[Interview] There is tremendous scope of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in the digital real estate sector – Ravi Bhushan, Group CPTO, Housing.com, PropTiger.com and Makaan.com

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Technology is evolving at a very rapid pace, with technologies & trends like Artificial Intelligence [AI], Machine Learning [ML], Chatbots, Augmented Reality [AR], etc. creating a dent in every possible sector. Few years back, when you were interested in buying a property, you had to personally visit the site, evaluate & inspect it and than come at some logical conclusion.

With the advent of AR/VR, consumers can now have a look at the property/flat from the comfort of their homes thereby saving time as well as money [for the real-estate company that mostly bears the cost of the site-visits]! Artificial Intelligence is already disrupting the real-estate sector.

When we talk about online real-estate Housing.com, PropTiger.com and Makaan.com immediately comes to our minds. All these companies have been game changers in their own respect, having varied business models. Today, we have a chat with Ravi Bhushan, Group CPTO, Housing.com, PropTiger.com and Makaan.com about emerging technological trends, AR/VR, Chatbots, etc.

Being a CPTO of multiple portals which are into real-estate, as a PM what are some of the data points that you use to ensure that the right set of features are deployed in the respective portals ?

For all the three platforms, i.e. Housing.com, PropTiger.com and Makaan.com, we have different business models that cater to both common and unique use cases. At a high level, I keep a close watch on the following data points

  • Traffic growth and quality
  • Engagement and conversion metrics
  • Supply growth
  • Demand supply match metrics
  • Quality score of content on a platform
  • Customer’s satisfaction score

There are has been lot of talks about AI, Machine Learning [ML] in the real-estate sector, how much impact will AI and ML have on the sector ?

I feel that there is tremendous scope of AI and ML in the digital real estate sector. Some of the areas wherein we are deploying and evaluating these technologies include:

  • AVM for price estimation in real estate
  • Lead quality scoring, based on the consumer’s behaviour [online + offline] data
  • Sentiment analysis around projects and developers based on the UGC data on IREF
  • Image classification and image quality check of listings
  • Automatic response by bots on real estate queries based on the knowledge base we have across platforms

How will emerging trends like AR/VR enhance the buying experience and how it can act as a compliment to physical site visits ?

Technology in the AR/VR sector is growing at a fast pace. Most of the global powerhouses are extensively investing in AR/VR related technology. An immersive viewing experience of a property [which does not exist] by using virtual reality, significantly solves the use case of visiting a sample flat. This technology can complement physical site visits in two ways

  • With these technologies one can do virtual site visits without any risk as visiting the site physically to experience the progress can be risky during construction
  • AR can be of immense value when it comes to customizing your house and get a near to a real glimpse of your future house

Can you list down top five features of PropTiger, Makaan, Housing from technological point of view vis-a-vis its competitors ?

I have listed the top five features that set us apart from our competitors

  • Comprehensive coverage of ratings and reviews of agents provided by genuine home seekers on Makaan.com solving the issue quality differentiation between sellers.
  • Makaan.com: First platform with real time authentic transaction data in Indian real estate
  • Category’s most innovative and user friendly maps based experience of 100% verified listings on Housing.com solving the issue of information asymmetry.
  • Category’s first ever web based virtual reality solution for most advanced visualisation [Sample flat, unit plan, construction updates, locality] targeting millions of internet users without any tech. barrier.
  • Deep learning based lead quality scoring engine based on consumer’s behaviour [Online + Offline].
Ravi Bhushan – Group CPTO (Housing.com, PropTiger.com and Makaan.com)

Chatbots are now becoming main stream with Fintech, Banks, etc. how can chat bots be used to enhance the overall buying experience ?

Chatbots concept is still very early for real estate sector. The important thing to notice is that unlike many other sectors, in real estate, the search pattern is very broad. However, we definitely feel that with time there will be adoption in real estate and in order to ensure that we lead it from the front, we have already invested in this technology.

In fact, we are the first one to launch Facebook bot based search experience through which one can search and call sellers from the chat window itself on Makaan.com.

What are some of the measures taken by your product/tech team to provide ‘customized’ buying/selling experience and to ensure that there is a maximum conversion rate ?

There are many things which are done in this direction. Some of the important measures followed by us include:

  • Relevance logic: Matching of user intent with the property options provided during the search journey
  • Ratings/Reviews: One of the main goals for home seekers is also to find out the right seller and for that authentic ratings/reviews are very important. We are working really hard to ensure that this use case is addressed properly.
  • Drip marketing: Real estate being long buying cycle, drip marketing at various stages of the journey to bring back consumers and make them convert is also a significant area
  • High quality content: On Housing & PropTiger, we have 100% verified listings and on Makaan we have most comprehensive reviews and ratings. We also power our platform with the UGC from the biggest forum in Indian real estate which we own.

Searching for ‘your kind of flat’ is still a tedious process on real-estate portals [where search can go upto how many rooms, area, etc.], what are some of the challenges to have these initial search terms integrated in a voice-based engine so that there are less number of user interactions [with the device] ?

We have made some great progress in our Audio related technologies to parse and meaningfully understand the home seeker-seller interactions. As far as voice searches are concerned, we already have this feature in our PropTiger app. Based on the traction, we will further enable the same in our other platforms.

With the advent of sub 1500 phones, new segment of customers have emerged that could be first time data users. Are there any plans of PropTiger/Makaan/Housing to cater to this market [be it a light-weight app/site, etc.] ?

Yes, this is an area of opportunity for us to penetrate further in tier 2/3 cities in India. Jio being a light weight HTML5 based app ecosystem, we are willing to launch our experiences as soon as it is allowed. Having said that, we have already invested in technologies like Progress Web Apps [PWA], Instant apps to provide app like experience to our web users and we look forward to tap any such opportunity in future.

From a product feature point of view, there has been less push to lure multi-lingual audience [e.g. Certain audience in  Kolkata might not be well versed with English but good in their native language], is there any push to cater the non-English speaking audience ?

We are witnessing some noticeable shift towards the vernacular space and we see this as an opportunity. We have already started to write some regional content on some of our content platforms such as PropGuide, MakaanIQ, Housing News, etc. Based on the traction, we will further invest in this direction.

What are some of the emerging trends in the tech-space and where do you see the real-estate sector [from tech point of view] couple of years down the line ?

With better government regulations, reforms & advancement of technology, the information asymmetry will reduce significantly in the coming years. The online platform will push their boundaries in terms of reaching towards closure to transactions.

The centralized listing content source [like MLS in other countries] is bound to emerge and lots of physical activities will be replaced with advancement in visualization technology related to AR/VR/3D space.

We thank Ravi Bhushan for sharing his insights with our readers. If you have any questions for Ravi, please email them here or share them via a comment to this article.