50 story glass skyscrapers. Bad Traffic. Starbucks on every corner. A massive urban sprawl by the Pacific Ocean millions call home. You may think I’m talking about Los Angeles, but I’m not. This is Manila, the capital city of the Philippines and it’s on the tail end of one of the largest Real Estate booms in Southeast Asia. A young workforce, smart economic reforms and growing service industry have taken then Philippines from the economic “sick man” of Asia, to record GDP growth of over 7% last year.
Despite its mega-growth and recent western-style “modernization”, online services in the Philippines remain fairly rare. Like many real estate markets in developing countries around the world, things are very traditional here. Real estate is done the old fashioned way: Phone calls, face-to-face meetings and driving all over town to view properties. While this approach and pace may be suitable for the more rural and laid-back parts of the country, time is precious in the bustling mega-cities of the Philippines, which suffer from poor urban planning and have some all-too-common big city problems like traffic, pollution, urban decay and risk of natural disasters. There’s also not a heck of a lot of space. Metro Manila (the nations capital) has a regional population of nearly 20 million people alone and contains some of the world’s most densely populated cities.
When it comes to buying or renting a home in these mega-cities there are a lot of important factors to consider. Is the area safe? Is there a risk of flooding or other natural disasters? Are there nearby hospitals and schools? What will my commute time and cost be like? These are all questions that home buyers want answered, and with the software capabilities of today there’s no reason we can’t answer them! This is why we founded ZipMatch.com. Our goal as we develop our site is to not only provide listings of homes, but detailed information for homebuyers about the surrounding area. This requires a lot of content and photos of the surrounding city and district, as well as written reviews of nearby attractions. We use Google maps to display nearby amenities, as well as a historical flood-risk for map Metro Manila. To those who don’t live in the Philippines, a flood-risk map may sound like a gimmick, but for those of us who call Manila home, we know all too well how often and how quickly the city goes under water when the “rainy season” typhoons hit.
Classified-style listings dominate the online Real Estate space in the Philippines. On most websites you’ll get a photo or two (if you’re lucky) and a brief description of the property next to a brokers phone number. Since most classified listings make their money from banner impressions and click-through there’s really very little incentive to take listings down when they’ve closed. This forces the buyers to navigate sites of 100,000 listings or more. This is not a fun experience for a home buyer as most of the listings are no longer valid. If by luck someone where find their precious needle in the haystack, its more then likely the broker’s phone number will no longer be active or they won’t be able to answer the phone. No wonder people go face-to-face and skip the current technology! Our approach is to focus on quality listings with good photos, accurate geo-codes, and essential meta-data like number of bedrooms, square meter size of the property etc. This type of data may be a given for the MLS / IDX driven Real Estate markets of the US and Canada, but in The Philippines it’s a rare treat.
Speaking of an MLS, there is none! This brings whole new set challenges into play. Brokers are very protective of their listings because without a system to disseminate the information and guarantee commission, the listings are considered a type of intellectual property. This makes our goals a little challenging. How can we provide detailed neighbourhood and community data if the brokers won’t share listings data with us? We have some clever solutions for this problem under development, (which I promise to follow up in another piece) but in the meantime brokers can mark the property address as private. This may sound like a strange feature, but the majority of our listings submitted via brokers have address privacy selected. When privacy is selected, we show the building or neighbourhood the property is in, but not the exact address.
There are plenty of talented IT Professionals in the Philippines these days. We’re confident that within the next 10 years, the country will become the IT-hub for South East Asia. We develop entirely on AWS, which has data centers in Japan and Singapore, as well as a healthy distribution of CDN edge nodes all around the region. I’m sure I don’t have to explain the benefits of being on a cloud service like AWS. We can experiment and implement infrastructure within hours. Financially, running as many things in the cloud as possible is a huge benefit for business operating in the Philippines. The cost of power alone in the country makes running infrastructure within the country a very expensive endeavour. Aside from our production and testing environments, we rely heavily on “on demand” software services so that IT resources stay focused on the product and not corporate systems.
We all know the sales cycles for Real Estate purchases are long. After all, this is the most major purchase most people make in their lives! To anchor all of our technology, we really aim to back it up with strong support. This is a huge benefit in the Philippines, where most businesses processes are very rigid and red tape is plentiful. Our sales team man our live chat support during business hours, and provide a “concierge” home-finding service to people who inquire via web form or call in directly. We call back within and hour of their inquiry, and we hope to shorten this time soon when we go 24/7. We plan to run trials using Twilio’s “click to call” feature very soon, to see if we can reach out to even more buyers while they are browsing the site. We’ll tell you how it goes.
I hope you’ve learned a little about the Philippines real estate industry and some of the ways we’re trying to innovate here. Do you have any questions or insights into how we can make things better? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock /Antonio V. Oquias / ZipMatch