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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Innovative Realtors Turn to the Web

Online measurement service comScore found in a recent study that Russia is enjoying a 21 percent year-on-year rate of growth in Internet penetration, a pace outstripped only by China and India.

And this has not gone unnoticed by some local real estate companies, which are increasingly looking to harness the web's potential as part of their marketing strategy.

But as Internet usage continues to pick up in Russia, the application of it still tends to be conservative, and innovative projects take time to catch on, said Sergei Andreyev, who administers various Internet projects at Russianrealty.ru.

"It takes years for new projects to take root," he said.

"We have developed a new site, www.realtyagent.ru, where clients can be acquainted with potential realtors," Andreyev said.

But what appeared to be an interesting experiment immediately led to problems and misgivings. It turned out that customers were reluctant to use the services of independent realtors not employed at well-known companies, as they were afraid of being swindled, Andreyev said.

Meanwhile, companies are reluctant to display their realtors' contacts for fear that their employees will be lured away. As a result, an initially interesting project has effectively been put on ice, Andreyev said.

The primary obstacle to the fuller exploitation of Internet technology on the realty market is the still relatively low degree of Internet usage and literacy, Andreyev said. Although the figures are fast changing, a Public Opinion Foundation survey found in 2006 that only 23 percent of Russians used the Internet.

Nevertheless, even at the current level of Internet penetration, real estate firms have already begun to review the way they operate.

"Specialists are becoming more professional, there is a decentralization process in the company and an increased flexibility in meeting clients' needs," said Viktor Shchebletsov, head of the Internet division at Miel real estate company.

"Three years ago, we allocated less than 5 percent to Internet marketing. Today, this figure is 27 percent and will continue to grow in the future," Shchebletsov added.

Yet the online activities of large real estate companies in Russia are still influenced by factors that indicate how young the market is.

"The market is only starting to be civilized, and real Internet projects have to compete with a large amount of empty sites that resell traffic from search engines," Shchebletsov said. "Still, wider access to listings that have become available through the Internet is forcing companies to lower commissions and offer new types of services."

One company that has introduced various real estate-related tools to Internet users is IRN.ru, a web site that tracks the market. The web site recently unveiled the Online Realtor, a tool designed to guide novices around Moscow's often overwhelming market.

"The goal of the tool is not to compete with real realtors, but to save time that people usually spend on browsing paper ads and databases just to have an idea of price ranges in different regions of the city," said Oleg Repchenko, director of IRN's analytical department.

IRN also has a tool that provides rough estimates of the cost of apartments by taking location, size and a number of other factors into account.

But Shchebletsov is skeptical about the usefulness of online tools like this.

"The online pricing tool is more of a toy," Shchebletsov said. "The range of the estimate is very wide, which defeats its purpose. The estimate has to be carried out by an expert who can look at the property."

And this has not gone unnoticed by some local real estate companies, which are increasingly looking to harness the web's potential as part of their marketing strategy.

But as Internet usage continues to pick up in Russia, the application of it still tends to be conservative, and innovative projects take time to catch on, said Sergei Andreyev, who administers various Internet projects at Russianrealty.ru.

"It takes years for new projects to take root," he said.

"We have developed a new site, www.realtyagent.ru, where clients can be acquainted with potential realtors," Andreyev said.

But what appeared to be an interesting experiment immediately led to problems and misgivings. It turned out that customers were reluctant to use the services of independent realtors not employed at well-known companies, as they were afraid of being swindled, Andreyev said.

Meanwhile, companies are reluctant to display their realtors' contacts for fear that their employees will be lured away. As a result, an initially interesting project has effectively been put on ice, Andreyev said.

The primary obstacle to the fuller exploitation of Internet technology on the realty market is the still relatively low degree of Internet usage and literacy, Andreyev said. Although the figures are fast changing, a Public Opinion Foundation survey found in 2006 that only 23 percent of Russians used the Internet.

Nevertheless, even at the current level of Internet penetration, real estate firms have already begun to review the way they operate.

"Specialists are becoming more professional, there is a decentralization process in the company and an increased flexibility in meeting clients' needs," said Viktor Shchebletsov, head of the Internet division at Miel real estate company.

"Three years ago, we allocated less than 5 percent to Internet marketing. Today, this figure is 27 percent and will continue to grow in the future," Shchebletsov added.

Yet the online activities of large real estate companies in Russia are still influenced by factors that indicate how young the market is.

"The market is only starting to be civilized, and real Internet projects have to compete with a large amount of empty sites that resell traffic from search engines," Shchebletsov said. "Still, wider access to listings that have become available through the Internet is forcing companies to lower commissions and offer new types of services."

One company that has introduced various real estate-related tools to Internet users is IRN.ru, a web site that tracks the market. The web site recently unveiled the Online Realtor, a tool designed to guide novices around Moscow's often overwhelming market.

"The goal of the tool is not to compete with real realtors, but to save time that people usually spend on browsing paper ads and databases just to have an idea of price ranges in different regions of the city," said Oleg Repchenko, director of IRN's analytical department.

IRN also has a tool that provides rough estimates of the cost of apartments by taking location, size and a number of other factors into account.

But Shchebletsov is skeptical about the usefulness of online tools like this.

"The online pricing tool is more of a toy," Shchebletsov said. "The range of the estimate is very wide, which defeats its purpose. The estimate has to be carried out by an expert who can look at the property."