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As the weeks of the COVID-19-necessitated lockdown have slowly turned in to months, I have found myself contemplating how historians will come to interpret this period; what they will come to regard as its defining traits and the long-term changes it catalysed. The tragic loss of lives and unprecedented responses from the world’s governments will certainly be prominent within such discussions. The likely restructuring of various healthcare systems around the globe and the temporary stymying of globalisation will become prominent themes of resulting discourse, too.
There will, though, be positive changes driven by this pandemic, chief amongst which will be the digital transformation it drives throughout organisations. We’ve written about the tech that will shape and address ongoing pain points present within healthcare and, today, we’ll be doing the same for organisations operating within the property sector. It is, after all, alongside hospitality and non-essential retail, amongst the industries that have been most affected by the pandemic, having seen revenue streams dry up almost entirely in the second quarter of 2020.
What technology will estate agents, property developers, landlords, etc. adopt moving forward and how will these help them address common shortcomings, improve their performance and succeed in the ‘new normal’?
For those reliant on selling or leasing properties to generate revenue, lockdown has brought about what, at first glance, appeared to be an insurmountable problem: prospects who wanted to view a property before making decisions were unable to do so.
Some have addressed this problem by using video tours and 3D renderings of properties to provide prospective buyers with something akin to the traditional guided tours they would have expected previously. Moving forward, though, virtual and augmented reality could mean that something all but identical to guided tours is indeed possible without the need for prospects or agents to physically attend the relevant property.
Whilst not a practicable option during the pandemic as a result of few people owning the necessary hardware, agents could certainly use this technology in the future. Should they have the required equipment in their offices, prospects can simply visit and undertake viewings there. This would mean that agents would not need to travel to properties to guide clients, would be able to administer more viewings within their working day and reduce their and their agencies’ carbon footprints.
It may seem logical to assume that VR will be less likely to result in a sale than a traditional viewing but a recent study suggests that this is not actually the case. A sales process known as ‘virtual staging’ uses a combination of VR and augmented reality (wherein real or virtual settings are altered in real time) in order to both see properties completely free of furniture or with various alternative furnishing and decor. So powerful is this tool that a study conducted by the National Association of Realtors found that 83% of agents reported that it made prospective buyers more likely to regard a viewed property as a future home.1
A nuanced and well-thought-out digital marketing strategy will enhance awareness of your organisation and its brand, as well as generate substantial interest in properties. More importantly, digital platforms provide advanced means of targeting web users and advertisements are more likely to be shown to interested parties.
Typically identified through a combination of behaviour profiling, big data and advanced algorithms, several social media channels provide advertisers with the tools they need to target highly specified segments of their audience. Any impressions that a campaign may generate are far more likely to have been to an interested consumer as a result.
Remarketing is also an effective means of generating interest in that it allows organisations to display customised advertisements to people who have visited specific pages of their website. If, for example, a user viewed a two-bedroom property in a certain area but did not book a viewing, then bespoke adverts featuring similar properties within a half-mile radius of the property they viewed could be shown to them on various websites.
Paid search – offered by virtually all search engines including Google and Bing – provides advertisers with the opportunity to place their results at the top of specified searches. Various elements of the creative can be edited including the copy, display URL and the landing page. With sufficient planning and research, paid search can become a potent means of driving direct responses from consumers looking to purchase or rent residential or commercial property. Studies have found that when users enter search terms containing terminology that would indicate they are actively looking to make a purchase, they go on to click on a paid result 66% of the time.2
Research has also revealed that paid search improves brand awareness: organisations that achieve the top paid search position are 80% more likely to see searchers associate the relevant keyword with their organisation.3 This is hugely advantageous in an industry where local reputations are so important.
Finally, though, we must add that it’s advisable to utilise small budgets and operate with a degree of caution at first. As powerful as these tools can be, they require care and attention to deliver the positive ROI of which they’re capable. Be certain to review any targeted keywords and remove any that do not drive conversions, particularly when targeting broad rather than exact search terms. The former is designed to generate a higher volume of ad impressions (the number of times your creative is shown) and campaigns utilising it can be profligate as a result. This can be addressed by simply informing the advertiser not to show your creative for certain terms. Likewise, various exact terms, social media audiences, ad components such as copy or images, and the other elements that come together to create a campaign can all generate waste – even those that seemed certain to drive positive results.
Monitoring will reveal what platforms, messages and targeting generate the best returns and help you to optimise your campaigns accordingly. Digital advertising campaigns generate real-time metrics and by leveraging this feature you can ensure that you enjoy a positive return on your advertising spend.
In order to halt the spread of COVID-19, the majority of the world’s governments have imposed restrictions on businesses within the hospitality and non-essential retail sectors. These measures, combined with limited movement imposed by lockdown and millions being unable to attend work, have adversely and substantially affected the international economy. A global recession is, the economic community overwhelmingly agree, the inevitable outcome.
When markets are in retreat, consumers invariably seek out greater value. The need for all organisations – particularly those whose models rely on the management or trade of property – to develop means of delivering better experiences to customers is of paramount importance.
Private landlords with large portfolios of estates can benefit greatly from bespoke applications which, if tied to connected devices (I’ll discuss these in greater detail later), can be used to identify early signs of failure in various pieces of key equipment such as boilers or white goods that are included as part of tenancy agreements. Repairs or replacements can be arranged in advance of them malfunctioning resulting in happier tenants.
Bespoke applications can also be developed to provide advanced property management technology interfaces through which all certification and legal agreements can be both stored and managed. This brings about greater efficiency and minimises the prospect of a landlord or letting agency failing to meet their legal obligations.
Household devices that are capable of connecting to the internet have become increasingly common in recent years and, with prior reports having indicated that there will be 64 billion IoT devices operational worldwide and that the entire industry could be worth more than £8 trillion by the end of 20254, will soon be ubiquitous. It is not illogical to assume that homebuyers and renters will soon expect connected devices to be included in homes as standard. Their presence has already been shown to have an immediate benefit to landlords, too: more than a quarter of young renters stated that they would be willing to pay higher rents if a property featured connected devices.5
Not only will the landlords and lettings agencies that become early adopters of IoT enjoy higher rents and – should they team it with a bespoke app – more satisfied tenants, but also lower running costs. We’ve referred to how repairs can be made in advance of likely failures, for example, but tools like smart thermostats can save landlords money by automatically adjusting temperatures. Keyless entry tools, too, can be leveraged to negate the need to replace locks when old tenants vacate properties, saving landlords money in the process.
Smart locks and keyless entry can also be used as a unique selling point concerning commercial properties in that they can enhance security. Further IoT devices, particularly smart cameras that can employ facial recognition software to restrict access to sensitive areas or even detect and report incidents of unauthorised access, are capable of creating even more secure environments.
For those buying or selling property, conveyancing laws and the processes they govern are a consistent source of frustration. A 2017 survey conducted by software developer InfoTrack revealed that 55% of home buyers were in some way unhappy with the conveyancing process.6
One particular issue many buyers and sellers raise is that it takes too long to exchange fees, contracts, etc. Blockchain – a digital ledger capable of verifying the exchange of documents, funds, and more with relative ease – could make this process significantly quicker. There will still be some need for solicitors to be involved in the process but blockchain will result in numerous steps being automated. With large portions of the buying and selling processes having been made more secure and faster by blockchain, firms that have employed this tech have seen the average time for completion fall from three months to three weeks.7 By reducing the amount of hours their solicitors will be required to spend on conveyancing matters, blockchain could also help legal firms develop more competitive pricing structures.