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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Property Finder eyes 50% revenue growth as it deepens Middle East presence

Dubai-based real estate portal secured $120m in latest fundraising it announced on Monday

Michael Lahyani ,founder and CEO of Property Finder Group, plans to recruit more staff and invest in technology after securing $120m in a new funding round. Pawan Singh / The National 
Michael Lahyani ,founder and CEO of Property Finder Group, plans to recruit more staff and invest in technology after securing $120m in a new funding round. Pawan Singh / The National 

Middle East real estate portal Property Finder Group targets up to 50 per cent annual growth in revenues and website users in the near term, as it invests in new staff and technology after clinching $120 million (Dh440.7m) in its latest funding round, announced on Monday.

The Dubai-based company, which has operations across eight markets in the Middle East and North Africa, is also open to acquisitions, after investing in a Turkish firm last year, and may consider an initial public offering in three to four years, its founder and chief executive said.

“The group saw year-on-year growth of 40-50 per cent in 2017, but if you look at some of our fastest growing markets, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, it was more like triple-digit growth, and we expect this to continue,” Michael Lahyani told The National.

The company “would not rule out” acquisitions to expand its operations, or a public listing at a later stage, he added, but for now it is concentrating on deepening its presence in existing markets and there are no plans to enter any new ones for the time being.

The Property Finder portal lists real estate for sale and rent across the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Morocco, Turkey, Lebanon and Qatar, and receives six million visitors per month. In many of its markets, a digital-first approach to property searching is still an emerging opportunity. “There is a lot of room for growth,” Mr Lahyani said.

The company launched in 2007 and raised $25m through previous funding rounds. The latest round was led by US private equity firm General Atlantic, with other investors including existing shareholder Vostok New Ventures, a Stockholm Exchange-listed investment firm, and non-profit Endeavor.

Property Finder did not disclose the size of General Atlantic’s stake acquisition, but it is the latest in a series of technology investments by the New York-listed firm, which has $28 billion of assets under management and has invested in Snap, Airbnb, Facebook, Alibaba and others. The deal values Property Finder at close to $500m, Reuters reported, although Mr Lahyani would not reveal the exact figure.

He plans to use the money to employ an additional 200 staff to Property Finder’s 450-strong workforce, and enhance the group’s technology to better serve clients (mainly real estate agents and property developers) and customers.

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“There are two main areas of focus – improving the accuracy of the information we’re providing, as inaccurate listings are a big problem in general across the region, and increasing real estate market transparency by collecting crucial data on transaction and rental prices, and units in the local area,” Mr Lahyani said.

Property Finder aims to develop use of artificial intelligence and other new technology to identify factors that can help determine the authenticity of a listing, such as whether brokers using the portal are in direct contact with a landlord or not.

“We already verify ads, but there is a manual element to it currently and we want to strengthen and improve the process,” the chief executive added.

Meanwhile, the reams of data Property Finder collects through its portal, such as average rental prices in a specific location, can help inform analysis of the local real estate market – something the company already produces in market reports. However, it does not intend to monetise this as a new revenue stream, Mr Lahyani said.

In the UAE, real estate sale and rental prices have fallen dramatically in the past three years on the back of low oil prices, and they are still declining this year despite higher oil prices.

“We are not expecting an uplift in property prices yet, but in any case my definition of a good market is not one where prices rise continuously, but an active one where people are buying and selling,” Mr Lahyani said.