What do you do when you’re struggling to find an apartment for rent in Bangalore?
You a) rant about it; b) switch options from one portal to other; c) go to real estate agents; or d) do what Ajay Kumar and Ankit Oberoi did.
Zero down the pain point, work on solving the real problem and startup to help everyone out there. You can always spice it up by giving your startup a cool name, something like ‘TheHouseMonk’.
Genesis of TheHouseMonk – The problem
To be specific, Ajay and Ankit were happy searching for properties online, but were let down by the offline experience with the real estate agents. They found the agents unprofessional and incapable of communicating properly. Soon, they realized that property portals are not solving the last mile problem in real estate and there was a need for better service in the offline real estate market.
Streamlining house hunting – The solution
Founded in October 2013, TheHouseMonk is trying to streamline the entire process of house hunting. Existing portals majorly help in the first stage of property search (i.e. discovery) whereas the process of moving into a new house involves interacting with multiple parties, negotiations, paperwork and more. Ajay points out,
There’s no entity which is working towards organizing the offline part of property search. This is where TheHouseMonk steps in – Our agents are put through a training program where they’re taught how to communicate with clients, how to use technology and learn about the markets they operate in before they hit the field.
The startup aims at making house hunting simple by mixing sharp use of technology and expertise brokerage.
The ‘not so easy’ task – The name
Ajay jokes that the common love of the co-founders for the Old Monk has led to the name of the company. On a serious note, he mentions,
We wanted a simple name that people could connect with and remember. TheHouseMonk gained instant popularity among family and friends.
Technology powered real estate agency – The company
In simple terms, TheHouseMonk is a technology powered real estate agency. Unlike existing players, which provide an online platform for buyers and sellers to connect, TheHouseMonk has a team of field agents who accompany customers during site visits and help them close the deal on ground zero. TheHouseMonk provides end-to-end service, right from the online portal where you start your property search, to the offline real estate agency that helps you close the deal.
The company is operating on a traditional brokerage model where they charge a service fee to the clients once the deal is done. They are bootstrapped and have been breaking even on operations. Ajay speaks about funding, “We can continue down the same path without funding, but hope to raise some capital to strengthen our operations. We want to invest in technology and build products that’ll help our agents and customers.”
Size does matter – The numbers
The entire real estate market in India is estimated to be worth around $75 billion (as of 2013). TheHouseMonk is into the rental and resale business of Real Estate which they believe accounts for roughly 40% of the real estate market.
TheHouseMonk is operating only in Bangalore as of now with a presence in East, South and North Bangalore. They have about 500 active listings in these areas. With almost 4000 visitors on their site last month, their online traffic is increasing 50% MoM.
Not an easy sector to be in – The challenges
- Hiring good agents: A tech savvy person who has good communication skills and willing to work on the field is an ideal hire for TheHouseMonk, but unfortunately there aren’t many people fulfilling these criteria.
- Scaling an offline model: Ajay and his team are trying to overcome this by the smart use of technology.
And miles to go before I sleep – The plan
TheHouseMonk is looking to expand its tech team. They have started building a mobile application for their agents which will be rolled out in the next couple of months. This can be used by them to streamline their operations on the field. The plan for a consumer app is still under consideration. Ajay states,
Building technology and TheHouseMonk brand name will be of prime focus in the coming months. We hope to establish operations throughout the city of Bangalore in the next 12 months and are looking to hire agents, software developers, marketing folks to help us in this quest.
Who will win in the longer run -The verdict
Ajay sees existing property portals and agents as their direct competitors. He says,
Some of the bigger players in this space have gained a lot of traction over the past few years. But there are questions around their monetization techniques. Though end users love using these sites, most brokers aren’t ready to list with them. Owners who list on these portals are seldom ready to pay for the services and most of them prefer putting only free ads. Whoever manages to work around these constraints and crack a good revenue model will become the eventual winner of the online real estate battle.
Ajay also believes that the market is big enough to accommodate two-three players. According to him, TheHouseMonk’s effort towards organizing the offline aspect of property search is what sets them apart from the rest of the bunch.
That was Ajay with his verdict. What do you think about the online real estate battle?