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Centaline looks for online boost

Published on Friday, 11 Jul 2014
Centaline Group chairman Sherman Lai believes the company's branch network and its staff are its best assets. Photo: Edward Wong

Centaline China, the mainland's largest property agency by number of branches for the past 10 years, is preparing for the changes that will result from the boom in e-commerce in real estate. 

"Our goal last year was to counter the competition from Home Link, our largest competitor on the mainland.

"This year, we will invest heavily in the online business," said Sherman Lai Ming-kai, chairman of Centaline Group, the parent company of Centaline China. 

Centaline China has more than 1,700 branches in 15 mainland cities and already has its own property website. However, that is not enough in this competitive market, Lai said.

E-commerce on the mainland is more popular and well-developed than in Hong Kong, he said. 

In the second-hand market, Home Link, a Beijing-based property agency, has developed a mature online property platform and app for smartphones. Its intranet is also well developed and allows its agents to search for suitable flats available for sale. 

In the new-home market, companies such as online shopping platform Taobao and property information websites SouFun and Sina House have expanded into the property agency business. 

"For example, they will gather hundreds of agencies to sell a project and negotiate with the developer to offer a discount," Lai said. 

"If a certain number of people sign up for the offer, then the buyers would be able to get the discounted price." 

Nearly 400 new projects in Beijing are offering discounts on SouFun at present.

"We will set up and launch an e-commerce platform on the mainland this year," Lai said. "Our strength is we have a strong back-up from our branches and staff."

The popularity of e-commerce also provides property agencies with more business opportunities, Lai said. 

"I believe e-commerce will create a larger service platform for our business. We could provide a variety of products and immigration services to clients," he said.

Yvonne Liu yvonne.liu@scmp.com

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