VCs in India love housing.com, a young, upstart online rental company staffed by twenty-two year olds, and with good reason. It is by far the slickest, most attractive and easiest to use rental website yet to hit India. So, it’s unsurprising that Helion Venture Partners, Nexus Venture Partners, and Qualcomm Ventures just a few days ago slapped down US$19 million for a stake in the company.
Today, if I were one of the two largest players in the 200 real estate listings business—either 99Acres, run by BSE listed Infoedge, or MagicBricks run by the gigantic Times Group—I would be worried. While housing.com may be a newbie and trailing these two in sheer listings volume, it far surpasses anything else on the net that is in the real estate listings business.
The reason why housing.com offers such a better looking product is because of a data and analytics engine that does all the hard number crunching to offer unparalleled features such as a heat-map of the city based on per square feet prices, visuals of amenities available nearby (such as transportation), a lifestyle rating, locality insights and a child friendliness index—all of which can also be used as a search criteria to look for your ideal location. The site also has time-decay algorithms to monitor when a listing should have converted to a deal.
Another reason why these guys are hard to beat is because of their data collection team which actually visits every home listed so they can take pics for the site and verify information. While it’s unclear as to how scalable this service can become as the business grows, there’s no denying that it must offer great relief to house hunters who know that everything that they are contemplating on the site is qualitatively and factually accurate and not a potential waste of time thanks to scamsters and hucksters who that the real estate industry is famous for.
If you enter the offices of the company you will instantly be offered a tagline that points to the outfit’s genesis. Engraved on the wall is the legend "We wanted something better, so we built it ourselves." When two small town boys, Jammu’s Advitiya Sharma and Alwar's Rahul Yadav along with ten of their classmates from the ultra-prestigious Indian Institute of Technology's Bombay campus graduated and began to look for housing they were shocked and frustrated as to how difficult the process was and how crappy and misleading listings turned out to be. So they chucked up their various consulting and finance jobs and decided to fix the problem themselves as good engineers should.
Today the company apparently charges brokers a subscription fee of Rs 7,500 for six months and Rs 15,000 for one year to upload their listings (It has quickly garnered 6,000 broker-members). Soon, the site plans to earn money through other channels such as builders and land owners—a veritable goldmine in a booming economy. The site is free to the end user. Over the next two years, the outfit is also planning to spread its wings to places such as South Africa, Dubai and the Philippines.
Ultimately, for housing.com to become the brand to beat in this business it has to maintain its quality quotient and reliability factor and ensure that the very things that it becomes famous for—such as physical verification of every listing—doesn’t become the millstone that sinks it.
Other than that, it stands a good chance of becoming the premier rental listings site in India and is probably giving the industry leaders a fright of their lives as we speak.