Real estate is an industry in perpetual motion, with agents at the wheel and technology the heavy machine. It’s a space that’s been traditionally slow to the mark for adoption of new solutions without outside pressures; pressures like a pandemic, for example. There was no choice for agents or customers in assimilating into the new technology dependent normal. Stay at home orders, restrictions of movement, limitations on how people can be in a space. COVID has irrevocably changed not only the way that people buy, sell and rent homes, but the way that they want to engage in property. Online inspections, electronic document signing, automatic instant communication and digital portals: these have become must-haves rather than optional selling points.
Impact of COVID-19
Property technology and the demand for the industry to modernise has accelerated beyond all expectations in the past 2 years, and while the momentum may slow as we come out of lockdown it won’t disappear. Particularly not while millennials are poised to take over from the baby boomers as the lion's share of buyers and sellers, and they will come with the expectation of engaging with real estate the same way they engage with all other industries - digitally.
“If one good thing came out of lockdowns in Australia for real estate it’s the embracing of technology. Consumers have stepped up to assist agents to transact and carry out everything from remote routine inspections for rentals to online contracts and virtual tours, and agents have changed the way they work as well to meet the new needs of their clients. As Australia moves through this new transitional stage coming out of lockdown, the best of these measures will remain to continue to support agents with more tools, levels of service, and automations.”
Bill Nikolouzakis, CRO & COO of PropTech Group
Emergence of New Technologies
Real estate has always moved at a breakneck pace. Even at the height of lockdown there wasn’t a missed step, instead demand and prices for property soared beyond all expectations. Agents and agencies were hammered from all sides as the mass exodus from city centers left landlords scrambling for tenants and vendors fielding sight-unseen offers far above asking in the scrum to secure a home.
Technology rose to be the crutch that at first propped up the industry as we all acclimated, and then found it’s stride as providers continued to innovate and expand their offerings to meet the new needs of property professionals at every level. Tech stacks were a reality for real estate before the pandemic, became a point of hyperfocus during the pandemic, and will continue to grow and evolve as we come out of it. It’s not unusual for a tech stack in a mature company or agency to gravitate towards a patchwork of software that’s been acquired over time as new needs have surfaced; it’ll do the job, but it’s not efficient in the long term. Technology should be not only tailored to what you need in the moment, but chosen carefully to ensure that your selection is efficient and cohesive.
As we come out of COVID, many agents and agencies will be facing a tech stack peppered with stop-gap solutions that were implemented to meet the challenges of the pandemic, but may not be the right fit going forward. How can you tell what needs to stay, and what can go? Looking at trends and the desires of consumers and agents can guide you through the process. Remote inspections, AI and automation, digital signing. These are tools of convenience for the consumer and the agent, and aren’t going to be cast aside even when we get back to business as usual - or as usual as it can be after a worldwide pandemic. The digital generation in particular grew up in a world of accessibility, and they will demand it from every industry that they interact with including our own.
“Technology in today’s real estate landscape is a vital aspect of agent and agency success. Through it agents can streamline and automate manual tasks, allowing them to spend more time on the most important part of their job - the customers. Good software connects all of the information they need at the touch of a button whether they’re in the office, at home, or on the road.”
Mark Levin, Group Head of Sales at PropTech Group
Increased Buyer Confidence Despite Global Uncertainty
US based property company Zillow released statistics showing that listings utilising virtual inspections tripled between 2019 - 2020, and 72% of Zillow agents responded that they would continue to offer virtual inspections after the pandemic. Zillow house listings that had a 3D tour available in May of 2020 were also saved 32% more often than listings that didn’t have one; even though this data does concern an American company, the statistics are worth exploring.
That same company also conducted surveys on buyer confidence when buying homes sight unseen, with 23% of respondents being comfortable with entirely virtual purchases, and 42% of respondents being comfortable making an initial offer after a virtual inspection. There’s a divide along those responses along generational lines, with the digital natives having higher confidence when using property technology to buy their homes.
The exception is in using technology in the buying process for virtual inspections and digital floor plans; even the baby boomers and silent generation report confidence and a desire to utilise those features. Again, we are looking at American statistics but given the global nature of the COVID pandemic there is transference here - Australian real estate is no stranger to the effects of lockdowns and digitisation, or the shift in age as baby boomers move to retirement and a younger audience comes to the fore of property.
Automation as an Asset
In an industry that thrives on human interaction the thought of AI and automation may be a troubling one - but AI in real estate cannot and will not replace the agent. What it can do is automate menial tasks and administrative busywork, and it’s on the rise. Good CRMs and support software are leaning more and more on automation and workflow triggers; why manually enter data, maintain databases, and create individual communications when you can have a workflow that does it for you?
Through automation, agents can strip back the level of personal responsibility and effort that goes into the early stages that go into buying and selling property. You can send out automated messages to inform vendors and leads about offers, changes in price, sales, relevant new listings, sending and receiving contracts and collecting digital signatures.
During the eye of the storm in COVID this was vital to keeping on top of the deluge of enquiries and offers on listings. Without automated responses agents would have had to triage, determining what interested parties were interested enough to warrant attention. Workflows and intricate trigger sets can create communications that are indistinguishable from having another person on the other end of the line, cultivating that human connection between prospects and agents.
Long Term Implementation
There is a big asterisk that comes with AI and automation: automation is a complex proposition, and it requires a level of trust from the agent in the software. Technology that adds automation as a gimmick or an afterthought will hurt more than it helps, and once trust in the software has been broken it isn’t easily won back. Performing a tech audit is the best way to protect your business, evaluating and assessing your existing software as well as any potential additions.
Working in tandem with your automation should be your marketing and digital branding. Having a cohesive, attractive online presence in a world that runs remotely was a key aspect of real estate during the pandemic for obvious reasons. Without access to walk-in clients or paper drops there was no choice but to go entirely digital for agencies, and those agents and agencies that embraced it were the ones who found the most success. Agent and agency websites, online brochures and listings, market update mail outs and branded communications - all of these were valuable tools during lockdown, and should continue to be a point of focus going forward.
Future of Real Estate
Everyday life has become a liminal space for our industry, the in-between of lockdown and a post-COVID future. As we wait for the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 there’s time for you to turn your focus inward, to look at what technology served you well and what technology will become a burden. Performing a tech audit and facing the possibility of ripping your support software root and stem, or even just moving laterally to a new system, can be a massive sink of money and time that can’t be afforded in the usual hustle and bustle. But in these unusual times we’re presented with unusual opportunities. Without being in an office, without needing to commute back and forth between inspections, there’s plenty of breathing room to not only investigate your current solutions but to learn new software. Kate Fairmaid, Director at Origin Projects puts it elegantly:
“As real estate salespeople, it’s rare that we have additional time on our hands. We’re always chasing a deal or our next listing. As difficult as lockdown can be, it’s provided us with valuable time to sit down and focus on our business. I would encourage anyone in lockdown to take this time and use it wisely, because once lockdown is lifted you may never have another opportunity like it.”