Navigating the property business in the digital age can be akin to entering a hedge maze — without a map of sorts, finding the way out is an exercise in futility.
For people looking to rent or buy property, incomplete or misleading listings can cause quite a headache. The reverse is also true for property sellers and agents; without actionable insight, closing a sale seems light years away.
Indeed, transparency builds trust and confidence in brands and platforms, and it’s one of the objectives of Southeast Asian proptech firm PropertyGuru when it launched in 2007.
Having quickly reached their goal to keep property listings transparent, the next challenge was to ensure that listings are accompanied with the right content and images, shared Manav Kamboj, PropertyGuru’s CTO.
“We developed a quality photos guide using deep learning techniques and computer vision, so property photos meet quality standards — for example, if images for a property have sufficient coverage, and if there are unwanted watermarks, text, or collages on top of an image,” Kamboj said.
Since 2016, the company has been focused on building ML-based solutions, mostly for property recommendations. Moreover, AI is used to present relevant information and insights to property seekers.
“Our goal is to offer customers the right set of properties so they can make informed, confident decisions. Beyond details of the property, we provide them with insights, such as pricing trends, location, and neighbourhood insights, that are backed by machine learning models designed specifically for our markets,” the CTO added.
Banking on data
Currently operating across five markets (i.e., Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia), PropertyGuru continuously leverages data and technology to help agents, developers, and property seekers.
According to the company, over 40 million property seekers use their platform every month.
In 2018, PropertyGuru introduced its proprietary recommendation engine, in order to make property search and discovery more intuitive for seekers.
A year later, the company launched PropertyGuru Lens, which allowed users to search for property in the real world using their smartphone camera.
Meanwhile, as enterprises and consumers increasingly gear towards sustainability, PropertyGuru launched PropertyGuru Green Score in 2021, which allowed seekers to identify eco-friendly properties.
On the sellers’ side, the company launched StoryTeller in June 2020, a feature that creates virtual 3D floorplans of a project, its units, and the surrounding cityscape. StoryTeller is part of FastKey, a property SaaS platform (acquired by PropertyGuru in 2015) which aims to help real estate developers sell their properties to buyers within and outside Singapore.
That same year, PropertyGuru acquired Malaysia’s MyProperty Data, a property data analytics platform, and turned it into PropertyGuru DataSense, a suite of proptech data tools for PropertyGuru agents.
“With (the acquisition), we (also) extended our data offerings to bankers and valuers in Malaysia. With our marketplaces there (PropertyGuru.com.my and iProperty.com.my), the team is developing solutions that will not only better serve the Malaysian property market, but also bring solutions to other markets,” Kamboj said.
In addition, PropertyGuru acquired REA Group’s Malaysia and Thailand operations in 2021.
“PropertyGuru has invested in building foundational technology capabilities such as DevOps and cloud infrastructure engineering, user management, personalisation, search, content management, data, and MLOps that can be applied across different businesses and platforms that it has acquired over time,” the CTO shared.
“As an example, we have built user identity management capabilities that enable users to have a consistent and connected experience across different PropertyGuru’s platforms,” he added.
Strengthening the infrastructure
To support the new technologies it onboards, PropertyGuru has had to make certain adjustments to its IT infrastructure throughout the years.
“In 2017, we moved from a private data centre co-hosted by a telecom provider to Amazon Web Services. That marked our journey towards a DevOps mindset, which has since allowed us to innovate at speed, shipping high-quality products and features faster than ever before,” Kamboj recalled.
Presently, 100% of PropertyGuru’s infrastructure is available as code, with the company using the likes of Terraform, SaltStack, and Github Actions for infrastructure management and continuous delivery.
“This focus on automation and software engineering practices allow us to run multiple marketplaces reliably and securely across countries along with our data, SaaS, and fintech solutions, on a distributed hybrid cloud environment,” the CTO remarked.
Acknowledging that software engineering processes and technology stacks can often be difficult to integrate, Kamboj noted that the companies PropertyGuru acquired all share a “very strong” alignment with their design best practices, DevOps, automation, security, and broader engineering culture.
“While the maturity of the acquired systems may vary, PropertyGuru continues to ensure the right level of integration between systems and teams to drive a great user experience and reliability of our platforms. Developer empowerment through automation and self-service is a big focus area for us to ensure they have the infrastructure and environment necessary to build quality products at speed and scale,” he said.
The market ahead
With Southeast Asia seen to become the fourth largest economy in the world by 2030, driven by urbanisation, middle class expansion, and digitalisation, PropertyGuru has set its sights on growing its core business, as well as in areas such as fintech, data services, developer operating systems, and home services.
“Between 2013 to 2021, it is estimated that over 50 million urbanites will need housing in major cities and towns across our five markets. Between 2015 to 2025, it is estimated that the emergence of the growing middle class with increasing purchasing power and digital adoption will contribute to 61% growth in GDP per capita. Between 2015 to 2025, it is estimated that the internet penetration rate in Southeast Asia will increase significantly with more than 200 million people moving online,” Kamboj said.
“We are focused on the property seekers, our customers, and addressing their ever-evolving needs. It’s a fantastic time to be in the proptech sector as technologies like AI/ML, AR/VR continue to find application across a multitude of existing and new areas. With blockchain moving from hype towards a certain maturity, Web 3.0 is likely to have a lasting impact on the real estate industry,” he continued.
For marketplaces, Kamboj said they will continue investing in their technology and data capabilities to bring better data and insights to property seekers, agents and developer partners.
For fintech, the company is working to make home financing fully digital.
“In Singapore, we launched ‘PropertyGuru Finance’, a mortgage marketplace and digital brokerage solution that offers smart financial services. We recently launched the ‘Digital Document Collection Tool,’ enabling users to provide all required loan application documents by uploading them online. We will come up with more solutions and also look to expand into other markets,” Kamboj shared.
As for data and software solutions, more investments will be made towards intelligent workflows, high-quality valuation, and data consultancy services for valuers, banks, developers and governments.
“To bring our vision to life, we will supercharge our organic growth strategy and make selective acquisitions. Organically, we will accelerate growth through continued innovation across our markets. M&A will complement organic growth in the core business, but we will also focus on new growth areas such as developer operating systems and home services,” the CTO concluded.