Big data takes over real estate: From market trends to finding dream homes

Big data is transforming the real estate industry by enabling analysis of market trends, property performance, and neighbourhood dynamics

In Q2 2023, the fintech and data services segment contributed SGD1.512 million to its total revenue. voyata/Shutterstock

By the late 1990s, John Zgoda had been living in Bangkok for a few years. The British marketing executive had fallen in love with the city’s energy, and owning a home in the Thai capital was the logical next step. But realising that dream was no small feat.

Real estate listings back then were a far cry from the digital databases and online platforms of today. To discover available properties, Zgoda had to rely on classified ads in local newspapers, a daily ritual that began his property quest.

“Word-of-mouth was the norm,” he recalls. “Friends, neighbours, and colleagues served as my informal property scouts. I often felt like a detective following leads.”

Even when Zgoda eventually found a potential apartment, either through a connection or the assistance of a local broker, the available information was typically scant. This led to hours spent navigating Bangkok’s infamous traffic jams, often culminating in disappointment. “Property visits could be eye-opening,” he says. “I sought a location away from the CBD, so I crisscrossed the city. Weekends disappeared in the back of taxis, and usually, I’d only view a few properties before giving up.”

He eventually found a place in On Nut, then Bangkok’s final Skytrain stop. Now, 25 years later, Zgoda and his wife are embarking on another fresh property hunt. With their daughters leaving home, the couple is looking for a quieter life on the paradise island of Koh Samui.

The internet, online property portals, and big data have transformed this house hunt into a vastly different experience.

“We’ve moved several times since I bought that first apartment,” John explains. “With each move, the process became much easier.”

The utilisation of big data has propagated a revolution in the way investors search for properties. fizkes/Shutterstock

For their latest purchase, they virtually viewed a three-bedroom home in Chaweng before visiting in person. They also compared it with other properties and considered local amenities, market trends, and historical sales figures—all thanks to big data analytics.

As with most industries, big data is transforming the way real estate operates. Investors can make more informed decisions with a laser focus on specifics. It enables granular analysis of market trends, property performance, and neighbourhood dynamics, aiding in the selection of properties with the highest potential for return on investment.

The transition has made firms like PropertyGuru a valuable tool for serial investors and house hunters. Founded in 2007, the company has for most of its existence operated as an online property portal, essentially replicating the traditional listings model, connecting buyers, sellers, and agents

But the firm’s vision has evolved beyond the property classifieds business to become one of the leading property data providers in the region.

To realise this vision, PropertyGuru has been strategic in its acquisition efforts. In 2021, the company successfully acquired the assets of the Australian real estate classifieds portal, REA Group, which operates property platforms in Thailand and Malaysia.

At True Digital Park, a tech and startup hub located in Bangkok, big data played a pivotal role in assessing traffic flow, emergency response times, and air quality. NattakitJeerapatmaitree/Shutterstock

In November 2020, the group also acquired the Malaysian property data firm MyProperty Data, rebranding it as DataSense, a suite of proptech data tools for agents.

“Property seekers typically begin their journey on property platforms, so it makes sense that our platforms are our primary source of data,” says Lee Nai Jia, the head of real estate intelligence, data, and software solutions for PropertyGuru For Business.

He points out that modern property buyers are increasingly discerning, relying on data to steer clear of pitfalls. They scrutinise transaction volumes and local pricing trends before making their purchases. “In many ways, every potential buyer has become an expert during their search process.”

PropertyGuru not only offers real-time pricing and rental trends for listings but also generates comprehensive market reports based on visitor interactions with their current offerings, shedding light on emerging trends.

Meanwhile, the NYSE-listed company is creating “developer operating systems” that automate processes in property development, sales, and management, in addition to facilitating home services like contracting and moving.

Its embrace of data utilisation has yielded tangible results. In Q2 2023, the fintech and data services segment contributed SGD1.512 million to its total revenue, marking a significant 46.8 percent increase from the previous year.

“This data empowers them to make well-informed decisions and evaluate the effectiveness of their strategies,” Lee explains. “To enhance our insights, we integrate third-party data, including mobility patterns and flood risk assessments. Recognising that each market is unique, we collaborate with local experts and continuously validate our hypotheses with our business partners.”

Data has empowered investors to make informed decisions on important calls such as remote second home purchases on dream destinations like Koh Samui in Thailand. lkunl/Shutterstock

As for data and software solutions, more investments will be made in intelligent workflows, high-quality valuation, and data consultancy services for valuers, banks, developers, and governments.

Indeed, developers are increasingly tapping into customer behaviour. This is helping them to identify lucrative niches and ideal project locations. Notably qualitative and quantitative data now enables forecasting and roadmap building for future buyer aspirations, a departure from the historical reliance on market experience.

Thai developer MQDC was an early adopter of proptech. In 2020, it launched the data research centre FutureTales LAB to utilise big data analytics throughout its operations. In addition to identifying customers in more detail, the firm harnesses site-specific data, including environmental factors such as air quality, trees, wildlife, water resources, and disaster risk assessments to enhance decision-making processes. Geographic Information Systems, meanwhile, allow MQDC to analyse locations in greater detail, aiding in better site selection and project design.

As technology continues to advance, data’s intrinsic value will grow, facilitating a market where information becomes a valuable commodity. This shift empowers investors to navigate the market

“When planning for new project development, we explore in-depth information about each building in terms of area usage to be able to determine the most effective development strategy,” says Karndee Leopairote, the centre’s chief of foresight and digital asset. “Some commercial buildings for instance might be used for commercial on the first floor and residents on the rest of the floors. These insights assist in designing project concepts that specifically serve area-specific customers’ needs.”

MQDC’s use of big data analytics in their projects is exemplified through several initiatives. For a recent development in Phuket, it performed an analysis of the area, factoring in the expansion plans of two airports to select a location that balanced proximity to both, ensuring convenience for future residents. Additionally, the developer has leveraged sources, such as Ministry of Transportation data, for transportation modelling within project areas, optimising internal and external systems to effectively meet residents’ needs.

At the developer’s True Digital Park, a tech and startup hub located in Bangkok, big data played a pivotal role in assessing traffic flow, emergency response times, and air quality, enabling the implementation of safety measures like emergency response plans, air quality monitoring, and biodiversity conservation strategies to enhance sustainability and wellbeing.

The shift towards big data is enabling homebuyers to navigate the real estate market with newfound confidence. Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

Still, MQDC faced several hurdles when implementing big data strategies. One significant challenge was accessing government data, which was often hindered by bureaucratic processes and limited data availability. Access to specialist expertise also remains a concern.

“Active engagement and collaboration with government agencies, advocating for open data policies, and establishing clear data-sharing protocols are essential in improving data access,” Karndee explains. “We are also fostering relationships with specialists in relevant fields like the environment and logistics to ensure accurate data collection and analysis.”

As technology continues to advance, data’s intrinsic value will grow, facilitating a market where information becomes a valuable commodity. This shift not only empowers investors to make more informed decisions with a focus on specific market trends but also enables homebuyers to navigate the real estate market with newfound confidence.

The experience of individuals like John Zgoda, who has witnessed the transition from the analogue days of property hunting to the data-driven present, reflects the vast potential for data to enhance the real estate industry, ultimately reshaping Southeast Asia’s property market into a more informed and dynamic environment.

The original version of this article appeared in PropertyGuru Property Report Magazine Issue No. 181 on issuu and Magzter. Write to our editors at [email protected].