Announcing The Bleep!

Last week The Mentor gave me the ultimatum…

“Khai Yin, I think you should stop dicking around with GoodPlace.”

I muttered under my breath, “…wtf?”

“Either build it up quickly, or move on. You’re dragging your feet.”

Given how much traction GoodPlace has (Stuff magazine ranked us just right behind iProperty and PropertyGuru), it still surprises some people when they find out that it’s pretty much a one-man show.

There’s a reason for that.

Archimedes once famously said, “Give me a lever and a place to stand and I shall move the earth.”

I had come to believe that in business, the “lever” comes in the form of technology and automation, not manual labour.

As such, I’m generally not huge on finding a co-founder, or hiring employees. As the late, great Felix Dennis had once quipped, “Overhead walks on two legs.” I like my business lean and nimble.

It shouldn’t be surprising then that I’m a big fan of building automated, tech-based solutions to problems. You may have seen some of these features at the GoodPlace portal. For example, the GoodPlace Walkability Score (which makes it easy for home buyers to compare condominiums in terms of accessibility), is computed automatically with zero intervention needed. It’s a beautiful piece of tech, if I can say so myself.

The GoodPlace Digest, alas, is an entirely manual endeavour. Curating links can be pretty taxing, but the good news is that I’ve found a way to automate the process of researching, collecting, sorting and annotating the links with a few lines of code.

This is the site that you want to bookmark (to be launched in a couple of weeks’ time) –

Bleep.my

Does this spell the end of the GoodPlace Digest as we know it? Maybe, maybe not…

Tribeca – GoodPlace Walkability Score

Tribeca GoodPlace Walkability Score

Tribeca Bukit Bintang has a GoodPlace Walkability Score of 90.

Tribeca: Walkability Scorecard

EndpointTypeDistance (metre)
StarhillShopping Mall400
Checkers Café Restaurant73
Jalan Imbi Chapel Place of Worship210
Hello LaundryLaundrette400
Bintang PalaceBar220
Ritz-CarltonHotel17
UOBBank66
Balai Polis Tun HS LeePolice Station2,700
Bukit Bintang MonorailPublic Transport650
GPS Coordinates: 3°08’47.3″N 101°42’56.7″E

Updated: March 20th, 2016.

Walkability is a measure of how walkable a property is from amenities and public transportation points. Especially true in the case of city apartments and condominiums, walkability can be a strong predictor of rentability. Additionally, GoodPlace’s preliminary data set seems to suggest a directional correlation between walkability and capital appreciation over 5-10 years.

For more information about how the GoodPlace Walkability Score is calculated, click here.

How I Made GoodPlace Homes Faster By 314%

GoodPlace Homes

I suppose there’s no other way to put it: we completely bombed our launch last month. I won’t attempt to put a positive spin on it – we did a piss poor job at guessing how many people would turn up on launch day and prepare accordingly. In short, we screwed up. As you might know (if you were one of those who came on launch day), the site crashed in a rather spectacular fashion, and while it had since recovered, its uber slow loading speed (and I mean REALLY slow) meant that it was almost as useful as a Durex machine in Vatican city.

jared-loanstreet-censored

And as any self respecting startup geek would do, I went back into my room, cry a little, wallow in self-pity and finally came back out with a plan. In this day and age where the attention span of the homo sapien are but a little longer than that of a goldus fishingus, a slow loading website would be nothing short of an abomination. So I decided that GoodPlace should load as fast (if not faster) than the best property sites in Malaysia. Ahem.

As a wise man once told me, if I want to make good, I should compare what I do with those who have already done what I want to do successfully. So I went over to this nifty web speed benchmarking site WebPageTest.org and did a test on one of the biggest property sites in Malaysia (you could probably guess what it was) –

site-baseline-crop

The “First Byte” data point is a measure of how fast the server is – i.e. it’s the time taken for the server to respond when a user submits an HTTP request (geek talk for loading a web page). Therefore, we want the “First Byte” response time to be as low as possible. As you can see, this site’s time to First Byte (also known as “TTFB”) is 0.26 seconds, which is pretty good.

Additionally, “Start Render” is an important metric as it measures the time taken for the web page to start “appearing” in the user’s browser. The time taken for the web page to completely render visually is measured under “Visually Complete”. I’d give more importance to the “Start Render” metric, and in this case, it’s an impressive 2.8 seconds.

These will be the metrics that we will try to match (or beat). Now it’s GoodPlace’s turn to go through the same test, and here are the results –

goodplace-baseline

Kinda sucky! The server takes nearly 5.5 seconds to respond to an HTTP request, and consequently, only started rendering from 6.7 seconds onwards. Also, note the big red “F” that we received in the report card. We probably ranked in the bottom 10% of the entire Innerwebz as far as website speed is concerned! *nervous laugh*

But of course, you know that I won’t be writing this blog post if there’s no happy ending to the whole conundrum. Hacking a site to make it load faster is never easy because there’s just too many variables involved, and of course, being a blogger with a Darjah Satu level technical knowledge compounded to the problem.

And so I’ve spent two weeks trying to figure out everything from server administration to something as cryptic as “setup a cron job to warm the cache“, and thankfully, I survived the ordeal to tell this tale. 🙂 The following is the log of what I’ve done, and will make sense to those with an interest in website performance optimization; otherwise just skip to the results section below.

