China Focus: Online home-buying cushions housing sector against virus outbreak

Source: Xinhua| 2020-03-02 11:39:30|Editor: huaxia

HAIKOU, March 2 (Xinhua) -- Alongside fresh food sales, e-learning and e-working, the real estate market has become the latest sector to embrace e-commerce amid the novel coronavirus outbreak in China.

Feng Meiling, a 26-year-old salesperson at the Hainan branch of Evergrande, a leading Chinese real estate firm, now has a new identity -- an anchor on TikTok, a popular video-sharing and live-streaming platform.

"I wasn't quite myself at first, speaking to nobody but a phone rather than communicating with home buyers face to face as before," said Feng, whose first live-streaming of selling apartments attracted only 77 viewers on TikTok.

To avert unnecessary gatherings and curb the transmission of the novel coronavirus, major real estate firms across the country closed their brick-and-mortar sales offices during the Spring Festival holiday, an otherwise peak season for purchasing homes in China.

In January, a total of 15.39 million square meters of residential space were traded in 40 major Chinese cities, down 5.9 percent year on year and slumping by 33.9 percent from the previous month, data from real estate researcher EH Consulting showed.

To cushion the blows, real estate agents have set up online sales offices and resorted to live-streaming to attract consumers.

Evergrande has developed an app called Hengfangtong, providing one-stop services from showcasing houses through virtual reality (VR) technology to signing contracts. It has listed all its properties on the app for sale since Feb. 13.

"It was mainly used to recruit part-time salesmen, but since the outbreak, it has become an online trading platform for real estate sales," said Liu Zexin, sales manager of the company's Hainan branch.

Online shopping used to be hardly acknowledged in the real estate sector, as buying houses is, after all, something that warrants the practice of "seeing is believing."

But this transition is picking up steam. The registered users of the app Hengfangtong increased by more than 3 million, who pre-ordered 68,019 units of flats within just six days, according to Liu Xuefei, vice president of Evergrande.

Currently, about 151 of the top 200 real estate firms in China have adopted online marketing and 143 had their online sales office, according to CRIC, a real estate researcher.

According to statistics from Taobao Live, the live-streaming unit of China's e-commerce giant Alibaba, more than 5,000 real estate counselors from nearly 100 cities have entered its live-streaming rooms, enabling home buyers to view houses, consult and make deals all at home.

"It has big discounts now with preferential policies such as refund without reasons, which was the least I could consider before," said Li Yuanyuan, a viewer of such live-streaming on Douyin.

Now Feng has done four live-streams on TikTok, followed by more than 500 viewers at most. "I have sold two units, although it still needs face-to-face communication about some details before the presale."

China's real estate industry will usher in a new era of online marketing, said Yu Shengguo, associate dean of the School of Economics of Hainan University.

"The integration of consumption with Internet+ and new technologies such as VR and big data will promote the real economy to transform into the digital economy, which will further strengthen the resilience of the Chinese economy," said Yu.