Across the world, technology is transforming industries. Whether it’s cars becoming more fuel-efficient or mobile phones turning into multimedia devices, you’d have to be the most ludicrous luddite to deny the advantages.
The property sector is no exception. In fact, it’s probably changed more in the last twenty years than anyone could have imagined. The idea that people could buy houses entirely online – from initial viewings to offers and conveyancing – would’ve seemed as fanciful as fairies back in the 1990s. But still, remarkably, that’s where we are.
Unfortunately, however, not every estate and letting agent knows about the enormous benefits that new technologies bring. They might be vaguely aware of new platforms and applications, but they don’t yet fully appreciate how they’re transforming the sector and helping property professionals to save time and money.
Consequently, in the interests of helping fellow property professionals out, we’ve compiled the following guide on how ‘Proptech’ (and yes, not everyone loves that tag) can help your agency grow. It covers everything from virtual viewings and utility management to the use of drones in property marketing. Yes, that’s right. Drones. It’s literally time for lift off, folks.
Your first port of call
We’ll begin by discussing property portals, which have revolutionised the way that homes are marketed in the new millennium. From the moment that Rightmove phoned ex-footballer Ian Wright back in 2000 and asked if he fancied being the face of a new advertising campaign, the online portals have become the starting point for the overwhelming majority of property searches. This has given agents’ an incredible new shop window.
Although the Say No To Rightmove campaign proves that the nation’s largest portal isn’t every agent’s cup of tea, nobody can doubt the success of the online model. It was no surprise, therefore, when Zoopla arrived in 2008. Purplebricks, which allowed home seekers to book viewings and make offers online, followed four years later. However, it’s the latest breed of property portals that could really add value to your agency in the coming years.
The most visible of these is Boomin, which finally launched earlier this year. This portal has a host of new features including a MatchMaker facility that hooks up buyers and sellers. There’s also a Property Playground feature that lets potential buyers browse items to furnish their home. Meanwhile, Homesearch provides an unprecedented amount of information to help buyers find a new pad. They can even register an interest in homes that aren’t officially on the market yet.
SearchSmartly, on the other hand, turns property searching on its head by asking buyers about their lifestyle, where they work, and whether they want to be close to schools and amenities before filtering available properties. There’s also OpenBrix, which has created the industry’s very first blockchain. This new breed of portal is an open community, which promises agents fairer fees and more transparency. Amen to that.
You can find more information about these game-changing portals here. All of them offer something different and could give your agency an advantage when it comes to shifting properties and earning those all-important commissions.
The virtual reality
The other huge recent development in property marketing has been the advent of virtual viewings. Once upon a time, this burgeoning technology wasn’t quite so burgeoning. It was all static images through fisheye lenses. However, spurred on by the coronavirus pandemic, virtual viewings have now come into their own. It seems that necessity really is the mother of invention, after all.
You’re missing out if your agency isn’t already riding shotgun on the virtual viewings bandwagon. Virtual tours are now truly immersive 360-degree experiences that enable viewers to explore a property as they wish. They can navigate which way to turn, choose where to linger, and zoom in on interesting features. What’s more, there’s absolutely no rush. Potential buyers or tenants can spend as long as they want and then return 24/7.
Virtual viewings have revolutionised property marketing because they’re effectively digital open houses. They save time, reduce wasted journeys, and many agents believe they’ve actually replaced traditional first viewings. In fact, if a customer books a physical viewing after doing a virtual tour, the chances are that they’re genuinely interested in the property. This cuts down the window shoppers and other time wasters, too.
Whilst it’s unlikely that virtual viewings will replace physical viewings completely, they’re a great example of the transformative benefits of Proptech. Furthermore, online property viewings are also embracing non-digital technologies like drones. It’s amazing how a sweeping bird’s-eye view of a property can stir emotions and provide some wow factor.
Drones carrying cameras provide perspective, accurately show the size of the garden, and reveal how a property sits in both its plot and the surrounding streetscape. They can therefore give your agency a competitive advantage. Remember to use a drone that’s licenced for commercial use by the Civil Aviation Authority, though. Fall foul of the law and your reputation could nosedive.
Management made manageable
However, Proptech hasn’t just revolutionised property marketing. No siree. One of the main benefits of technology is automation. And it’s automation that’s transforming an agent’s life by making processes simpler, faster, easier, and – this is the big one – a lot more productive and profitable, too.
Basically, emerging technologies do the jobs you hate. And top of the list for many letting agents is utility management. In fact, just the mere thought of chasing utility companies is enough to make some agents feel nauseous.
Digital utility management services are a godsend because they handle move ins, move outs, meter read submissions, change of occupancy notifications, and void queries for you. Simply login to your dashboard, enter the relevant details online, and the impressive software will automatically whiz over everything utility companies need to know.
The whole process is so simple that you’ll save hours of admin work per week. In fact, we’ve worked out that our own utility management platform reduces your admin by 90%. That’s a whopping 19 hours per month based on 250 moves per year. This enables your team to focus on what they do best: selling and letting homes. Nice.