  1. Moving from the plain vanilla Exabytes server (Penang) to a Linode cloud server (Singapore). This made a ton of difference in terms of server response time. Although the cloud server is in Singapore, response time was still excellent, which made perfect sense because KL is (somewhat) of equal distance to Singapore and to Penang. Deploying a Linode required some Linux know-how though; my rusty Unix knowledge acquired about 15 years ago at school finally came to good use…
  2. Caching is a biggie. Enabling page, database and object cache kicked the site up a full notch in terms of site speed. Hacking the .htaccess file is kinda fun, I must admit. Also, “warming” up the cache made the site load even faster, and thankfully there was a free PHP script which I could download which could trigger the caching every day midnight through a cron job.
  3. Image optimization. I’m a fan of big, high resolution pictures, and I am in the minority few who believed in sacrificing some site speed for aesthetics. But still, further optimizing the images made the site load perhaps about 15% faster, and so it was worth it.
  4. Javascript / CSS minification and concatenation. Alright, we are now throat-deep in techie speak. What this means is that some files could be combined and further optimized so that they are delivered quickly in one shot (instead of the browser having to make multiple requests for multiple files). I found that some scripts broke after I minified the JS and CSS files, and there will be more work required to troubleshoot and test.
  5. Eliminate render-blocking Javascript / CSS. This was a simple tweak – making non-essential Javascript and CSS load last. As such, the page could render without having wait for every single JS and CSS file to load, giving the “Start Render” metric a boost.

At this point, I further considered to optimize further (I could enable a CDN a.k.a a content delivery network to host static content, which would make perfect sense given the amount of pictures that we had, and will have), but I’ve decided to stop tinkering for now because simply we’ve come to a point of diminishing returns.

Now post-optimization, here’s our test results with WebPageTest:-

goodplace-optimized-crop

Not too shabby, I must say. We have reduced the time to First Byte to 0.11 seconds, down from 5.5 seconds previously. More importantly, “Start Render” now stands at 1.8 seconds, down from 6.7 seconds. This represents an improvement of 314% in terms of site loading speed. Booyah!

If you’ve previously given up on GoodPlace Homes from its incessant crashes and slow loading speed, please do give it another spin and let me know! 🙂

OK, This Feels Like Crap

GoodPlace.my

OK, I’ll fess up. I really didn’t give much thought about having a “launch plan” when I finally unveiled GoodPlace Homes to the world last Wednesday. Indeed, the entire plan was as simple as (1) putting the site online, and (2) sending out emails to get people to come. I mean, what could have gone wrong?

Quick answer: true to the tradition of a certain Mr Murphy, whatever which could have gone wrong, had gone wrong.

#EpicFail

#EpicFail ?

If you’ve tried accessing the portal last week you would have been greeted by a plethora of error messages spit out by a server which was literally on its knees trying to accommodate for an avalanche of clicks requesting data at the rate of 50Mb per second. This was despite the fact that we had spaced out the sending of the emails by 10 minutes per batch. I shudder to imagine if we had emailed all our GoodPlace Digest subscribers all at once: the server would have exploded into a giant ball of fireworks and flames in a spectacular fashion.

How I felt.

How I felt.

Alright, I gotta admit that I had half expected this to happen; indeed, from our group of beta users (culled from the most responsive GoodPlace Digest readers) I already knew that given how resource heavy the site was it would just be a matter of time before we had to do the inevitable – to upgrade to bigger servers and pipes. I just didn’t expect this to happen so soon, so early in the game.

traffic-spike

I guess one of the perks of being a single person, self-funded project is that I can be completely transparent about my screw-ups. Despite the romantic notions that people have about entrepreneurship, in reality startups are a shit show on a daily basis, and here at GoodPlace you’re getting the front row seats to see us crash and burn. 😉

But It’s Really Not That Bad. Really.

One thing I am really proud of GoodPlace is that we have got pretty high engagement from our users despite not being on any of the social media platforms which are all the rage these days (I’m not a believer in Facebook, Twitter, etc – I’ll tell you why perhaps in a future blog post). To me, email is still king, and as long as our email engagement metrics are winning I sleep well at night.

According to our service provider, MailChimp, our email open rates consistently beat that of our peers (meaning, other emailers in the real estate industry) – by nearly 200%. Particularly amazing are our click rates – we beat the industry average by a whopping 900%.

mailchimp-stats

This is the reason I can manage to completely “crash” a server despite having a relatively small list (approaching 12,000 subscribers at the time of writing). I also manage another online business apart from GoodPlace, and the size of that “other” list is about twenty times the size of GoodPlace’s at nearly 240,000. Here’s the screen capture of that email database which is hosted at AWeber –

My Claim To Fame

I am not posting this to boast, but I am trying to make a point that generating user traction is pretty much a done deal at this point. In fact, it’s as easy as flicking a switch, and at the risk of sounding extremely pompous, I’ve been trying to hold things back a little because growing to fast will make things go somewhat cuckoo – as we have seen in the “too much traffic” launch episode last Wednesday.

At this stage, I’d rather just work with whatever we have now (50,000 users monthly, 12,000 subscribers) and build a kick-butt portal than to scale up quickly and lose ourselves in the process. Again, this might sound weird in these days where “Like Me On Facebook” is the mantra of the day for most (nay, all) online businesses, but do me a favour:-

For now, please do not tell anyone about GoodPlace. Let’s keep this as a secret of sorts between you and me.

The reason is quite simple: people will find their way here sooner or later. And most people (like you) will stick around because, well, we produce good stuff.  This means that it’s just a matter of time before we get “big”.

The truth is that I’m not worried about people not coming. I’m worried if we can’t cope.

And until we are able to “cope” (i.e. when we get the right partners on board) I’d rather spend my time writing better guides, creating better Cheat Sheets, validating more listings and processing more DealMatcher requests. For now, I’d rather not deal with “huge site” problems like buying more servers and dealing with cryptic techie stuff like “load balancing” and “content delivery networks“.

