Foreign investors add Indian online property portals to shopping cart
By Aditi Shah
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian businessman Navin Bhartia's Internet habits make him a dream customer for billionaire foreign media moguls like Rupert Murdoch.
The 45-year-old from Kolkata likes to buy homes online, sometimes without visiting them. In the last four years, he has bought five properties for 40 million rupees ($641,900) on Proptiger.com, partly owned by Murdoch's News Corp.
Foreign investors like Murdoch have already put more than $200 million into portals that help people like Bhartia buy homes. Spurring the interest is Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vow to provide a house to every Indian family by 2022 as the country's growing army of Internet users embrace e-commerce.
"Scale and growth of businesses like (online retailer) Flipkart are a proxy that consumers in India are comfortable doing transactions on the Internet," said Mukul Singhal, principal at India-China fund SAIF Partners, which has invested $10 million in Proptiger. News Corp has a $30 million stake.
India's Internet legion, already bigger than Indonesia's 250 million population and growing at an annual rate of more than 20 percent, has also lured property portal investment from the likes of Japanese telecoms-to-media firm SoftBank Corp. Last week Google Inc's Google Capital unit invested an undisclosed sum in a site called Commonfloor.com.
The need for long-term capital for start-ups like Proptiger and Housing.com also makes India more attractive for foreign investors compared with China, where local money dominates, according to one investor, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Indian home buyers by tradition work with local brokers. But in a vast country with a property market already estimated by KPMG to be worth $121 billion in 2013, the Internet offers people like businessman Bhartia the ability to compare house prices hundreds of kilometers away without leaving home.
"A single broker would have his own limited contacts...and he could have personal reasons for pushing a property. Online you get a very good and holistic view," said Bhartia, whose firm manufactures gas cylinders. He bought his last two properties without visiting them at all. Continued...