Getting things moving
The great thing about our digital utility management service is that you can integrate it with our Home Setup Service, too. That’s right folks. It’s now possible to arrange the physical act of moving home, and everything that entails, in just a few clicks. This creates a seamless end-to-end journey for both home-mover and agent. We call this process the ‘digital journey’, which saves everybody involved time, money, and stress.
The digital journey is fantastic for home movers because everything is arranged online. Customers don’t have to fill in multiple forms, pop down the post office, make endless phone calls, or send frenzied emails. Everything’s done digitally via an intuitive dashboard which tells them exactly where they are in the process. There’s no chance of forgetting something important either; the platform is updated in real time and all remaining tasks are set out clearly so customers know what they have to do and when.
This dashboard is also a boon for agents. After all, it saves you chasing paperwork and liaising with third parties. It brings everyone involved in the home buying process together, including conveyancers and mortgage providers. Plus you can track the status of every move 24/7 from any location. Everyone is connected digitally so collaboration’s a cinch.
A new breed of agent?
New digital companies are using similar strategies to keep sellers informed whilst ensuring that deals cross the finish line. Nested, for example, enable their customers to monitor every aspect of their sale via a dashboard. Automation is therefore speeding up actual property transactions, too.
Nested’s customers benefit from an automated viewings calendar and automatically see buyer feedback (so they no longer have to chase their agent on the phone). Plus they can see offers roll in wherever they are. There’s also a ‘predicted sale technology’ facility, which tells sellers how likely they are to achieve their asking price. Clever, eh?
Settled, meanwhile, offer customers a ‘tap to buy’ expert who manages all their conveyancing online. Sellers can track progress from their easy-to-use dashboard, and everything from ID checks to mortgage details is digitised. Nested’s ‘chain management’ works similarly by helping conveyancers and other agents to collaborate and keep transactions moving.
The reason why Proptechs make life so much simpler is because they instantly transfer information that once took a long time to collect and collate. This means that sales are completed faster and rental void periods are reduced. Customers that benefit from these technologies therefore tend to be happier. The result? They wax lyrical about the service they’ve received. And wagging chins means more word of mouth referrals for you.
Digital tenant referencing is another area where agents can get one over their competitors. A good online platform will enable tenants to upload their key documents electronically via their mobile phone, which again saves multiple minutes, whilst monitoring the status of their application in real time. As such, everyone feels informed and in control throughout.
Open Banking is pioneering technology that’s speeding up processes by sharing information faster, too. It allows third parties to access customers’ bank details (with permission, of course) and then analyse their income and spending habits. This enables them to recommend suitable products and services that could save the customer a lot of lolly.
The advent of Open Banking has great potential for the property sector because it promotes transparency. Agents and financial institutions can ascertain whether an applicant can afford to buy or rent a property quickly. It also reduces fraud and uncovers any potential red flags much earlier in the home-moving journey. This saves heartbreak and frustration down the line.
Get up and grow
Although new technologies have been emerging all the time – we shouldn’t forget how cloud-based communication and project management tools have been making it easier for businesses of all shapes and sizes to collaborate – the technologies above are the ones that are making the biggest impact in the property sector at the moment. And now that you’re aware of the benefits of emerging Proptechs, you should be well positioned to take advantage yourself.
The bottom line is that emerging technologies are helping agents to market their properties and then saving everyone time, effort, and stress as deals progress towards finalisation. This boosts agencies’ productivity and crucially also leads to happier customers. It’s smiley faces all round.
However, it’s important not to let all these new applications overwhelm you. Therefore, we recommend introducing them slowly so your team becomes accustomed to each one before you jump headfirst into the next big thing. Don’t go thinking that Proptechs are a panacea, either. New technologies have incredible advantages but they can’t replace all of your existing processes. Rather, they’re best seen as an incredibly useful supplement.
Never forget that property will always be about people. Moving home is an emotional experience and your customers will always need sound advice and a metaphorical hand to hold throughout the journey. Only you and your team can provide this. It’s where estate and letting agents excel.
The future’s bright
Because we appreciate that old-fashioned values will still have a big role to play in the industry’s future, we’re very much advocates of the hybrid agency model. This fuses the best of modern Proptech with agents’ traditional strengths: excellent customer service with a personal touch.
Despite the emergence of remote working, for example, we still believe that agents’ physical offices will have an important role to play. After all, they still generate footfall and people still enjoy popping inside to pick the brains of a local property expert face to face. What’s more, offices give agents a chance to meet their customers and get to know them – a crucial step in finding them the perfect home.
So what will the future look like? We believe that time-consuming admin will increasingly be done online – that’s registrations, first viewings, utility management, mortgages, conveyancing, and home setups – but the industry’s human side will endure. In other words, there will always be a real person, rather than a bothersome bot, at the other end of a phone line to help when needed. This dedicated property expert can answer questions, reassure customers, and make sure they feel valued.
Therefore, whilst Proptech is revolutionising the sector, agents will be at their best when they combine new technologies with the skills they’ve honed over the years. This will lead to happy customers and also ensure that agents continue to feel job satisfaction. In other words, the future should be right up everyone’s street.