In short, we won’t be rushed into growing big quickly, simply because I won’t sacrifice quality for quantity.

It’s Business As Usual Here At GoodPlace

As I am writing this, GoodPlace Homes is still somewhat slow, and I’ll be spending the week optimizing it, and moving the site elsewhere with better speed and reliability. This blog will also be migrated and so it might be inaccessible at certain times of the day.

Now, in the words of Suresh Thiru the great taskmaster of JobStreet, it’s time to get back in the saddle, and back to work.

get-to-work

GoodPlace Homes Is Live!

First of all, drop everything you’re doing, and watch the short video clip above. It is only 2 minutes and 30 seconds, and will give you a quick overview of what the portal can do for you. Be sure to watch up till the end. 🙂

Then, go here:-

GoodPlace Homes (It’s Live!) ← click this

To (re)search, simply enter the property name in the search bar. For now, we are only covering KLCC and Mont Kiara, and only properties in those areas will get displayed in the results.

To give the portal a test run, enter mk11 (this is the name of a condominium in Mont Kiara in case you’re not familiar) in the search field and click Go.

You will get the results in the form of a “Cheat Sheet” for MK11 (everything you need to know about the property in a single page) as well as some curated listings from our trusted agents on the GoodLeads panel.

Alternatively, if you only want to look at listings, you can click on these links:-

To help you further, here’s a fun guide on how to do simple analysis using GoodPlace data –

How To Interpret GoodPlace Data

Note: I don’t know how the server will withstand the onslaught of traffic during the launch, but if the site slows down please be patient.

In case you missed the link, here it is again –

http://goodplace.my/homes

Our Sponsors

launch-sponsors

The launch of GoodPlace Homes is sponsored by our good friends at the Property Report magazine and the Low Yat Group. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 🙂

GoodPlace Needs Your Help!

Once you checked out the portal, let me know what you think! Especially important to me are constructive comments that I can use to make the portal better.

Now here’s something awesome. Readers who post the most useful comments (positive or negative) will get a free 6 month subscription of the Property Report magazine sent to their door (this is the printed magazine which sells for RM20 a pop, not some email newsletter) anywhere in the world. So start posting!

GoodPlace Analytics: Because Insights Matter, Not Data

Geek girlie at GoodPlace

So here’s the story so far if you’re not here since the beginning: we are launching a property portal which is rather different from whatever that’s out there today, and here’s how it’s going to be different:- it’s going to have lots of listings posted by lots of agents together with lots of banner advertisements placed by lots of developers. Booyah!

I’m just saying that in a jest, of course, because the truth is that the world doesn’t need another lame property portal, and I am damn sure ain’t building one even if I’m forced at gunpoint. Of course, it’s entirely self-serving for me to say this, but GoodPlace Homes is gonna kick major arse just because we are doing crazy things that other portals won’t even touch with a twenty foot pole.

Admittedly, starting a property site in Malaysia is one of the worst things that anyone can do to make money (side titbit: most portals in Malaysia hemorrhage money like it’s armageddon), but then again as the late Steve Jobs would say, you gotta stay famished and keep doing stupid things. Who am I to argue against the wisdom of Jobs, the most frequently quoted patron saint of tech entrepreneurs slash wantrepreneurs the world over?

Comic strip!

And like every startup out there today, chances of making it are about as slim as the probability of Malaysia winning the World Cup in this lifetime, but even if I crash and burn what have I got to lose apart from my time and a few bucks? At least I’ll have a cool story to tell my grand kids when I turn 80. Not too bad of a deal, really.

Anyhow the launch of GoodPlace Homes is now imminent, and the clock is ticking…

Alright, I gotta admit that I am now a little nervous because that damn thing ain’t anywhere near ready yet. The site is as slow as my Grandma in her 1950 Volkswagen Beetle, and there’s just not enough content to prop the portal up. It’s getting so bad now that I have started taking crazy pills. True story. (BTW, keep this between you and me, please. Don’t blab it to everyone and your father-in-law, especially if your father-in-law happens to be one of the investors in this little Ponzi scheme of mine. Thank you for understanding.)

 GoodPlace Homes: Because Insights Matter, Not Data

So here’s a particularly interesting comment from a GoodPlace reader posted to me last week regarding his experience with property portals:-

c-kam

This is the same old story that I hear from home buyers the whole country over. So many listings, so much data, so little time. And as Mr Kam above rightly pointed out, researching properties online is pretty much like trying to take a sip from a bloody Bomba hose.

Look, let’s be real. Unless you are a total geek like me, data itself probably wouldn’t excite you as much. You don’t want data. What you want instead is an accurate and useful interpretation of that data. In short, you are probably not that interested in analyzing transacted prices. You only want to know if that jerk who is trying to sell you his house is giving you a fair price or not.

In short, you want insights, not data. So do yourself a favour; don’t needlessly drown yourself in numbers. Save time. Let fat geeks with no social life like me do that for you, for free. Use GoodPlace Homes. You know it makes sense.

Pricing Insights

If there’s one thing in the home buying process that savvy buyers know that newbies don’t is this – asking prices in property listings are mostly bullshit. Smart buyers do their due diligence and go figure out the property’s fair value. How do they do this? The best way is to go to JPPH and do a transaction search on a similar property for comparison purposes. (Of course, folks can also go to their favourite property agencies for transaction data but for me, I only trust JPPH because being the data fetishist I am I like my numbers pure, virginal, and not tampered with. Yes, I’m sick.)

Our guide to fair valuation has (ahem) been downloaded 11,000+ times.

