THEY were fresh out of university and were looking for houses to rent. Mr Siddesh Narayanan and Mr Archit Agarwal, who had previously lived in a hostel at the National University of Singapore (NUS), went through several online property portals only to be disappointed by them.
The portals only showed them the rooms and houses that were available. But they wanted to make a smarter decision on where to live and needed more information. They also thought that the process of dealing with several brokers, arranging viewings and completing the paperwork through many meetings was a hassle.
Both Mr Narayanan and Mr Agarwal came to Singapore in 2007 to complete their degrees at NUS. Mr Narayanan, 25, who hails from Bengaluru, did a degree in mechanical engineering.
He decided to come to Singapore as his extended family is living here while Mr Agarwal, a Delhi native, chose to pursue his degree in computer engineering outside India so he could be closer to his parents in Bangkok. His father is an engineer there and his parents have been living there for over 25 years.
The two men became friends as they were in the same classes for some engineering modules. Upon graduation in 2011, 27-year-old Agarwal worked as an analyst at Barclays Capital while Mr Narayanan worked as an analyst in transaction banking at Standard Chartered. They both worked at the Marina Bay Financial Centre and often met for lunch.
It was during one of these lunches that they discussed how people around them were facing the same kind of problems as them when looking for houses to rent. They were inspired to help people make smarter decisions when it comes to deciding where to stay.
So, they both left their jobs in 2014 to set up Greyloft. But first, they obtained licences to be real estate agents. "We took it up mainly to understand the business and the industry, but we don't practise it and close deals. We wanted to build the platform and hire agents to close the deals," said Mr Agarwal.
In-house agents Unlike online property classifieds portals, Greyloft is a licensed property broker, which introduces a new business model by combining online and offline activities. Users search for properties from its real estate listings on its website and shortlist what they like.
They are then paired with the start-up's in-house agents who will organise property viewings and help complete the sale. The paperwork can also be sent to their e-mail where users can electronically sign them from their smart devices. This, Mr Narayanan said, takes a few minutes and reduces the hassle of getting the buyer or renter and the agent to set aside time to meet and sign the papers. The start-up currently has six agents and they're looking to grow this pool.
So what is it that really sets Greyloft apart from other property portals? Mr Agarwal shared: "On other portals, what agents typically do is post listings and if they keep posting the same ones every day, they will keep coming up when you do a search. If you're searching for where you want to live, you will get a bunch of listings depending on when they were posted. That's not exactly the best result. There's also no quality control over the agents with other portals."
He added that for every listing a user is interested in, it's handled by a different agent. "So imagine if you're interested in five listings, you have to speak to five different agents. With Greyloft, there is one dedicated agent who will take care of all your needs.
"If you go onto our website, we show you the houses that are the best fit for you, which ones are popular, which are near your workplace and the three most common destinations you commute to. We're not too focused on showing you which listings are available because that data is already there on existing portals. We offer you the best places to live based on your preferences," said Mr Agarwal.
Currently the start-up is focused only on listing condominiums for rent. "That's because it's a very liquid market - there're many buyers and sellers in the rental and sales market in the private residential sector," shared Mr Narayanan. The start-up will start a sales platform in May where people can also buy condominium apartments off Greyloft.
The website also has a neighbourhood guide for each apartment listed. They send a photographer to take pictures of the neighbourhood so customers get a feel of what it's like even before going there.
Said Mr Narayanan: "We list the cafes, bars, convenience stores and other amenities that are near the apartments. What people typically do now is go to several different sources to find out that information. But we find out all of that for them. It's essentially a one-stop shop for you to rent or eventually buy a house seamlessly."
Like other licensed real estate agencies, Greyloft gets a fee from landlords upon completing a transaction. The commission is shared between Greyloft and the agent who closes the deal.
Mr Agarwal told tabla!: "Like most entrepreneurs, we've faced difficulties in the early stages. This includes several aspects such as hiring and building the right product. But we've come a long way since we started and it's been a very satisfying journey."
The start-up has three developers working in Bengaluru aside from its office in Singapore. Their designer is based in the Philippines.
Apart from working towards the same goal of being "Asia's preferred property brokerage", Mr Agarwal and Mr Narayanan, who are both single, also share a common interest in playing pool. But Mr Narayanan insists that his co-founder is much better at it. "We used to play a couple of times a week when we had a pool table in our office at Ayer Rajah. Since we moved to Lorong Telok (in December last year), we have been playing less because we don't have a table here. But they may get a pool table in the coming months. "It's a good de-stressor," said Mr Agarwal.
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