Want to buy the home of your dreams? Or maybe you want to rent it out to earn a few extra bucks? You place any question regarding property and builders, the solution is present right in front of you—HomeShikari.com, an online portal where all your housing problems get resolved. The website is dedicated to provide the customers with services that not only save time consuming activities but also guarantees to provide peace of mind. It is the place where consumers can easily find available reliable and accurate information to facilitate decision making.
Neither a broker nor an advertising agent, HomeShikari.com is the ultimate friend, philosopher and guide when it comes to queries regarding housing properties and builders. They launched their services for the Bangalore market (beta) in November 2011, went paid for consumers in June 2012 and for builders in April 2013 and currently have plans to launch in other key cities.
Startoholics.in got lucky when the CEO, Mr. Sunder P, agreed to share his experience and the journey with HomeShikari.
To anyone who’s never come across Homeshikari.com, how would you describe it?
HomeShikari is a real estate marketplace that aims to bring transparency and establish trust through:
1. Directly connecting all players in the real estate ecosystem (buyers / sellers / owners / tenants / builders)
2. Empowering consumers to make informed decisions through providing clean, verified and trustworthy information
3. Providing services that bridge trust gaps, ease transactions and offer peace of mind.
Tell us a bit about your background and the path that ultimately led you towards Homeshikari.com
I’m a Mechanical Engineer with an MBA from BSMED, Bharathiar University, Coimbatore. I started my career in the hospitality industry before being bitten by the entrepreneurial bug during the dotcom heydays of 1999. I quit a regular career and did a startup that helped NRIs, along with a few co-founders. We founded a mail communication service ‘Bharatmail’ which helped NRIs to communicate swiftly and easily with their non-internet old parents back home. We garnered a huge NRI base and attracted some angel funding, but the going became tough with the dotcom bust and hence we merged with the TTK Group (in pursuit of a larger platform), which was making its foray into NRI services in 2002.
The idea of HomeShikari was born out of the home hunting travails of the young executive management team at TTK Services, a couple of years back. My fellow Directors, T.T.Venkatesh (member of the TTK family, co-founder, HomeShikari) and Parasuram Prabhu (head of TTK Services Operations) were searching for houses on rent at that time. I too was on the lookout and we realized that each one of us had a very specific need. Having lived in the US and having a passion for cooking, Venky wanted a large kitchen but no broker ever understood his needs. The rest of us faced similar problems and found neither the brokers understood what we wanted, nor were the online portals were of any help.
We also realized that unless information is captured in an exhaustive manner and put to use to satisfy these requirements, the portals add very little of value. So we wanted to make a difference. Our desire to bring transparency and empower consumers coupled with our expertise in handling real estate matters in a professional manner led us to found HomeShikari.
How does it differentiate from other such platforms?
HomeShikari caters to the changing needs of today’s discerning consumers. Multiple people could lay claim on representing the same property and multiple ads in different formats and with different information could all lead to the same property. The information provided is very sketchy or unreliable.
We brought a sea change to this by introducing our verified listings where our staffs go and visit the property for sale / rent, take pictures, video, measure the property, do an accurate floor plan and upload all the information for the benefit of searchers. These listings go with a verified symbol which is an assurance to the searcher that what he is seeing on the website is what he will get, if he physically visits the property. This allows a discerning consumer to pre-screen properties and then visits only those that meet his requirements.
From the point of view of consumers who are listing their properties for sale / rent, our website enables them to receive highly qualified leads that are more likely to close quickly. No wastage of time showing it to hundreds of prospects who may not be interested or whose needs don’t match the property. And we are the only ones to actually give a refund to listers, when they delist their property. This is to ensure our site has only pertinent and fresh listings all the time.
For Builders, we offer non-intrusive and preference based marketing that help interested clients to reach out to them after having reviewed all the information. This helps them connect with serious prospects only, leading to less efforts and wastage of time.