Our guide to fair valuation has (ahem) been downloaded 11,000+ times.

So here’s how the process typically goes for a buyer doing his/her due diligence to look for properties with fair value:-

  1. Buyer goes to property portal and search for listings.
  2. Buyer notes down the asking prices in the listings.
  3. Buyer goes to JPPH and do a transaction search.
  4. Buyer estimates the fair value (typically using the “Comparison Method”).
  5. Buyer filters out listings which are way undervalued (fake listings) and way overvalued (seller hallucinations) – say, outside the {+/-10%} range.
  6. Buyer shortlists the listings which are of fair value.

Adoi, penatnya. There has got to be a better way!

And thankfully, there is. 🙂 At GoodPlace Homes, we keep the most recent six months’ worth of transaction data which we then process (with ahem, our cutting-edge, 100% proprietary GoodPlace Analytics technology) the property’s fair value. For every listing which gets posted on GoodPlace, a “fair value sticker” gets displayed which indicates if the asking price is within a reasonable range around the median value of the past six months worth of transacted prices.

GoodPlace Pricemeter

With GoodPlace Homes, here are the only two steps you need in order to get listings with fair asking prices:-

  1. Search for listings.
  2. Shortlist listings with the “green” sticker.

That’s it!

Walkability Insights

Most property sites give you some information about the distance to nearby amenities (2km to the nearest bus stop, 7.6km to the police station, 12.567km to the beer joint, etc), but again, this is just a load of data which do not mean a whole lot if you really think about it. A 2km walk to the bus stop under a well-lit pedestrian shelter next to a police stop is more pleasant and feels more secure, than, say, through the dirty slums of dodgy Chow Kit area at 3am. Simply put, distance is often irrelevant.

Walkability scores for each listingInstead, we assign a Walkability score to listings which means one thing:- how friendly an area is to walking. Scored between 0 (worst) and 100 (best), the GoodPlace Walkability Score provides an objective method to evaluate a listing based on its location, and also as a measure to compare properties in two or more locations on an apple-to-apple basis.

Also, we have processed enough requests made through the GoodPlace DealMatcher to know that walkability is one of the most important considerations for the prospective buyers and renters especially for properties in KLCC and Mont Kiara. It’s therefore not surprising if walkability is strongly correlated to price appreciation. (We’ll share more about this in a future blog post, but our initial number crunching has yielded some pretty exciting results!)

For more on the GoodPlace Walkability Score and its underlying technology, read this.

Remember this: any Tommy, Dicky and Harry can tell you “what’s near” a property, but only GoodPlace Homes can give you insights about what’s really important – walkability!

Saturation Insights

Our pricing insights will give you an indication of how fair the listed price is – at this particular moment in time. To make sound investment decisions, you’ll need to know if the price is on an upward or downward trend, and for this, you’ll need to find out about the buyer and renter demand as well as the incoming supply in the area. Like everything else, prices of property are incumbent on two things: supply and demand.

If you want to crunch the numbers yourself, there are some well-established methods that you can use to estimate supply and demand levels – in fact, this was what we have done to debunk the myth that there’s oversupply in Mont Kiara. Let me warn you that there’s a lot of mind-numbing work collating different data sources and spreadsheet them to hell. Otherwise, you can rely on us fat geeks in GoodPlace HQ to do all the dirty work for you, for free! Introducing…

GoodPlace Saturation Index

Similar to GoodPlace Walkability Scores, the Saturation Index is on a scale of 0 (least saturated) to 100 (most saturated). On its own, the Saturation Index can be somewhat meaningless, and indeed it is supposed to be used to compare against other properties especially those in the nearby area (which are also affected by the same supply and demand dynamics). See this example (for MK11 in Mont Kiara) –

GoodPlace Saturation Index

The GoodPlace Saturation Index is a data point which provides insights on how pricing of a property may move in the future depending on supply and demand relative to its nearest, most comparable properties in the same vicinity. As such, this metric will be relevant more to investors instead of own-stay buyers and renters because it can be a surrogate to the yield potential which can make or break any (long term) investment.

I’ll spare you the technicalities behind the computation of the Saturation Index here, but even if you’re faintly interested, our methodology involves some heavy processing of data from Google (simulating demand) and our internal agent data (simulating subsale supply) as well as publicly available sources (simulating new supply). It’s pretty exciting stuff, and if you geek out for data like me and want to know more, contact me.

GoodPlace Homes: A Short Tour

Don’t forget to turn up your volume.

Like it? Hate it? Let me know below! 🙂

What GoodPlace Can Do For You (That Other Portals Won’t Or Can’t)

Danielle Loves GoodPlace

If there’s one thing which I absolutely loathe going to (apart from the dentist and my ex-boss’ nephew’s Sunday morning piano recitals) it has got to be startup events. I often get invites to go to those things, and yes, sir, I despite them with great passion, and let me tell you why.

While often disguised as “knowledge sharing” and networking events between startups, these events usually quickly degenerate into a giant circle jerk of dick measuring contests between groups of young, impressionable wantrepreneurs. For some reason God knows why, people want to know how many users you get in a month – as if having a highly trafficked site is all that is needed to be successful as a startup. Nobody cares about what (good) you actually (want to) do. They only want to know how popular you are.

I have lost count of how many conversations I have had at those events which had inevitably gone like this:-

Wantrepreneur: “Hey, I heard you’re the founder of GoodPlace.”

Me: “Yeah.”

Wantrepreneur: “Cool.”

Uncomfortable silence. Wait for it…

Wantrepreneur: “So, how many visitors you get in a month?”

