Are online auctions, digital signatures and virtual viewings the way forward?

Are online auctions, digital signatures and virtual viewings the way forward?

We are living in unprecedented times. While the property sector was moving, albeit slowly, towards digital transformation, the Covid-19 pandemic has prompted the UK property market to innovate far more quickly. During the past six months, thousands of estate agents have accelerated their plans to incorporate digital technology into their operations.

In a bid to stay in business during these uncertain times, forward-thinking estate agents have started to carry out valuations and viewings by video link to maintain buyer interest until the pandemic subsides. Digital walkthroughs allow prospective buyers and tenants to view the property in a 3D-virtual 360-degree view with the ability to walk from room to room.

Estate agents create these by placing multiple sensors in each room to measure their depth and height. They are then filmed using a special camera that creates a dolls-house view of the property from the outside and from room to room. The end-product can be viewed on a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer.

The UK Government is also attempting to help boost business by allowing homeowners to buy and sell properties using an entirely digital process. Land Registry has replaced the need to physically sign legal documents with electronic signatures to transfer ownership of properties, secure mortgages, create leases and complete property transactions.

There are other innovations too. Savills has introduced a new online property auction, allowing bidders to participate remotely while following the auction in real-time on a live stream. Since March, the online auctions have raised almost £91 million, with an 82% success rate. It’s proved a success with each property selling at an average £100,000 higher than at traditional auctions.

With full-scale adoption of digital technology still some way off, these innovations are helping a badly-hit property market to remain ticking over until the pandemic subsides. However, if their popularity and success continues, it’s likely that many of the changes will remain as we begin to emerge into the ‘new normal’. Once again, necessity has proved to be the mother of invention.

The eventual digital transformation of the UK property sector will change the way property is bought, sold, rented, designed, built and managed; from streamlining documentation processes to more efficient customer marketing. When this will be, no-one knows for sure. And in the meantime, there are likely to be a few significant changes. For a while, the client will call the shots.

Certainly, in the short-term, the property sector will become more client-centric as the balance of power shifts towards those buying or selling. As the market looks to reinvent itself, clients will be able to set the bar in terms of quality of service, which, in turn, will influence business thinking.

Traditional agents, funds, banks and brokers will have to embrace the technological advance - using digital tools to streamline and automate processes, remove long-held out-of-date values, improve efficiency, reduce costs and enhance decision-making.

At the same time as they embrace digital transformation, companies are likely to put more emphasis on data, becoming increasingly keen to explore the ways in which it can transform their operations and – importantly – improve the experience of their customers.

The past few months have forced everyone to reconsider their working practices. An accelerated shift to more homeworking is inevitable, and companies will need to put technology in place to enable seamless collaboration.

Until now, much of the property sector has resisted the latest wave of technological innovations. So while it’s not yet business as usual, there are signs that the property market is beginning to reinvent itself. It cannot afford to dip a reluctant toe. It must start planning and preparing now. Those companies that don’t will struggle to compete and face a very uncertain future.

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