For at least 20 years, technology has been building momentum in the property industry. Office technologies, like email, ushered in a dramatic boost in productivity and allowed agents to take on many more instructions. With the internet, exchange of information for both agents and customers dramatically accelerated. The location of that information also changed for good: what customers used to see only in window displays or in the local newspaper, can now be accessed through portals, estate agent websites and other online sources.
There’s no denying that technology has made an indelible mark on estate agency, and in the continued rush for digital capabilities, most agents recognize that the impact of tech on the market is far from over. But as businesses in the sector pursue digital prowess, it’s important to pause for a moment to consider what’s on the horizon.
Big data is hardly new to the estate agency industry; it’s already used by almost all agents in some form or another. But as agencies’ services become more digitized, the quantity of available data and the need to properly capitalize on that data is growing.
“High street agents will increasingly adopt technology to help manage client data and a vendor’s requirement for greater market insight and feedback,” explains Lisa Simon, Head of Residential Carter Jonas. “This could include intelligence on a property’s performance, how it is performing in comparison to others both in terms of viewing feedback and web portal performance; this will assist in making pricing strategies more transparent.”
Gaining increasing traction in the world of gaming, Virtual Reality (VR) technology is just as applicable to the world of property. VR comes in multiple varieties and variable levels of sophistication. In terms of home-viewing, there’s basic image stitching and panoramas that allow users to click through to various rooms, and there’s also more compelling virtual environments compatible with 3D goggles that enable more lucid free-roaming and the ability to walk up to features.
While very few buyers will make a property purchase without visiting physically first, the technology offers immense flexibility and streamlines the viewing process for both agents and customers — all while offering customers a real-life experience from the comfort of their home. Its convenience means that customers have time to view, albeit “virtually,” a much larger pool of properties.
Simon of Carter Jonas has some interesting views on how the space might pan out. On the one hand, she argues that physical viewings will always be integral to customers. “Purchasing decisions are often made solely on the emotional connection to a home that one can only feel when you physically step through the front door. Further to this, people don’t just need to view the property but also wander through the local area to help visualize living there and better understand and experience the community that they hope to join.”
But Simon also sees a significant future for VR in the industry. “We have been conducting FaceTime viewings for some time, particularly in the fast-moving prime central London lettings market, where clients overseas need to make a quick decision. Recently there have been new innovations such as Mataport, a 3D video floor plan. During its initial development phase, this technology has been prohibitively expensive, but it is now coming down in price. We will continue to review and consider adopting such technologies if they can either save customers time or enhance a properties attractiveness.”
“In the more immediate future, we expect the likes of virtual reality to appeal to the lettings market, where the decision being made is marginally less committal than buying a property. It also provides a convenient option for those relocating from further afield who may not be able to attend a viewing of a property.”
Many agents already automate many tasks. Self-service portals, for example, allow tenants, landlords, buyer, and sellers to complete basic administrative tasks that would otherwise require manual oversight from an agent. Online contracts have also semi-automated the process of getting signatures from relevant parties. But how will automation services evolve over the next few years?
One area that’s worth keeping an eye on is valuations. “The accuracy of online valuation tools (AVM’s) will continue to improve, bringing automated estimates closer in-line with face-to-face valuations, empowering both sellers and buyers to make informed decisions more quickly,” notes David Jacobs, co-founder of Yopa. “However, don’t expect to see the death of the face to face valuation — every home is unique, a boots on the ground analysis of a home’s worth is invaluable.” This is echoed by Anthony Ekins, a veteran of the industry, who believes a house is “worth what someone will pay for it,” which necessarily implies that valuing a house requires market knowledge and a personal approach to selling.
Jacobs also sees the potential for automation for conveyancing and mortgaging, “allowing both parties to keep much closer tabs on the progress of their transaction through to completion. Greater integration is still required between the IT systems of estate agents — mortgage lenders, surveyors, solicitors, local authorities and insurers — but progress is happening and the positive impact is already being felt by the customer — in both speed of sale and reduction in fall through rates.”
While by no means an exhaustive list, this does, perhaps, provide a hint of what’s to come: a whole host of technologies, which are due to make estate agents smarter, more efficient and more customer-focused.
Given the growing demand among consumers for more online content, faster sales progression, and 24-hour, 7-day a week responses, we’re likely to see more agents investing more in technology in the future. It’s an exciting, rapidly changing space — and certainly one for agents to watch out and prepare for.