China Real Estate Agents Turn to Livestreaming for a Leg Up in a Downturn

When the pandemic erupted and China halted the movement of people, real-estate agent Wang Shujuan saw an opportunity — give property seekers livestreamed sales videos of her latest homes direct to their phones.

(Bloomberg) — When the pandemic erupted and China halted the movement of people, real-estate agent Wang Shujuan saw an opportunity — give property seekers livestreamed sales videos of her latest homes direct to their phones.

Knowing she had to adapt, ‘Beauty Wang,’ as she’s known to her 73,000 followers, first took to selling houses on Douyin, China’s Tiktok, in April 2020.

Now, amid a deepening real estate slowdown, Wang, 39, is betting that livestreaming will increasingly become the path to win over hungry buyers. 

“The property market isn’t that great right now, but there are ways still to make money,” said Wang. “If you’re not livestreaming, you won’t be able to sell a single home — you’d be obsolete.”

As home sales tumble and prices tank even in coveted markets like Shanghai, all signs point to a faltering post-Covid rebound, forcing property agents and developers to get creative. While not a new phenomenon in China, the popularity of livestreaming is picking up, a rare bright spot in a struggling sector.

On ByteDance Ltd.’s Douyin, which has over two million real estate livestreamers, the total number of hours streamed by property agents doubled in 2022 from a year ago, according to a report by a consultancy backed by the company.

Some agents take viewers on voyeuristic tours inside luxury homes, while others stage comedy skits, dance to jaunty jingles, or even masquerade as popular TV characters. Wang, who has been in the industry for nine years, opts for a more sleek, professional news anchor setup, dissecting market trends from behind an office desk. In a blend of performance and sales, others have adopted monikers like “Madam Real Estate” and “Real Estate Enzyme.” 

“Livestreaming will be increasingly essential,” said Georg Chmiel, chair of real estate firm Juwai-IQI, adding that it was particularly appealing to overseas buyers who were unable to visit properties in person.

Jumping Aboard 

China’s tech giants are capitalizing on the pivot. Last year, short-video app Kuaishou Technology set up a real estate service center — called Ideal Homes — with listings and livestreams categorized by cities. The gross transaction value of houses on the app surpassed 10 billion yuan in 2022.  

“We’ll be focusing on the online real estate shared services Douyin can provide,” said a ByteDance spokesperson.

Livestreamers like Wang remain relatively unusual cases of optimism in an ailing property market. For most, visiting a home in person is key to securing the transaction. Meantime, China’s housing market shows little sign of exiting its funk. The value of residential sales tumbled 43% nationwide in July from June, the weakest month in almost six years, while home prices dropped for a second month. Any new demand will depend on confidence in prices going up, which has yet to happen, according to Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis. 

As consumer sentiment wilts, debt-laden developers too are increasingly anxious for any lifeline. Over four-fifths of China’s top two hundred developers are now on Douyin, according to the research report. 

To offload surging inventory, developers in cities from Hangzhou to Xi’an have offered other sweeteners, such as free renovations, gold ingots, and even pigs. Some are going a step further, advertising supposed “zero down payment” and “buy 1 get 1 free” deals. Many use these tactics to sidestep pricing restrictions. Local authorities have decried attempts by developers to slash home prices, banning steep price cuts for distorting the market and undermining confidence. 

Wang’s focus is on Huaian, a city in the eastern province of Jiangsu. On livestreams typically around two hours long, she rattles off apartment vacancies, the nuances of housing policies, and the perks of each neighborhood into the camera. After first attempting livestreaming in April 2020, she quit her job at a realty sales center a few months later to sell houses on Douyin and now livestreams about four times a week, sometimes every day. 

Selling Streak 

Her efforts are paying off: for the past two years, Wang sold around ten to sixteen apartments each month, making over 2 million yuan ($278,000) in annual profit, she said.

Amid the broader downturn, she’s sold over forty units this year. Most of her revenue now comes from commission as well as marketing and training services for real estate developers, who want her to promote their new launches. 

“Whether you’re on your own, or with an agency, or a developer, you need traffic from livestreaming,” said Wang. “In my livestreams, I’m reaching them where they are and information is two-way for all to see — that’s how you build trust.”

–With assistance from Allen Wan.

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