Property852.com, a new online entrant, is attempting to get a slice of Hong Kong’s highly competitive property brokerage industry by charging customers as little as HK$288 (US$36.8) per listing. The online platform offers a listing service to owners and buyers or renters looking to find properties without the help of agents, said Oliver Coquelin, property852.com’s founder and managing director. “We aim to overcome the misconception that [buying or renting real estate] is a challenging process, which requires specialist help,” Coquelin said. “We will do this by simplifying the process with step-by-step guides, as well as providing free resources such as a contract template.” Brokerage agents in Hong Kong typically get a commission of 1 per cent of the transacted value each from buyers and sellers for sales of lived-in homes. So a flat valued at HK$8 million (US$1.02 million) means buyers and sellers both pay HK$80,000 each when dealing with a traditional agent. With property852.com, both parties would save HK$159,712. Hong Kong developers, agents turn to virtual reality to keep sales moving Instead of a percentage of the deal as commission, the platform charges a listing fee that starts at HK$288 for a standard listing. A priority listing with a boost on social media channels can be made for HK$388. Since its launch last year, property852.com has attracted close to 380 listings, and aims to have 1,000 listings a month within three years. The number of licensed agencies in Hong Kong rose 3.4 per cent from 3,802 in March 2020 to 3,933 as of February 28 this year. Property852.com, which is not a property agent, but a platform where property can be advertised, does not require a licence. Chinese developers for M&A deals in rush to raise much-needed cash The city’s worsening fifth wave continues to weigh on sentiment, with sales of used-homes expected to drop sharply as most buyers stay sidelined by the outbreak. This month, for instance, Centaline Property Agency expects such sales to drop to 2,000 deals, the lowest level since January 2020, when only 1,978 transactions were made. Under such circumstance, customers will “cut costs and save where they can”, Coquelin said. “This necessity is a large part of the driving force behind property852.com,” he added. The platform involved an investment of about HK$250,000, some of which was funded by government accelerator programmes. Coquelin said it hoped to break even by the end of next year, as its running costs were very low compared to established agencies. Hong Kong tycoons buy in as virtual land sales become hot trend in tech world “From organising travel arrangements to playing the stock market, people are now more than ever used to taking direct control over their lives, rather than relying on a third-party middleman to do it for them for a fee,” he said. The internet has revolutionised most industries and put direct control into the hands of the individual in a way that was previously impossible, he added. “The property market is no different and [it is] an area where landlords and owners are becoming more confident that they can handle [deals] directly,” Coquelin said. “We believe that we are the first to offer the ‘democratisation’ of the buying and renting process, putting power in the hands of the property owner with our platform.” Property brokerages, on the other hand, offered credibility and a guarantee, said Louis Chan, Asia-Pacific vice-chairman and CEO of the residential division at Centaline. He compared listings on platforms such as property852.com to advertisements placed in newspapers “decades ago”, where owners were usually contacted by agents instead of buyers. China’s biggest online property agency axes staff as sector faces a bleak winter An agency’s brand allowed for easier complaint redressal amid higher awareness of consumer rights, compared with direct deals between owners and buyers, Chan said. Direct deals were not “mature enough to be popular”, he added. Centaline will invest more than HK$100 million this year to strengthen its online listing promotions and technical support. Chan said this was a “tiny” amount out of its HK$5.3 billion revenue last year and would keep rising over the years with the rise in the use of technology. Ricacorp Properties, another major Hong Kong brokerage, said it would invest HK$50 million this year to continue its upgrade of its information technology systems. It is also offering HK$5 million in rewards to homeowners listing their properties online.