Sadly, that’s how forehead-slappingly degenerative that the startup scene is getting nowadays. It doesn’t matter if what you’re building is going to eradicate world hunger, folks. People these days would rather build a cat photo social sharing site, make it go “viral”, get visited by 1,274,827 people a day and then sell it off to the next sucker.

But I guess this stupidity is not limited to circle-jerking, basement-dwelling, Maggi-eating wantrepreneurs. Just this morning I read about this property portal proudly trumpeting the fact that it has reached its one million users milestone like it’s the second coming of the Beatles. I hate to be more profane than usual, but I guess that whipping out the e-dick and waving it at people’s faces at every opportunity is in the job description of every CEO of property portals in this region.

"ONE.MILLION.VISITORS."

“ONE. MILLION. VISITORS.”

As basic common sense goes, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, but to property portal operators having the biggest database of listings / agents / buyers is a goal as worthy as ridding the world of its perennial troubles like hunger, disease and Justin Bieber’s music. Now don’t get me wrong: I like to boast about my traction numbers just like everyone else, but I don’t want to lose sight of why I founded GoodPlace: to help the good guys win in an industry increasingly dominated by the bad. Getting lots of users, while nice, is and will never be a cause of celebration here at GoodPlace.

As far as online property goes, we have evolved sufficiently enough to come to the point where:-

  1. We don’t need more listings; we need good listings which are verifiable, accurate and legitimate.
  2. We don’t need more agents; we need good agents who put the interest of their clients before their commission cheques.
  3. We don’t need more data; we need good insights from the data that will help home buyers make good purchase decisions.

The property portals that we have currently are in the warpath of building bigger everything; in other words, it’s a game of quantity over quality for them. Luckily for GoodPlace since we are not beholden to anyone we are free to do whatever we like, and so just to take the piss we will be doing stuff that others won’t even think of doing.

Bonus points if you know this movie

Bonus points if you know this movie

What GoodPlace Can Do (That Others Can’t Or Won’t)

Agents Can’t Bribe Us To Go To The Top

If you’re an agent and you want to post your listings at a property portal to get buyer leads, this is how it is supposed to work:-

  1. Register and buy a bunch of ‘credits’.
  2. Submit your listing.
  3. Pay for the listing with your credits.
  4. Your listing gets approved and goes live.
  5. Buyer searches for the property, sees your listing, and contacts you.
  6. You bring the buyer to view the property, close the deal, make your monies and ride into the sunset.

Here’s the kicker:- the above scenario is quite unlikely to happen to a vast majority of agents out there. In reality, you’ll quickly hit a snag at Step #5 above – the buyer won’t be seeing your ad because it’s languishing on page #20 for that particular property search.

To be right on top of the search results,  you can spend even more credits to “bump” your listing to the top so that it gets viewed by buyers searching for that property. Of course, other agents can also spend their credits to “bump” their own listings up the search results, kicking you back down to the gutter. As you will see, for particularly “hot” properties, you’ll see agents trying to outspend each other to get their listings stays up high in the results.

What this really means is that when buyers do a search, the results are ranked typically by how much money the agent pays to the portal.

When we surveyed our home buyers and asked them about what they wanted to see when they searched for properties, here were some verbatim answers:-

  1. “I want legitimate listings. No bait and switch or other tricks.”
  2. “Huge, good quality pictures.”
  3. “Original and genuinely useful description. Not something copied and pasted from developer brochures.”
  4. “Legitimate agents.”
  5. “Real prices.”
  6. “Correct, up-to-date details.”
  7.  “What makes the property special.”

In short, buyers want quality listings. And GoodPlace Homes will therefore rank our listings based on quality factors such as:-

  1. Verification status (more on this later)
  2. Price range (listings with prices which are outside what’s “reasonable” are bumped downwards)
  3. Agents reputation (verified GoodLeads agents get bumped up)
  4. Listings completion
  5. Listings originality (duplicate listings get filtered out)
  6. Quality of pictures (high resolution and original pictures get bumped up)

As you’ll notice, “money” is not a quality factor which means that agents cannot bribe us to place their listings at the top. If they want good visibility, then they’ll need to work to improve their listings:- get them verified, price them correctly, write good descriptions and use good pictures.

goodplace-results

We Crack Down On Fake Listings

Fake listings are my pet hate. Why? Because they mislead home buyers and waste their time. They rob good agents of the opportunity to find good buyers. They are an abomination of mankind, just like Justin Bieber’s music. They are disgusting.

GoodPlace.my

But whether we like it or not, as long as fake listings continue to make agents money, they will continue to exist in the system. While other portals don’t give a flying flick about cleaning out their crap, we crack down on these fakes like a pissed off Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western.

Clint Eastwood

Alas, there’s no easy way for us to “detect” fake listings algorithmically, but fortunately there’s one common characteristic of these fakes – they all have lower prices than legitimate listings. This makes sense, because the sole purpose of these listings is to make buyers call the unscrupulous agents who would them pull a bait-and-switch trick on the buyers. And understandably, many home buyers will often call the cheapest listing first.

So this is the cool thing that we have built: for every listing posted, we will automatically compare the asking price with our internal database of transacted prices to see if it falls into the median range (currently set at 90-110% of the median price of the past six months worth of transactions). We will then flag the listing appropriately: if it has a “fair” price (i.e. inside the price median band), or “high“, or “low” (above and below the price median band respectively).

GoodPlace Pricemeter

It is very, very important to note that if a listing is flagged as “low” then it doesn’t mean that it’s fake. Needless to say, these can be legitimate listings with low prices which could be fire sales or auction units or unwanted units of any other kind (moving out of the country, divorce, neighbours play Justin Bieber’s music, that kind of thing), so don’t discount them altogether.

