PropertyGuru’s Wittaya Apirakvirya aims to guide potential homebuyers in the kingdom to informed calls through portals that encompass in-depth reviews and comprehensive property listings
As the general manager of a division of PropertyGuru Group called Thailand Marketplaces (Developer), Wittaya Apirakvirya oversees three key brands: DDProperty, the country’s largest online real estate portal; ThinkofLiving.com, a website offering expert-written, in-depth reviews of new property developments in Thailand; and the Thailand Property Awards, which are no doubt familiar to readers of this magazine.
Wittaya, a Thai national whose background is in computer engineering, co-founded ThinkofLiving.com (and personally coded the website) in 2011 with two friends. The site aimed to fill an information gap then present in the market by providing knowledgeable and unbiased insights into new property developments from a professional’s point of view. The site’s reviewers are all trained architects.
“We position ourselves as a friend of the buyer—someone you’d call before you buy a house,” he says. “We try to give buyers everything they need to know and we do that by clarifying weaknesses, amplifying strengths, and overall presenting projects in a balanced way. We don’t allow developers to read our reviews before we publish them. We are in the business of matching the right buyer and the right project.”
ThinkofLiving.com became part of PropertyGuru Group in 2021. Wittaya has also assumed responsibility for overseeing DDProperty and the property awards. He says the business opportunity for developers on DDProperty is substantial. The site generates up to 200,000 leads a month, in a market that nationwide produces “maybe 10,000 or 20,000” total real estate transactions in the same period, Wittaya says. The site is widely used by agencies and agents—and, of course, buyers and sellers— but Wittaya says there’s huge potential for developers to realise more sales through the portal. “We want to encourage adoption of all the sales and marketing tools that we offer in developer communities,” he says.
Wittaya says major initiatives in his division in the coming year include seeking to further support developers and buyers by providing them with deeper data and analytics tools, including from the company’s consumer sentiment index, other surveys, and a broad range of other quantitative information gleaned from the sites and their partners.
“We also have so many marketing and sales tools that allow Thai developers to go beyond the Thai audience as part of the DDProperty portfolio. We have a project called China Solutions, which supports Thai developers in their efforts to sell Thai projects overseas in China and in Singapore, for example,” Wittaya says.
What are the latest readings from the consumer sentiment index in Thailand?
The most recent one from the third quarter of 2022 showed a big improvement in terms of consumer sentiment in Thailand. It was the biggest gain relative to the previous quarter in terms of confidence among consumers in the region.
We see a lot of recovery underway in Thailand, which aligns with what we’re seeing in the market overall. Some people are starting to worry about inflation next year, but Thailand is actually doing pretty well both in terms of sentiment and future outlook. I just attended the Asia Real Estate Summit and one speaker said that Thailand is expected to be one of two countries—along with China—where GDP growth will accelerate next year. Other markets across Asia will likely see their GDPs decelerate next year.
We try to support individual homebuyers, so they understand projects in depth. And help them to make an informed decision as to whether they should buy a house or not. People need a reliable partner to supply this type of information
How did Covid-19 change the Bangkok property market?
The market shifted immediately and suddenly during Covid-19. In early 2020, the condo market just stopped and declined. And landed real estate projects spiked. In 2020, when Covid hit, I talked with developers and many of them made record sales in landed projects in the months of April and May 2020. That’s just one example that reflects the sudden shift in terms of demand for properties. Everybody wanted more space suddenly.
How does ThinkofLiving.com aim to help homebuyers in Thailand?
Well, we don’t try to position ourselves as a macro market guru. We focus more on the micro perspective, trying to support individual homebuyers, so they understand particular projects in depth and help them to make an informed decision whether they should buy a house or not.
We believe that people need a reliable partner for this type of information when it comes to buying a house. I mean, you don’t buy 10 houses in a lifetime—unless you are an investor. We believe the majority of the market is supported by real demand, meaning a person who’s buying for living rather than buying to invest. And that’s our key focus. Buyers like this don’t always have experience—they don’t always have knowledge—so we want to support them in making their decision by providing relevant content and information.
Chinese buyers are increasingly prevalent across Southeast Asia and beyond. How important are Chinese buyers right now in Thailand’s real estate market?
Chinese investors are the biggest foreign buyer group. With them, the market becomes liquid. A lot of demand there helps support price stability, makes sure that prices keep going up, and that makes the market more attractive, especially in the condominium segment.
The absence of Chinese buyers in recent years made liquidity in the condominium market decline tremendously. We are starting to see a lot of statistics provided by market research companies showing that the Chinese are coming back. So, we see a development in condominium segments in terms of transactions this year. We expect even more when the border restrictions are relaxed further.
What development trends are you seeing in Thailand right now?
As a reviewer, we enjoy exploring new products being developed and introduced by Thai developers with new features and ideas that make the products better. Our team consists mostly of trained and experienced architects, so we enjoy observing these almost as “new pieces of art.” With the recent emergence in the luxury segment over the last two years, we have found many high-end projects with a unique focus you didn’t previously see in the market. They elevate lifestyle to another level and justify their price positioning.
We also like developments that try to do more for the same price tag. For example, one trend we’ve been exploring recently is the emergence of twin houses. People want bigger space from a townhouse, and they want land around the house or at least part of the house so they can grow a garden. This enables people to feel the experience of living in a single detached house at a much lower price. This is one of many ways developers try to deal with the affordability challenge while at the same time trying to maximise the quality of the living experience.
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