MHUB: Digitalising the property market

This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 28, 2020 - January 10, 2021.
MHUB: Digitalising the property market
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The Malaysian property industry is perceived to be rather slow at adapting to digital solutions compared with other sectors of the economy.

While consumers can enjoy easy access to food through delivery services such as GrabFood or Foodpanda, and limitless entertainment at the touch of a button with platforms such as Netflix, property buyers still have to go through an arduous process when purchasing a home — a process not much different from what it was 10 years ago.

According to Joshua Ong, co-founder and chief strategy officer of MHub, the typical real estate sale process takes about half a year to complete, and involves steps such as acquiring the necessary documents, confirming the buyer’s loan eligibility and creditworthiness, as well as liaising with bankers and lawyers.

Not only does the process involve multiple parties from different industries, the paperwork is also typically done on pen and paper. This adds layers of complexity to the sale process, as documents are not easily shareable online and the property developer finds it hard to track the buyer’s progress, despite this being the internet age and digital documents increasingly becoming the norm.

MHub’s suite of apps was developed to address these inefficiencies, with the goal of speeding up and simplifying the sale process. Ong says it has helped property developers reduce the time taken to complete sales transactions down to one month while also making the process more transparent for all parties.

The suite consists of 10 apps dedicated to lawyers, bankers, prospective homebuyers, existing homebuyers, property agents and more. Pegasuswork, for example, assists homebuyers in the vacant possession process, managing and cataloguing property defects after they have received their keys.

“MHub is a suite of apps used by the property industry, especially property developers, to help them manage, streamline and automate multiple sales processes wherever possible — from lead funnelling to the conversion of sales, and all the way to vacant possession and handing over the keys,” says Ong.

“Property transactions are not just between the property developer and the buyer because you can find intermediaries in every transaction who are going to play a direct role in making the transaction successful.

“Without a unified, streamlined platform that puts everyone on the same page, we can find a lot of inefficiencies, prolonging the transaction process. So the goal of MHub is to put everyone on an inclusive platform without any conflict of interest, to help them save time and costs and simplify the processes.”

MHub was on a growth trajectory prior to the pandemic, with plans to increase its property-developer client base and expand its suite of apps. Ong tells Digital Edge that Covid-19 came as a shock and the situation became unpredictable.

Property buyers are now less inclined to leave their homes to visit property showrooms, and find it more challenging to complete their paperwork during the pandemic. All of MHub’s plans for 2020 had to be reviewed and readjusted, and whatever app development it had in the pipeline had to be put on hold.

When Ong and his team first assessed the possible impact of the pandemic on the real estate industry, they discussed meaningful ways in which they could help clients prepare for the situation.

The result was the launch of the “Showroom for Buyer” app, a self-service solution for homebuyers to view and select property units, register their bookings and make their booking payments from the comfort of their own homes while practising social distancing.

“With Covid-19, buyers are now reluctant to visit sales galleries and secure their units. Thus, we have developed a solution where developers can grant the same access directly to property buyers so that they can log in, make their unit selection and complete the whole reservation process while being guided by the property developers remotely,” he says.

Ong points out that MHub enables remote working within the real estate industry. Its solution is cloud-based, so all relevant information can be accessed via a mobile phone. As such, most of MHub’s clients can conduct business as usual in terms of lead prospecting and property sales.

However, the property developers were concerned about not being able to conduct important physical events, such as the assigning of units through a balloting system, because of the movement restrictions in place.

To tackle that, MHub became the first in Malaysia to introduce Facebook live events for property developers, where the balloting and unit selection process is done digitally. The maiden digital balloting event was held in June this year by IJM Land.

MHub’s pivotal changes to its 2020 roadmap have proven effective, enabling it to capture about 25% of the country’s property bookings this year. Between January and September, it signed on 45% more property developers, bringing the total to 80.

It also more than doubled the number of banks and real estate agents using its platform to about 2,500 and 4,500 respectively. In addition, the number of registered users shot up to 10,000 within the same period.

Despite the growth witnessed this year, Ong explains that more needs to be done to accelerate the digital transformation process within the real estate industry. He says even though the drive for digital adoption has intensified due to Covid-19, many players still prefer to not make investments during uncertain times.

Ong adds that there are factors that are out of its control. These include processes relating to the local authorities such as visiting the land office for document stamping.

Nonetheless, he believes that industry players are aware of the shifts within the market and are slowly taking steps to prepare themselves for digital adoption.

“Covid-19 really brought everyone up to speed in terms of digital adoption. Consumers are now much more open to trying out new things online, and almost everyone knows how to use QR codes.

“As a tech company, however, we need to understand that digital solutions cannot cater for 100% of the market. We also need to cater for the minority who are not tech-savvy, who still require human intervention such as property agents or developer’s staff to facilitate the process.

“I think it is important to create this space for them because it will be premature to assume that 100% digital solutions are the right way to go, and there [would] be no way for users to get help from staff.”