So this is what you do when you see a listing which is marked as “low” in price. Look for other red flags such as incomplete agent profiles, bad descriptions (***VIEW TO APPRECIATE**!!!one!!1!) and poor pictures. Also, with our uber smart rank-by-quality algorithm these listings should already appear at the bottom of the search results. Don’t waste your time with these.

Here’s one of my favourite tricks: I like to search for listings tagged as “low” in the Pricemeter feature, and then sort by Agent Reputation (see the next section below). Listings with low prices by reputable agents are the bargain buys that you want.

We Kick Out Bad Agents

This feature is still in beta as I type this, but we will soon have a “Reputation” feature which filters agents based on, well, their reputation. As agents with good reputation typically gets ranked higher in the search results, I won’t be revealing what exactly we are scoring agents against (we don’t want the system to be gamed), but suffice to say that (some) GoodLeads agents typically get a headstart because, well, I have interviewed them.

gp-verifiedApart from ranking high in the search results, listings posted by reputable agents will also get the Verified badge plastered on the sidebar (after the appropriate verification process that we go though to make sure that the listing is legitimate). We are also currently working on a filter so that you only look at verified listings – expect this feature to be shipped in the next three to four months.

As much of the platform works on the feedback from users (either qualitatively through user comments or quantitatively through site analytics) we will be able to tell with fair accuracy the good agents from the bad. The latter would probably just wither away as they get kicked down the search results, or if they try to game the system, well, the banning these bad hats will only take one click.

GoodPlace Homes: Because The World Doesn’t Need Another Lame Property Portal

goodplace-homes

So the cat’s out of the bag – GoodPlace will no longer be just a blog. Come June 10th (and commemorating the 100th issue of the GoodPlace Digest), we will be launching the GoodPlace Homes – a property research tool and curated listings database.

We are launching precisely at 9.01am, June 10th, 2015. Here’s a handy timer counting down to blastoff!

Gawd, do we need another property portal, Khai Yin?

Now people tell me that the world doesn’t need yet another property portal, and I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, what’s out there today is probably sufficient for what the typical Malaysian home buyer needs in order to research and shop for properties –

  • iProperty and Property Guru collectively already cover 90+% of the sub sale market (my own estimation). If you’re looking for (mass market) listings, then you should go to those sites.
  • The Edge has recently launched TheEdgeProperty which aggregates property news as well as transactional data (for both sales and rental).

And as everyone who reads the GoodPlace Digest knows, I’m pretty much obsessed with online property and what’s been ‘missing‘ from the equation. Over the two years that I have started the GoodPlace Blog I am convinced that we need more curation in the system which is already overloaded with listings, agents and data. I’ve already blogged about this last year (click here to read it), but in short,

  1. We don’t need more listings; we need good listings which are verifiable, accurate and legitimate.
  2. We don’t need more agents; we need good agents who put the interest of their clients before their commission cheques.
  3. We don’t need more data; we need good insights from the data that will help home buyers make good purchase decisions.

(Incidentally, this is also why GoodPlace is inherently unfundable – venture capitalists had offered me money to stuff the site with more listings, more data and recruit more agents. Thanks, but no thanks.)

Every week I would receive emails of disgust from home buyers who would turn to me after bouts of hair-pulling frustration doing property (re)search online (like this one below which just incidentally just came in) –

GoodPlace.my

The answer to this conundrum is as obvious as the nose on Barbara Streisand’s face: we need higher quality (listings, data, agents) albeit at a lower volume. I’ve suggested this to one of the leading portals, and when I asked if they would moderate and remove the crap listings, this was the answer that I got: “Kidding, man? This is how we make money!”

…But I Don’t Need To Make Money

Just kidding; of course I do! However, since I don’t have hundreds of staff on my payroll and cut-throat investors to appease, I am free to experiment with new ideas without the pressure of having to generate revenue. After all, GoodPlace is just me and my crummy laptop if you think about it. 🙂

Not needing to make quick money also means that I don’t have to do things that other portals usually do to make money. For example, have to plaster my site with banner ads and Flash popups which are as annoying and distracting as an over-enthusiastic, leg-humping mongrel. And if you’re as old as I am then you’ll remember that pre-Google, Yahoo was the reigning Big Kahuna of Internet search engines. It then did the stupid thing of plastering its homepage with flashy ad banners which saw it getting kicked down the curb by a simpler, ad-free Google.

As I am starting (figuratively speaking) from a blank sheet of paper, I could pretty much design the site as I please. I don’t have to clutter up the site with ads simply because I don’t have to. Also, during my research, most home buyers tell me that they would use the search bar more than anything else, and for this reason GoodPlace Home is designed around search, and search only. Oh, and did I mention that we are free from banner ads?

GoodPlace Homes

Free from banner ads, Flash popups and other crap.

Only Upmarket Homes? Are You Joking, Khai Yin?

No, not a joke, but hear me out first before you accuse me of selling out the proletariat and pandering to the bourgeoisie. I’m merely adopting a rather conservative strategy to carve out a smaller chunk of the market to dominate before eventually scaling up if it works. This is a well known strategy which has been used even by the likes of Facebook (which started as a social network for Harvard before spreading to other universities, and then to the rest of the world). If you’re into the nitty gritty of this strategy, read this article (which I authored) which was published at eCommerce Milo: How To Solve The Chicken-Or-The-Egg Problem When Building Internet Platforms

Of course, there are new property portals trying to go “big” immediately right off the gate, and if they’re not flushed with venture monies (hello Patrick) or already a major content publisher (say, The Edge) then they’ll probably fizzle out and die a natural death soon enough. Why? Because these new portals really not that different from iProperty as far as the product features go, and iProperty already has the biggest database of listings and agents in the country. How can they compete?

