How has technology transformed the real estate business in Pakistan?

Property tech (proptech) is a relatively new phenomenon that is gaining traction all over the world. In Pakistan, a number of start-ups are using advanced technologies to transform the country’s property market, as well as introducing novel solutions to resolve urban and administrative problems. The advent of online property portals, such as Prop.pk (a recent entrant to the local web-scape), has made advertising and real estate acquisition convenient for both buyers and sellers. Considering the impact and potential that these developed technologies have, many people in the country have now adapted themselves to the regular use of online property platforms.

Besides listing services, these property portals also provide news and updates with regard to market trends, up and coming residential schemes, development authorities, and infrastructure projects. Still, it is amazing to see that while current property market conditions are not promising, online agencies have picked up the pace. Genuine buying and selling activity is low, but traffic on websites affiliated with real estate continues to rise. Moreover, many real estate tycoons and property magnates have hired the services of these online agencies to promote their businesses.

Fostering competition to curtail monopolization

In the wake of a consumer-centric online marketplace, landowners are now easily able to bypass property agents, who are often accused of committing fraud to fulfil their vested interests. The listing services provided by property portals allow sellers to advertise their products to a bigger audience; whose numbers can even reach into the millions. This growing trend has already forced many a property affiliate to register with online realtors. Since the online property is open to viewing, agents who are able to produce professional content have a decisive advantage over their competitors. Similarly, online agencies which provide user-friendly interfaces and attractive yet simple layouts are definitely enabled to score a win-win situation.

In the past, the real estate industry had mostly remained undisturbed by technological trends. This previously undisclosed realty vacuum had largely resulted from the backwards-looking attitudes of older generations; who tended to resist the process of evolution, and the subsequent digitisation spawned by technological applications (that has, in many ways, replaced the manual workforce of today).

Real estate is widely hailed as the most thriving business in Pakistan. The country’s real estate assets are reportedly worth well over $700 billion. However, the property sector largely remains undocumented. This means that the market value of these properties is likely to be much higher than their stated figures. The World Bank, in its report on the ‘Pakistan Revenue Mobilisation Project’, has identified loopholes that are preventing the country from meeting its tax collection potential. Some of the issues highlighted in the report pertain to benami (property not registered in the name of the beneficiary) transactions and the minuscule levels of tax collection on immovable property.

Offering novel solution to urban problems

Experts opine that technological innovations, besides transforming real estate dynamics, can help prevent the flow of illegal wealth into the property sector. This, however, requires the utmost attention of the authorities concerned to organise awareness programmes and cover regulatory costs.

Recently, a Karachi-based start-up called ‘Fly Green’ introduced drone technology to help the city administration deal with issues pertaining to traffic jams, sewerage faults, and damaged footpaths. This system is programme to identify problems, gather data, and transmit information to the authorities.

Earlier, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) reiterated its commitment to fund various technological projects in Pakistan worth over $12 billion. Dr Bandar Hajjar, president of the multilateral development finance institution, said that IDB would provide funds for start-ups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs). IDB has also awarded accolades to four Pakistani entrepreneurs in recognition of their seed capital and business mentoring skills at its ‘Transformers Roadshow’ global competition.

Paving the way for the growth of ‘smart cities’

A smart city is an urban setting that relies on electronic Internet of things (IoT) sensors to collect information and use it to efficiently manage assets and resources. This concept envisages the functioning of a multipurpose infrastructure in a clean and sustainable environment.

In Pakistan, the destructive effects of climate change, rapid population growth, and diminishing natural sources have necessitated the need for a sustainable future. The lack of urban planning has led to the mushroom growth of major cities, including Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad. However, given the state of technological advancements, both the government and the citizens are advocating for smarter solutions to reduce resource consumption, wastage, and overall costs.

In April, businessmen and IT professionals from Pakistan and Sweden met in Karachi for a discussion on innovation, start-ups and green technologies. The representatives of the Swedish companies presented their solutions to address Pakistan’s urban challenges.

Technology has the potential to revolutionise Pakistan’s real estate sector; which, if properly documented, can contribute massively to the national exchequer. One hopes that the incumbent government fully recognises this concern, and is willing to increase its efforts towards facilitating its entrenchment.