And it doesn’t stop there, we have services that span every aspect of real estate transactions such as getting title documents, title transfers, legal vetting, document authentication, tenant management, property monitoring etc. For ex: In Bangalore we have close to 100 homes under tenant management, at the moment.
Who would you say is your biggest competitor?
It is a highly competitive market. There are different kinds of online portals in this space. On one end, you have the advertising (real estate classifieds) portals and on the other end you have online brokerage portals, which don’t charge consumers but get their commission from builders. Both of these are very different models. The former merely acts as a marketing platform for builders and brokers, with absolutely no focus on the consumer. The latter while being marginally better for consumers, still cannot avoid bias because they have vested interests in concluding a transaction by any means.
We are championing the cause of transparency in the real estate market. Housing.co.in is probably the closest to our model.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
The biggest challenge lies in educating consumers and instilling the confidence that you could buy / sell or rent / rent out your property without intermediaries and without paying brokerage. Only success stories can lead consumers to believe. We have had numerous success stories, some of which has been showcased on our website which help in boosting the required confidence that needs to be created amongst consumers.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
Whenever you are attempting something new, going against the tide or treading a path never traveled, you are bound to make mistakes! The biggest mistake and learning I have got from the HomeShikari experience is that it would take a lot more spend to be able to achieve a change in consumer behavior in short time. We are talking about people who are used to falling back on traditional brokers to sell, rent their homes despite having viable options.
What would it take to change their behavior patterns? What is the inflection point at which such services go beyond the innovators and get accepted by the mainstream consumers? These are issues that we are still grappling with and will continue to learn from it.
Has HomeShikhari got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?
HomeShikari has got excellent feedback from the consumers who have used our services. With a judicious spend, we have been able to build a very strong brand awareness in the Bangalore market. Ask anyone in our target group and they would most certainly know ‘HomeShikari’ and we weren’t there up until 2012. 20%-25% of our monthly orders for value added services come from referrals and repeats. You can also check our testimonials to read what they have to say about our services:
What do you think is the future of online property portals in India?
If we are looking at the market for pure advertising models, then it is probably about Rs. 200 Crore to Rs. 300 Crore now with a potential to become a Rs. 1000 Crore market in the next few years. But if we are looking at a complete change in the way the market functions and brings services that enable transactions, help manage the assets, make them more liquid and make their valuations more accurate, then we are looking at a billion $ market.
The primary point is that existing online portals are doing nothing to solve the major problem in Indian real estate – ‘TRUST’. Their business models do not support it. Any system, especially financial or real estate has an exponential dependence on trust – for every marginal increase in trust the market grows exponentially in size. The information that you see on most of the so-called leading portals are not trustable.
In fact you could possibly argue that current websites are contributing to the mistrust in the system by being data-quantity seeking at the expense of its quality. Our take is that if online portals can bring in trust then there is going to be an explosion in the Indian real estate market and a 10x if not more, usage of online portals for real estate.
What one piece of advice would you give to “soon to be startup founders”?
These beautiful lines from Richard Bach (author of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, Illusions) sums up my advice to soon to be startup founders:
“When you have come to the edge of all the light you have,
And step into the darkness of the unknown,
Believe that one of the two will happen to you.
Either you’ll find something solid to stand on
Or you’ll be taught how to fly”
I practically had to internalize this advice from 1999, when forced to choose between a plum job offer versus being unemployed and having to raise funding within a 30 day deadline. I refused the job offer and raised my first funding in 30 days, thanks to a benevolent angel. It helped to have the experience of getting a pink slip for no fault of mine earlier on; so letting go of a job offer was not scary. If you are good enough, you will find your way back, even if you fail.
Thanks Mr. Sunder for enlightening us with such fascinating information! The job to find out an appropriate roof over your head can be tedious at times. But a home match-maker like HomeShikari can live up to that standard where quality with peace can be found by every person out there looking for a home sweet home!