All in all, here’s GoodPlace’s plan (and promise): we’ll focus on the upmarket segment first, and then expand to the “mass” segment when the time comes.

Any questions? Post ’em below and I’ll answer them. 🙂

  • NEXT WEEK: Things That GoodPlace Homes Can Do – But Other Property Portals Can’t (Controversial!)

The RM8.92 Million Story – An Interview With Nick Ng

Nick Ng was one of the first who signed up for our GoodLeads program (details here), and he remained one of our top agents in the upmarket homes segment (typically KLCC, Mont Kiara and Bangsar). Recently Nick has closed a RM8,920,000 sale from a lead provided by GoodPlace – possibly the biggest deal ever in the (short) history of the GoodPlace DealMatcher. In the last six months, Nick has closed some RM14,250,000 worth of deals from GoodPlace leads alone. Pretty impressive!

We got in touch with Nick recently to ask him about his successful deals, and what makes Nick tick (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Interview conducted by Hannah Lee, GoodPlace.my staff writer at the HackerHub.

Hello Nick! First of all, congratulations on successfully brokering the RM8,920,000 sale. Could you share with us the story from the start?

Thank you. It started with Khai Yin receiving a GoodPlace Dealmatcher request for information on a branded KLCC condo. The buyer – whom I’ll refer to as Adam – is a sophisticated foreign investor who already owns other high-end properties overseas.

Adam had moved here for work a few short months ago, and was researching for his first foray in the local property market when he came across GoodPlace, and contacted Khai Yin directly for assistance. I was subsequently referred to assist Adam. Khai Yin made the introduction, and we got in touch.

Buyers know that they can afford to cherry pick both the properties they like and the agents that they want to work with. Were there other agents who are already after Adam’s business?

Yes, indeed. I learned later that Adam had accessed other information sources as well, and was actively viewing a few other properties with other local agents, apart from cross-checking the information provided.

On this case, Adam could have dealt directly with the developer’s sales people or continued working with other agents he had contacted himself.


(GoodPlace is) a trusted and credible resource to both the sophisticated and seasoned investor and the agent.
Nick Ng
Instead, he opted to work with the agent recommended by Khai Yin for an objective perspective and as a go-to resource for information and services required in the deal. This point is especially noteworthy as it speaks to the credibility of GoodPlace, affirming again its value as a trusted and credible resource to both the sophisticated and seasoned investor and the agent.

I guess that’s what makes GoodPlace different, or perhaps even better than the usual run-off-the-mill property classifieds site?

Yes, of course.

Back to the deal. What exactly did you do to assist Adam?

As the subject property was under construction and physically unavailable for inspection, there were a host of questions to be addressed ranging from general market issues to detailed and very product-specific areas such as specifications, quality, deliverables and addressing potential concerns about the developer’s backers and reputation, the project’s construction progress and delivery date.

It required in my role as the buyer’s agent to work in close coordination with the developer’s sales and technical people to provide all the answers to the very detailed information sought by the buyer, right down to individual room sizes, types of windows, colour options of the fittings and floorings, and accommodating the buyer’s request for modifications to the planned wet and dry kitchens’ layout.

How long did the process take?

The total time consumed from the initial lead contact to closing (signing SPA) was about five weeks.

What are the difficulties that you encountered in the process?

In brokering the deal for the developer, some minor hiccups encountered included having to work with insufficient initial details provided by the vendor, and their solicitor’s error inputting the buyer’s full name incorrectly onto the SPA document, causing delays in the process of completion of the paperwork. We were able to work through all the issues together.

I’m happy that you’ve pulled through despite the hiccups. Khai Yin told me about the usual horror stories that he had heard from agents regarding the deals that fell apart in the very last minute. For example, another agent reported that she lost a RM2,000,000 sale of a unit at Seni Mont Kiara when the buyer had cold feet just right before handing over the cheque.

Yes, I have heard about that from Khai Yin. It gets pretty rough at times, yes.

So what are the other deals that you have closed from GoodPlace’s home buyer leads?

Including this deal, there were a total of five sales cases closed, all of which are condominiums in the Mont Kiara and KLCC areas. The total deals value was about RM14,250,000 over six months. Thank you, GoodPlace!

RM14,250,000 worth of deals? Awesome! So tell us, Nick, how did you get started as an agent?

As an ex-office jock, I wanted another endeavour that would allow me a greater degree of work flexibility and independence, besides the latitude to choose my preferred market segment. The


You get to set your own goals and make your own initiatives.
Nick Ng
business of a real estate negotiator allows you to work like an independent contractor and the risk-to-reward ratio is certainly attractive. You get to set your own goals and make your own initiatives.

My first jobs out of school and college had been in sales and marketing, so it wasn’t a big transition being out in the field again with clients. The bigger question to me starting out  was in deciding which real estate agency to join, rather than whether or not to venture into this industry.

I looked up the classifieds and called up a few agencies from the small firm to medium and larger ones to enquire with their recruiters about their organization, their operations and the business itself. As a newbie who needed to get up the learning curve fast, I was looking for the right manager/mentor to work with, and learn from, instead of just being beholden to or riding on the firm’s reputation or market position.

The choice of joining my first agency was decided by an interview with a real estate branch manager who impressed with his knowledge, ability to communicate, and willingness to share his experience. We connected at the interview. Interestingly, the  gentleman was a white collar professional who had left a stable career in a blue chip pharmaceutical company to get into the real estate business. He had also studied to obtain his professional qualifications as a valuer and got his own real estate agency license. I am still with the same firm I joined three years ago.

