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News & Analysis

Hutbitat is taking on two of the biggest companies in Australia; and based in Singapore, that’s going to be pretty hard

- May 11, 2015 3 MIN READ

In Australia, real estate is a crowded space. Locally, although there are a myriad of online players trying to make it easier for users to find property to buy or lease, the market is largely dominated by just two: Real Estate (owned by REA Group) and Domain (owned by Fairfax). Some may think it would be crazy to think that these two companies, both disruptors themselves could ever fall to their knees. However, that doesn’t stop startups from launching something similar with an “individual twist” on the concept that hopefully gives them a unique selling point from the two industry heavyweights.

Three Singapore based founders Mingwei Leong, Lee Wei and Chee-Wee Khoo are hoping to do just that with their new venture Hutbitat.

Hutbitat is essentially a real estate search engine that aims to improve people’s home search experiences. Wei told Startup Daily that when it comes to property search websites, they are usually too cluttered with information and messy to navigate and at times more focused towards investors rather than consumers. While I probably would have agreed with that opinion about five years ago, today the two biggest sites playing in the space are actually pretty easy to navigate – both REA Group and Fairfax have, to their credit, done a brilliant job in upgrading the UI and UX of their websites.

It is also worth noting that Hutbitat appears to be quite similar design wise to another Fairfax owned real estate entity, Commercial Real Estate. In fact, as you can see below, the UI is almost exactly the same apart from a couple of minor key differences.

Top: Commercial Real Estate and Bottom: Hutbitat search screens

Top: Commercial Real Estate and Bottom: Hutbitat search screens

The way that Hutbitat works is by pulling data from across the web directly from real estate agency websites. The aim of Hutbitat is to then direct the traffic from its site back to the websites of the agencies. Agencies have to become “Hatbitat Agents” in order to get the advantage of having their details displayed to the public. However, unlike Real Estate and Domain, agencies will not have to manually submit their listings directly to the website or via the widely used My Desktop tool used by property managers.

“The thing about agents is that they do not have to submit any listing to us. We feel that saves them a lot of time and we understand that time is money. That’s the main selling point we’re trying to push to agents. It will be easy to submit listings,” says Wei.

Because listings are pulled via Hutbitat’s proprietary algorithm, everything will also be updated in real-time, according to the founders.

The startup is 100% focused on the Australian real estate market, yet the entire team and operations is based in Singapore. Although one of the co-founders on the team lived in Australia for about six years, the location factor could present a problem in gaining traction for the venture simply because, in the real estate industry, to get the big players on board and engaged, you need to have feet on the ground. Having said that, the Hutbitat team just started marketing to local real estate agencies in Australia last week – so its too early to tell whether or not there will be any buy in.

“The core of what Hutbitat is that we will never charge for listings that appear on the website,” says Wei. “Where we will make money is in aiming to improve business efficiency of agents. We’re trying to develop some tools that will streamline processes and activities for agents”.

Basically what Wei is saying is that the big vision behind Hutbitat is that it will be a place where real estate agents end up going because it has a host of tools that will allow them to better manage their sales. This begs the question: why bother building a search engine / two-sided market place when you could just build a suite of tools and concentrate on marketing them directly to the real estate industry? It’s early days but I think that there are a lot of factors to be ironed out here before this startup has a fighting chance making it in Australia, especially because they are not based in the country.