The Role of the Internet in Real Estate

03/25/2015 03:29 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2015

Working in over 30 emerging markets, and having had the opportunity to visit many of these countries in recent months, I have noticed that the role of the Internet is changing. It is evident that across the emerging markets, an increasing number of people are switching online every year. The Internet revolution in emerging countries has been different from the digital wave that already swept the developed world. In fact, earlier this month, the Chairman of Channels Television predicted that the level of Internet penetration in Africa would rise to 50 percent by 2025, increasing from 16 percent currently.

As the number of Internet users increases, consumers have greater access to information, products and services. For those working in the real estate industry, this means the focus for 2015 must switch online and to mobile for marketing their properties and reaching the maximum number of potential customers.

For homebuyers, the growth of the Internet has made the house-hunting process more convenient and less time-consuming. In many emerging markets, the only way to find homes was to drive around and look for the "for sale" signs outside available properties. The advent of the Internet has enabled these house-hunters to search for properties from the comfort of their own home, narrowing down the search to only the real estate options that meet their personal requirements.

Working closely with sellers, developers and brokers, it has become clear to me that the Internet significantly helps them, particularly when it comes to cost. Advertising via online platforms costs a fraction of traditional, print media. Instead of paying for a quarter or half page advert, which has a word and image limit, developers, brokers and sellers can promote their properties, including as much information as they like, and a number of images.

An added bonus of using the Internet is the ability to analyze how many people have clicked on a link, the number of email and telephone ledas, and the percentage of call-back requests. This real-time feedback enables sellers, developers and brokers to see the performance of their listings and calculate the conversion rate, as well as return on investment.

For many people in the emerging markets, the first time they access the web they will be using a mobile device or smartphone. The development of mobile communication technology, and the increasing affordability of smartphones is resulting in an increasingly mobile marketplace. For example, in Pakistan, there are an increasing number of 3G and 4G users in the country, which now boasts around 15 million smartphone users. From advertising to user experience, real estate companies must adapt their services to cater to the growing mobile audience.

Technology is developing at a rapid speed. As connectivity improves, and we see the emergence of 5G services, more emerging markets will see a shift away from traditional offline house-hunting methods. Having an online presence is now a must-have for real estate agents, developers and sellers, as the sector begins to acknowledge that the Internet is an integral part of the modern house-hunting process for emerging markets.