Sometime in March, Housing.com acquired online real estate forum IREF (Indian Real Estate Forum), for around USD 1.2 million in an all-cash transaction. Founder Rohini Dutt , exited the company after the acquisition, and Housing.com Co-founder Ravish Naresh took over as CEO. Since then, Housing.com has acquired two more companies - HomeBuy360 and RealityBI - but we have not heard much about their plans for these companies.
YourStory had a chat with Ravish, who gave us a glimpse of why the company acquired IREF and what lies ahead for the company.
Founded in 2006, IREF was a bulletin board forum where registered users (home buyers as well as experts) could exchange information, experiences and views on real estate projects, builders and miscellaneous related topics.
Over the years, the forum had amassed over 1.5 lakh subscribers, and claimed to have helped millions find the right information to make informed decisions about home buying.
The reasons behind the acquisition
Lagging in technology: Run as a complete one-woman show by Rohini, IREF was India’s largest real estate forum. But according to Ravish, the forum was a tad bit outdated with respect to technology.
“We at Housing always knew that Indian consumers needed an unbiased forum to discuss real estate. We could either build one or acquire someone. IREF was the perfect candidate, though it needed a lot of technology makeover,” he says. An 80-member team is currently working on revamping the forum.
Need for a neutral platform: India needs a technologically sound, neutral platform where people can discuss anything related to real estate. “If Housing.com built a platform, people might have considered it biased. That is why we decided to acquire IREF and let it continue to be independent of Housing. We didn’t want any conflict of interest; just a pure forum for real estate,” Ravish adds.
Multiple acquisition offers: Housing.com learnt from the owners that IREF were getting multiple offers from real estate portals in India. “They were getting enquiries from other classifieds sites like commonfloor and 99acres, so we thought, why not us?” says Ravish.
Within months, Locon Solutions, the parent company of Housing.com, acquired IREF for around Rs 8 crore (approximately USD 1.2 million). It appointed Ravish as the CEO and former housing.com employee Nitesh Agarwal on the board of the company.
The next obvious move one may question is the reason Housing.com chose Ravish for the CEO position, “I always managed forums when I was in IIT, and was confident about how it should work and what must be done,” says Ravish.
A peek into the future
Housing.com promised the founders that they would keep their vision intact, and continue to let the forum function as an independent entity.
“It takes about six to eight months for Indians to research and finally zero in on a house to buy. We decided that IREF would be the discovery platform, where all the discussions on properties and builders will be available; like a TripAdvisor for real estate, and Housing.com would serve as the transaction platform,” adds Ravish.
The forum is also working on two new products, which will be released in October.
IREF Wiki: The forum is now building a Wikipedia of sorts for Indian real estate. It will have developer information, ratings, surveys, and legal content. The platform will be driven by user-generated content in the future. The IREF currently has an in-house content team that will gather and curate publicly available content.
IREF News: According to Ravish, real estate news in mainstream publications are most often sponsored and hence biased. IREF News, he says, will be the answer to that gap. The company has hired a former senior editor from Times of India to run the show, and plans to publish any news related to Indian real estate, including analysis of real estate pricing, upcoming localities, and hot projects.
On other future plans, Ravish says,
Transparency in real estate is the key factor behind our innovations, and we will continue on that philosophy.