with moveable building blocks and partitions.

The Bloc Party featured show units with moveable building blocks and partitions

Guests were invited to adjust these according to their preference and share inputs on what they think make an ideal home.

Bon Estates marketing director Angeline Liau says the feedback helps the developer to identify ways to better plan and design its next project, Bon Kiara in Mont’Kiara.

“This is the first activation event which invites the public to take part in an interactive survey, play with flexible customisable layouts, immerse themselves in the space, and feedback to the developer what they really need and want,” she says.

While this appeals to millennial and Gen Y buyers who yearn for not just a home but a cultivated lifestyle, Liau says the event also attracted a fair share of the older demographic.

“They were certainly surprised that we are not stereotyping our design process and happy with the breath of fresh air that we are offering in terms of design and offering. Bon Kiara will still appeal to them for investment purposes, if not for own stay,” she says.

The novelty event managed to attract about 1,500 attendees over three days, and Liau says they managed to collect valuable feedback to help shape and design Bon Kiara better.

The interest shown by the guests has spurred the developer to host more of such events leading up to the grand launch of Bon Kiara.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 253.