What are the challenges that you face as an agent?

This business is about people first, then the bricks and mortar. Every single deal is unique and different from the next one, for each case presents their own set of challenges, because of all the variables involved from people to product to process.

I can  relate to the statement by Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars’ fame when he said that after 20 years of being in the business, he never knows what will come through the door. As an agent – because


The challenges usually come from the people side of things involving issues of integrity, principles and professionalism
Nick Ng
the business involves dealing with people – the challenges usually come from the people side of things involving issues of integrity, principles and professionalism. It’s the nature of the business and it’s the job of a good agent to manage them well.

Broadly, some of the challenges arise from the following categories:-

Sellers:-

  • Occasional ethical issues: vendors that break the law with dubious requirements and unlawful practices like fake transacted prices on the SPA to avoid RPGT.
  • Refusing to pay the mandatory 6% GST, and requiring the agents to absorb the tax if they want the listing.
  • Reneging on paying the full agreed fees and commissions after the  work had been put in and the deal is done.

Buyers / tenants:-

  • Not having thought through their requirements or knowing what they want, and shifting the goal posts too frequently during the search process. It’s highly improbable that any agent can successfully find the right property for clients that do not know themselves what they want.
  • Using multiple agents simultaneously which creates vendor confusion and work duplication;
  • Having unrealistic expenditure vs expectation issues.

Agents:-

  • Detecting and avoiding those that resort to dodgy and unlawful practices and misrepresentations  that can leave their co-broke agents and the client  out  on a ledge.

I should reiterate that, while these niggles can serve to upset anyone’s apple cart, they are all manageable challenges inherent in the industry. I can’t overstate enough the importance of clients identifying and working with a good agent to ensure they avoid the pitfalls on the road to getting what they want out of the transaction.

I have been fortunate to have met some amazing clients along the way for whom I had the pleasure  of being their agent to represent their interests.

How did you find out about GoodPlace?

I found it while searching the Internet for property information. GoodPlace’s top search rankings led me to the write-ups.

What do you like about GoodPlace? What are the areas do you think we can improve on?

Foremost, and in my opinion,  GoodPlace is  the best conduit of relevant and useful information available for Malaysian real estate and Klang Valley properties in particular.

As a reader, I like the content substance, the wealth of facts, data and objective information available in a central depository for the convenience of any reader looking for seriously good depth of insights into the real estate scene. Plus it is highly readable, candid, direct and entertaining, which makes for other standout attributes.


I like (GoodPlace’s) content substance, the wealth of facts, data and objective information available in a central depository for the convenience of any reader looking for seriously good depth of insights into the real estate scene.
Nick Ng
GoodPlace provides a great service to its readers (on the buy and sell side) and as an agent, I find its educational value in its contents for my own work and learning; the interaction with, and feedback from, readers offer a lot of interesting insights on the the human aspect of the market out there. As an agent, I love the DealMatcher feature.

Thanks Nick. We are flattered! What are the areas do you think we can improve on though?

I would be hard pressed to suggest any area of improvement because, frankly and at the risk of complacency, I think its current scope is already substantial and the quality of work put in is quite commendable as it is. GoodPlace in its present form already offers a trove of solid useful and usable information, and I would like to record a note of appreciation to Khai Yin and his team for putting it together week in, week out, for their readers.

What advice would you give to a prospective investor or buyer in the upmarket homes segment?

There is already a lot of advice in the public domain on what to look for in buying or investing in a property. From my observation, the buyers in the upmarket homes segment are generally very smart and savvy investors who know what they want. They just need a credible, reliable and trustworthy agent partner to help them do the leg work, filter and find it. And nobody knows the real estate market on the ground better than a good agent that works on it with their eyes and ears on the ground and a finger on the pulse.

I would therefore suggest a prospective investor or buyer to hook up with a good reputable agent to represent the buyer’s interests throughout the search and transaction process, even if the agent’s professional fees are not paid by the buyer.

That’s only the first part.


Nobody knows the real estate market on the ground better than a good agent that works on it with their eyes and ears on the ground and a finger on the pulse.
Nick Ng
Next is to manage that relationship well to get the best out of that resource. Because it is more than just about finding and partnering an agent with the knowledge, experience, skill sets, integrity, honesty, reliability and dedication to do the work. Good agents often have more work than they can handle, and may have to be selective at times to prioritize their output and service. They also have finite time and energy to work on each client case, and they drain out and need recharging like any phone battery.

It ‘s not surprising then that a good agent would also have the option to choose to work with a good client to get the best outcome on any case. It goes back to the basic maxim of employee satisfaction = customer satisfaction for the agent-client equation.

The importance and benefits of having a happy agent on the buyer’s case is often overlooked, for a variety of reasons.  Notwithstanding, any client that can build a good relationship with their agent will invariably gain an ally working for a very positive outcome. They will gain an exceptionally valuable asset and partner on hand, because clients sometimes do not know what they do not know, and the agent can fill them in or volunteer good advice that saves or makes the client serious money.

The working relationship and chemistry is a major part of why a good agent may willingly go the extra mile for their clients. They may even negotiate the living daylights out of a deal for their buyer client’s benefit at the expense of reducing  their own earnings, simply because that agent likes a good client enough to want to do that for them. That’s an example of going the extra mile. A good agent and a good client working together is always a good place to be in.

Want our help in buying or selling your property? Submit a DealMatcher request and we’ll match you with a good agent.