2020 has been a year of turmoil and tragedy for many, with the covid-19 pandemic affecting countries across the world. The knock-on effect of the crisis has led to upset in the world economy. Many countries were forced to shut down businesses, schools and practically entire cities, with people working from home where possible. Such a massive change in daily life has not been seen in peacetime before, and the sudden and startling changes have meant much of industry and commerce has had to change the method of working.
The housing market took a blow in more than one way; first, mortgage lenders began withdrawing products in the light of financial uncertainty. Following this, home viewings came to a complete halt thanks to social distancing and the lockdown. Estate agents continued to work – many of them from home – and a by-product of this has been an increase in the use of technology in the business. How has technology helped in the property market during the crisis?
Remote Viewing and Online Searches
An immediate ban on home viewings put paid to a large number of potential sales. With estate agents and the public banned from mixing during lockdown viewings became an impossibility. Few buyers are happy to buy a home unseen. However, many estate agents had already begun to use video viewings for customers who were perhaps too far away to attend a viewing. With no other option estate agents began using this medium to give potential buyers a ‘walk through’ video showing of the property.
This could be carried out from a remote working post, at home for example, with a broadband connection, and became a way of keeping potential buyers interested. However, the general state of affairs is that while people are happy to look around a home from afar, they still want to see it. Nevertheless, the crisis has led to estate agents realising they have been somewhat behind in terms of social media and online marketing, and a recent survey showed that more than half are now looking to increase such as a direct result of having to work under the enforced lockdown conditions.
One notable area of interest that has come to light is the increase in people searching for homes to buy online. A proportion of the rise in this practice over the past few months will have been as a result of boredom: nothing to do so why not look at houses online? Yet a good number of people use property apps that help them search for homes of a certain type in a given area, and eyes have been opened at agents who had not considered using these as a sales medium. The hand-held mobile phone is by far the most-used item for searching online, and property apps have become very popular of late.
Bear in mind also that many people, having been forced to stay in their homes with the family rather than being out for most of the day, have realised they either need a bigger house or were not satisfied where they live. This will lead to increased demand when things return to normal. So, remote viewings and greater numbers of online searches, coupled with an understanding that social media and online marketing needs revising have played a part in keeping the housing market alive during the crisis. What other areas of technology have wielded an influence?
Zoom and Other Video Apps
With face to face meetings between client and agent unable to take place, the focus moved to video communication apps that enabled real-time one to one calls and also conference calling. Zoom, for example, rocketed in popularity during lockdown, with schools and businesses finding it the perfect medium for the moment. Estate agents also began using this sort of product to enable meetings to take place – with buyers, sellers and developers – and many have commented that they will continue to use such in the future.
In addition to video apps, the various messenger services came to the fore, with WhatsApp becoming a simple way of keeping in touch with clients. This is yet another example of the power of social media and mobile communications in the housing market, as well as in commerce and industry in general. With human contact reduced to almost zero at one point, having these mobile apps available has been a welcome bonus for estate agents, and their increased use is unlikely to fade once the crisis is under control.
The housing and property market has perhaps been slow on the uptake where technology is concerned, possibly because it deals in bricks and mortar. The cost of the product is also an influencing factor where the personal touch and the need to see the property up front are concerned: just as you would not buy a new car without seeing it and taking a test drive, so you would be reluctant to buy a house having only seen it on screen. This is not going to change anytime soon, but the use of new technology will increase now it has been seen to deliver.
What the Future Holds
In many ways the recovery of the housing market following covid-19 will rely upon technology in no small way. Consumers have found shopping online to be convenient and a time saver, and the same will apply when it comes to searching for a house. Many estate agents do need to take a look at their online marketing – especially in relation to social media where there is a captive market ready to target – and many are set to invest in up to the minute, integrated software packages designed specifically for the industry.
In conclusion, while the video viewing will never take the place of a physical viewing, it will be used far more widely as a first impression, and may come to reduce the number of unsuccessful viewings, thus saving time all-round. Mobile housing apps are also set to become more widely used, and estate agents should be investing in them for general use.