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Will online push help real estate market?

Online sales are only an additional method for developers. Dos and don'ts for buyers remain unchanged

The trend of pushing online realty sales is catching up. Since sales have been poor for a couple of years and inventory is piling up, industry participants are trying new ways to attract homebuyers, especially the fence-sitters.

Last year, many developers tied up with realty portals and e-commerce websites to attract customers. Such tie-ups are likely to increase. Magicbricks.com, along with Group M Worldwide Inc, a media investment firm, and Google India Pvt. Ltd, is coming up with an online property festival—Great Online Home Festival, or GOHF (www.gohf.magicbricks.com). The 10-day festival starts on 18 July, and is expected to have properties together worth 3,000 crore on offer. Besides properties, home décor and home care products will also be on offer.

GOHF is following in the footsteps of other such online property sales. A recent example is of 99acres.com, which along with digital marketing firm, Amura Marketing Technologies, organized a flash sale, which it called Indian Realty Flash Sale (IRFS). In the sale, which was on from 25-28 June, around 51 developers offered apartments in about 250 projects across 18 cities. Buyers had to zero in on a property of their choice and then download discount coupons attached with the property. These coupons could be redeemed while booking the property, within a stipulated time period mentioned on the coupons. IRFS saw around 14,900 offer coupon downloads. “Of the total coupons downloaded, we expect 10-15% to get converted to final sales," said Narasimha Jayakumar, chief business officer, 99acres.com.

How good is it?

While information on various projects is available on developers’ websites and realty portals, online sales offer a consolidated platform, and where discounts may be offered. Tata Value Homes, a subsidiary of Tata Housing Development Co. Ltd, has tied up with e-commerce website Snapdeal to sell properties in various projects. “It is a good way for sellers and developers to reach out to customers," said Mudassir Zaidi, national director, residential agency, Knight Frank India.

However, some doubt the medium’s efficacy in improving realty residential sales. “Is e-commerce a safe route to satisfy the needs of buyers in an industry that still lacks transparency?" said Anuj Puri, chairman and country head, JLL India.

While buying a property, it is best that the buyer physically inspects it. And the onus of due diligence around title and ownership lies with the buyer. These factors remain irrespective of the medium one chooses to buy a house—online or physically.

“Now developers and websites are offering ‘Money back guarantee’ (booking amount). If a homebuyer does not like the property later on, she will get her money back. This is a good move," said Zaidi. While it is true that such measures increase buyers’ trust in online purchases, the journey is far from over, and some feel that buying a property online may not work. “Even in mature markets, people do not buy online. For instance, in the US, a huge amount of data is available online, however, property transactions happen mostly offline," said Puri. “Online platforms are basically an additional sales channel for developers," he added.

What should you do?

The real estate market has been going through a tough time. In a survey conducted by PropEquity Analytics Pvt. Ltd, a realty research and analysis firm, between January and December 2014, 14 major cities saw a decline in property buying. For instance, National Capital Region’s absorption rate fell by 53%, and in Mumbai Metropolitan Region it declined by 23%. Homebuyers, too, are waiting for property prices or interest rates on home loans to come down. In such a scenario, developers are looking at different ways to drive up sales and clear inventory, and offering deals online is one such avenue. For a buyer, the worth will depend on what’s on offer.

Online sales are a convenient platform for gathering information on projects, but a decision should be taken only after certain details are ascertained.

If you are participating in an online sale, here are a few things that you can do. Check which developers and areas have the most number of properties and discounts on offer. Doing so will help you get a sense of the market position. If a developer is offering a discount online, it is likely that you will be able to negotiate and bring down the price in an offline deal as well.

If a property of your choice is available with an attractive discount, check all terms and conditions, especially if the online booking amount is refundable or not, payment plan, and time available to finalize the deal.

At the moment where delay in completion is a big concern, avoid buying an under-construction property; choose a ready-to-move-in house if possible.

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