Chinese property firms bank on VR to beat virus

Mass lockdowns in China following the coronavirus outbreak have left property sales in the country facing a full-year decline for the first time in five years. (AP)
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Updated 15 February 2020

Chinese property firms bank on VR to beat virus

  • Developers hope virtual reality salesrooms and livestreams can end market slump as potential buyers refuse to leave their homes

HONG KONG: China’s property developers and realtors are turning to virtual reality salesrooms and livestream marketing to thaw a frozen market as the coronavirus epidemic keeps physical offices shut and potential buyers are afraid to leave their homes.

A female employee of Sunac China introduced a residential development in the southern city of Qingyuan on social media platforms Tiktok and Weibo wearing a white gown and waving a paper fan.

The livestream on Tuesday attracted a total of 510,000 viewers for Sunac, China’s fourth-largest developer by sales, but it was unclear whether any of them bid for the property.

Twenty of the top 100 developers have done livestream sales since the virus outbreak, property researcher CRIC said, adding that 92 of them run online sales platforms which some recently revamped in response to the virus.

Property sales by floor area in China fell 0.1 percent in 2019, marking the first full-year decline in five years, and analysts expect sales may drop again this year due to the epidemic.

The outbreak has led to several cities being locked down, mass quarantines and work and travel disruptions as Beijing works to contain the flu-like virus which has killed 1,380 people and sickened more than 60,000.

Major realtors including Centaline are also doing more live forums online, hosting talks with senior executives on the property market.

Trying to make homebuyers more comfortable in buying online, Centaline plans to work with property developers to build virtual salesrooms for their new developments.

“The online sales platform has been around for a while, but it was mostly for advertising and chats between agents and buyers,” said Centaline Shenzhen General Manager Alan Cheng.

“Now because homebuyers are not able to go out and see the flats themselves, we will focus on providing more real live videos to engage with them.”

He said the firm this week introduced online contracts that involve third-party authentication technology in two cities, one of the first in the industry, so that buyers can sign the documents without leaving home.

Efforts are being made offline as well.

China Evergrande, the third-largest developer by sales, announced on Thursday that homebuyers are entitled to a lowest-price guarantee until May 10, where the company will refund buyers the difference if prices drop.

Sunac, depending on the city, allows its customers to forfeit the purchase free of charge within up to 60 days.

Despite the industry’s creative efforts, the market has all but ground to a halt.

Centaline’s Cheng said the few transactions now appeared mostly in the rental market or when sellers were willing to slash prices. 


UK economy shrinks by 2.6% in November, first drop since April

Updated 15 January 2021

UK economy shrinks by 2.6% in November, first drop since April

  • The fall in gross domestic product much lower than the average forecast for a 5.7 percent drop

LONDON: Britain’s economy shrank by 2.6 percent in November, the first monthly fall in output since the depths of an initial COVID lockdown in April, as new restrictions were imposed on much of the country to slow the spread of the disease.
The fall in gross domestic product reported by the Office for National Statistics was much lower than the average forecast for a 5.7 percent drop in a Reuters poll of economists.
The Bank of England estimates Britain’s economy shrank by just over 1 percent over the final three months of 2020, and with a new lockdown in place since January the country is likely to have fallen into a double-dip recession.
The BoE ramped up its bond-buying program to almost 900 billion pounds in November and Governor Andrew Bailey said this week that it was too soon to say if further stimulus would be needed.