Chinese property firms bank on VR to beat virus

Mass lockdowns in China following the coronavirus outbreak have left property sales in the country facing a full-year decline for the first time in five years. (AP)
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Updated 15 February 2020

Chinese property firms bank on VR to beat virus

  • Developers hope virtual reality salesrooms and livestreams can end market slump as potential buyers refuse to leave their homes

HONG KONG: China’s property developers and realtors are turning to virtual reality salesrooms and livestream marketing to thaw a frozen market as the coronavirus epidemic keeps physical offices shut and potential buyers are afraid to leave their homes.

A female employee of Sunac China introduced a residential development in the southern city of Qingyuan on social media platforms Tiktok and Weibo wearing a white gown and waving a paper fan.

The livestream on Tuesday attracted a total of 510,000 viewers for Sunac, China’s fourth-largest developer by sales, but it was unclear whether any of them bid for the property.

Twenty of the top 100 developers have done livestream sales since the virus outbreak, property researcher CRIC said, adding that 92 of them run online sales platforms which some recently revamped in response to the virus.

Property sales by floor area in China fell 0.1 percent in 2019, marking the first full-year decline in five years, and analysts expect sales may drop again this year due to the epidemic.

The outbreak has led to several cities being locked down, mass quarantines and work and travel disruptions as Beijing works to contain the flu-like virus which has killed 1,380 people and sickened more than 60,000.

Major realtors including Centaline are also doing more live forums online, hosting talks with senior executives on the property market.

Trying to make homebuyers more comfortable in buying online, Centaline plans to work with property developers to build virtual salesrooms for their new developments.

“The online sales platform has been around for a while, but it was mostly for advertising and chats between agents and buyers,” said Centaline Shenzhen General Manager Alan Cheng.

“Now because homebuyers are not able to go out and see the flats themselves, we will focus on providing more real live videos to engage with them.”

He said the firm this week introduced online contracts that involve third-party authentication technology in two cities, one of the first in the industry, so that buyers can sign the documents without leaving home.

Efforts are being made offline as well.

China Evergrande, the third-largest developer by sales, announced on Thursday that homebuyers are entitled to a lowest-price guarantee until May 10, where the company will refund buyers the difference if prices drop.

Sunac, depending on the city, allows its customers to forfeit the purchase free of charge within up to 60 days.

Despite the industry’s creative efforts, the market has all but ground to a halt.

Centaline’s Cheng said the few transactions now appeared mostly in the rental market or when sellers were willing to slash prices. 


Arab News recording exposes Nissan lawyer’s lie on IMF bailout for Lebanon

Updated 01 June 2020

Arab News recording exposes Nissan lawyer’s lie on IMF bailout for Lebanon

LONDON: Arab News has published the recording of an interview with a Nissan lawyer after he denied saying that a bailout of Lebanon by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was linked to the extradition of fugitive tycoon Carlos Ghosn.

The former Nissan chairman fled to Beirut in December from Japan, where he faced charges of financial wrongdoing.

In a story published in Arab News Japan on Saturday, Sakher El Hachem, Nissan’s legal representative in Lebanon, said the multibillion-dollar IMF bailout was contingent on Ghosn being handed back to Japan. 

The lawyer said IMF support for Lebanon required Japan’s agreement. Lebanese officials had told him: “Japan will assist Lebanon if Ghosn gets extradited,” the lawyer said

“For Japan to agree on that they want the Lebanese authorities to extradite Ghosn, otherwise they won’t provide Lebanon with financial assistance. Japan is one of the IMF’s major contributors … if Japan vetoes Lebanon then the IMF won’t give Lebanon money, except after deporting Ghosn.”

On Sunday, El Hachem denied making the comments. “The only thing I told the newspaper was that there should have been a court hearing on April 30 in Lebanon, but it was postponed because of the pandemic,” he said. In response, Arab News published the recording of the interview, in which he can be clearly heard making the statements attributed to him. 

Japan issued an arrest warrant after Ghosn, 66, escaped house arrest and fled the country.

Now listen to the recording: