November 2015 | Priyanka Hosangadi

Home on the digital range

Innovation is a big reason why Tata Housing is India's fastest-growing real estate company, and nowhere is this more apparent than with its e-commerce initiatives to sell properties

Tata Housing Development Company took a leap into the future when it partnered Google to sell its properties online. This was back in 2013 and the experiment was an unqualified success, with the company selling several flats in Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad. Tata Housing has banked on the online platform to its benefit many times since, with Bandhan being its latest online initiative.

The company launched Bandhan, along with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), for its brokers. The networking platform, India’s first, aims to connect, educate, train and certify brokers in India. RICS is an association of property professionals that sets, maintains and regulates standards in the industry. Launched in June 2015, Bandhan is only for Tata Housing’s real estate brokers or channel partners, as the company calls them.

Bandhan aims to introduce international standards and transparent brokerage practices, which will in turn benefit Tata Housing’s customers. “It’s a unique programme by a corporate entity in the real estate sector,” says Brotin Banerjee, the company’s chief executive. “The broker community is large and unorganised. We enrolled channel partners as members and are trying to get them organised, which no company has done before.”

The four-stage programme begins with the enrolling of the brokers, followed by sharing of information with them daily. “Real estate is dynamic and developments need to be tracked every day, but brokers may not have the requisite manpower or money to do so,” explains Mr Banerjee. “We have an online portal where they can subscribe for real estate news. This became the engagement process. We then train and help them get certification from RICS.”

Such a platform also enables channel partners to upgrade their knowledge and services through different communication modules. This is important because with the growing demand from the retail investor segment and global customers, brokers must learn to handle clients as efficiently as their counterparts elsewhere in the world.

Bandhan seems to have started well. Within three months of its launch, it has more than 500 registrations, indicating the need for such a programme. “People appreciate it because we don’t only talk about business; we go beyond,” says Mr Banerjee. “We chose a digital platform so that we could roll out the programme across India.”

  • The Promont, Bengaluru, Karnataka.
  • Prive, Lonavala, Maharashtra.
  • Amantra, Mumbai, Maharashtra.
  • Primanti, Gurgaon, Haryana.

Tata Housing is betting on the digital route to its customers mainly due to the convenience factor, and the effort is paying off. “We do more than put advertisements online,” says Mr Banerjee. “Everything is online and we have also integrated payment gateways for our projects so that customers don’t have to come to our office to give their cheques.”

E-commerce pioneer
One of India’s fastest growing real estate companies, Tata Housing was the first to sell its flats online. Since then it has joined hands with Snapdeal, an e-commerce portal, and Housing.com, a real estate portal. Tata Housing also organised an online exhibition and, in 2014, it launched an e-commerce platform, a first-of-its-kind initiative in the real estate segment, which enables its customers to book homes on the net.

Tata Housing has reaped rich dividends from its online initiative. “We are the only real estate company that has sold more than 1,500 units online,” Mr Banerjee points out. “About 75 percent of sales in the affordable homes segment take place online, whereas conversion in the premium segment is 35 percent. Other developers in the premium segment hardly get 5-10 percent.”

Automation means more efficiency because there is a lesser chance of human error. The online route has also allowed Tata Housing to easily tap into the large non-resident Indian (NRI) market (it recently opened an office in Dubai). “Through online and digital media, we have been able to reach NRIs faster and the cost of reaching a customer has fallen,” says Mr Banerjee. “Also, although customers may not be able to visit the site, we can give them an experience that is close to reality.”

Videos of building sites are uploaded on the company’s website every month so that customers can track the progress of development. “We have also used a lot of technology, such as drones, which can be taken to different floors for views,” adds Mr Banerjee. “We have people from London or Mumbai buying a flat in Bengaluru worth Rs55 million without even visiting the site. This is something new. It’s a great deal and it reveals how the e-commerce market is evolving.”

After online media, the mobile phone is the next logical step. Last year Tata Housing became the first real estate company in India to launch a mobile application for select luxury projects.

Smartphone pitch
“Whenever you release an advertisement or promotion, 70 percent of clicks come through the mobile phone,” says Mr Banerjee. “This means that the first interface, in most cases, is the smartphone. So we selectively built an app for luxury projects. If we profiled a customer who would buy a flat worth Rs20 million or Rs30 million, chances are he will have a smartphone.”

Making it easier for customers to buy their dream home — this has been the idea powering Tata Housing’s path-breaking marketing initiatives over the past two years. “Through Bandhan, the online and digital media, we have been delivering different experiences to different segments of customers,” adds Mr Banerjee. “We have been able to get leads and appreciation.”

Such appreciation has translated into orders of Rs7-8 billion booked since 2013. The reputation of the Tata brand goes a long way as well in attracting orders. The name symbolises trust and quality, which are crucial elements in the real estate market. “The trust factor in a Tata brand helps a lot in getting to the next level,” says Mr Banerjee. “In the real estate market, delivery is the most important factor. With the Tatas you are sure you will get delivery on time.”

Real deal in the realty industry
A selection of Tata Housing’s projects in different parts of India:

  • The Promont, Bengaluru, Karnataka: A gated community of four towers on a hill. The project, with towers more than 84 metres tall, is being designed by Moshe Safdie, the architect behind the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore.
  • Arabella, Gurgaon, Haryana: Luxurious villas surrounded by orchards and farmlands, and views of the Aravalli Hills. Community living is encouraged by allotting a patch of land to each resident to cultivate what they fancy.
  • Ariana, Bhubaneswar, Odisha: Twelve towers, with both premium and luxury flats, make up this gated community in a fast developing city. The buildings have been certified by the Indian Green Building Council.
  • Eden Court Primo, Kolkata, West Bengal: Luxurious duplex penthouses that feature walk-in wardrobes, sensor-controlled lighting, private jacuzzis and state-of-the-art security systems. The project also has Kolkata’s first touchpad-controlled homes.
  • Amantra, Mumbai, Maharashtra: An integrated township designed by the renowned American architectural firm HOK. The mid- and high-rise towers house airy homes, ventilated by air funnelling, keeping them naturally cool.
  • Primanti, Gurgaon, Haryana: Premium residences designed around interconnected orchards, meadows and gardens that span the development. The stone structures and water features are inspired by Delhi’s Mughal gardens.
  • New Haven, Boisar, Maharashtra: A Tata Value Homes township, this is one of the few projects to receive the ‘leadership in energy and environmental design’ certification from the Indian Green Building Council.
  • Inora Park, Pune, Maharashtra: This proposed ‘green home project’ has been designed by an award-winning firm of architects from the United States. The houses either have views of the surrounding hills or face open spaces.
  • New Haven Compact, Ahmedabad, Gujarat: An integrated green township with design that has been inspired by Gujarati culture; this is another feather in the cap for the company.
  • Santorini, Chennai, Tamil Nadu: A township spread over 18 acres, with low-rise homes and Spanish-style architecture.