LAI SEE HOWARD WINN
Lai See
by

Property start-up Spacious ready for regional rollout

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 January, 2015, 11:04pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 January, 2015, 11:15am

The website Spacious started in mid-2013 with an ambitious target - to shake up Hong Kong's online residential property market by introducing a higher level of transparency into listings and taking some of the pain out of renting or buying a property. Now after 18 months of tweaking the site, Spacious is poised for its next big step, which is to roll it out in Asia. Co-founder Asif Ghafoor told Lai See that Spacious (www.spacious.hk/en) would shortly list Singapore properties and later those in Taiwan.

Ghafoor says traffic to the site is growing at a rate of 25 per cent month on month or 1,600 per cent a year. He is particularly pleased that Savills Hong Kong, one of the biggest agents in the city, has recently signed up and another big agent is expected to join shortly.

"This not only improves the quality of listings and therefore the user experience, but it's also validation that we're doing something right," says Ghafoor. "Our inventory monitoring and pricing algorithms mean we can weed out the fake listings some agents use to bait customers while providing an independent assessment of fair value."

It has recently set up agreements with other agents in London, New York and Miami that are looking to sell their properties to Asian buyers.

Spacious raised US$500,000 early last year and is now seeking new funding to scale up its business. The site is now available in Chinese. In the middle of last year, it launched a mobile app. Now roughly half the traffic is from mobile.

Ghafoor was keen to introduce transparency into the market. For this, he drew on his 11 years of experience with Goldman Sachs writing equity trading algorithms. So the site includes a fascinating range of metrics. Users can see whether a flat is over- or undervalued against others in the same building or neighbourhood. They can compare average prices in the neighbourhood with others in the city and see how prices have changed over different time periods.

The site also tells you, for example, in a heat map where people with English as their first language are concentrated, the average age of people in a neighbourhood, the number and location of schools and where the most single or divorced people live.

One of the problems with start-ups in Hong Kong is the scale, given that there are only seven million people in the city. But its real estate market is as significant as in other big cities. "We are tackling a market which has some serious challenges, but at the same time it's a real market and it can be very stressful for people. It's not something made up where we are giving each other 'gifts' or 'likes'," says Ghafoor.

WeAdvertise

The mainland's internet giant Tencent Holdings has once again demonstrated its happy knack of turning everything it does into a "talking point". It has embarked on a major step of trying to monetise its social network site, WeChat, by pushing advertising to users. The first of these advertisements included BMW, Coca-Cola and mainland smartphone brand Vivo. This advertising is supposed to be targeted, but it needs a bit of refinement since some of it was evidently misdirected to the amusement of netizens.

Whether by accident or design, this event created a favourable buzz for the company with the first question of the day being "Which adverts did you receive". But it's no laughing matter for Tencent. Its shares rose 3.2 per cent yesterday to close at HK$137. According to a research report from Bank of Communications, Tencent is expected to attract two billion yuan (HK$2.5 billion) in advertising from WeChat this year, compared with total advertising of 5.7 billion yuan for the first three quarters of 2014.

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