Technology has advanced at an extraordinary pace over the last ten years, and estate agents are realising that it can do more than just speed up processes. The right technology offers significant opportunities to streamline and adapt to market changes. In fact, the need to adopt the right technology may be critical for survival, particularly with the emergence of new online offerings that are eating into high street operators’ margins.
Some forward-thinking estate agents recognise that the technology at their disposal offers a competitive edge, as well as a key to boosting customer satisfaction. Adopting and embracing technology is key to taking estate agency to the levels of digital transformation that we are seeing across other sectors. This means going beyond simply ensuring that online sites are optimised for mobile viewing. Technology must be treated with the same gravitas as the building of a new flagship bricks-and-mortar store, and comes with the added benefit of alleviating consumer bugbears, such as up-to-date and accurate property information, and the prompt response to customer queries.
The implementation of technology has historically been met with resistance from traditional estate agents however, as they believe it is disruptive rather than innovative, and offers much more benefit to the buyer than the agent. Agents such as Countrywide, however, have bucked this trend and trialled a hybrid technology model that allows agents to upgrade from online to full service. This hybrid approach offers buyers a tremendous amount of flexibility, allowing them to interact seamlessly with their agent online due to a busy work schedule, or walk into their local branch for a more personal meeting.
It is the role of the estate agent to guide consumers through the (sometimes complex) house buying process with the support of technology, and the right software can offer a whole host of buyer-oriented benefits. The traditional property evaluation process for example is time consuming, but is much quicker with the aid of a tablet device. Enabling agents to connect to software built into the cloud, tablet devices allow agents to instantly fill in property information on-site, and generate an instant digital brochure for buyers; quick, easy and paper free.
Social media also offers significant benefits. For example, a simple algorithm can recognise and register a tweet from someone house hunting in Reading. Without lifting a finger, the software automatically replies with ‘How can we help?’ creating a potential lead, and offering great instant service.
This high level of service can also be achieved by linking systems to the right applications, all without the need for any additional resource. This could allow, for example, the expansion of information in text reminders to include Google Map links, setting up a personal account with a wish list on an estate agent’s website, the ability to book viewings online, and regular emails from estate agents with recommendations based on buyer criteria. By logging clients’ details and establishing customised workflows, this allows agents to offer a much more personalised approach, and the ability to cultivate long-term relationships to help drive repeat business.
As consumers continue to demand more from their estate agents, research has revealed a strong appetite for virtual tours (54 per cent), photos of every room (76 per cent), similar property valuations (51 per cent), quotes on property running costs (49 per cent), and sales history in the area (46 per cent). Consumers also want an agent that offers support throughout the entire house-buying process. This ranges from conveyancing, mortgage, insurance and removals etc., opening up potential new revenue streams to estate agents.
As the demand for technology has increased, consumers are starting to see it as a vital element of their overall property search. The benefits to the consumer can include exploring the local area on Google Street view, reading online reviews of the local area, researching internet speed and checking Google Maps to plan commute times. As a result, consumers are increasingly expecting agents to offer this information as standard. Good software extracts this essential information easily, pulling it into a single, easy-to-access view that can be delivered to the buyer seamlessly.
While new technologies support the consumer facing elements of the business, they also help solve problems around business efficiency for estate agents. For example, the growth and acquisition of other estate agents is big business, but it’s also complex, and cross-organisational reporting can be chaotic without a single view of the performance of different branches. There is a far greater need for data sharing and analytics to understand how the business, and certain agents, are performing.
Research has also shown that consumers prefer agents who deliver a full, end-to-end service. By deploying the right software, agents can easily partner with complementary service providers to deliver the full user experience. For instance, this could involve integration with a removals company as an additional extra once the sale is complete.
The right software also enables agents to be more targeted and efficient with their marketing in the face of increased competition. For instance, analytics helps identify properties that are not performing well in online searches, in turn prompting agents to add more images or video to make the listing more compelling, or re-targeting the property through email or direct mail campaigns.
The main technology that underpins the future of estate agency is the API (application programming interface), which ties into a single, cloud-based platform to give agents a full view of their business. Newer cloud-based systems allow agents to react faster and deliver on mobile working, in comparison to slow and cumbersome on premise cables.
The ability to generate digital brochures on a tablet device is a prime example of this in practice. This is achieved through an open architecture, accessible via a full-spectrum API, coupled with an extremely powerful, outward looking workflow system. Residing on the central premise of security and agility, future-proofed platforms sit at the heart of the business and connect existing and new systems. This enables estate agents to share data and have access to a single version of analytical truth. Perhaps the most important point about these platforms is their responsiveness to business change whilst facilitating fluid services across both human and digital touch points.
Reaching consumers, and even performing real-time day to day tasks, via mobile devices is also becoming increasingly important to estate agents. With the number of data channels increasing, information flows can be slow, and development and maintenance costs rocket. APIs address this by securing data in a uniform way so developers can layer application builds on top to provide specifics for each audience.
APIs are crucial to the future of estate agency, and offer significant revenue streams from interconnecting sectors and services. And, because APIs act as the glue between systems and suppliers, future agents will have the opportunity to deliver a one stop shop of home related needs if they pursue relationships with a complimentary set of partners.
The adoption of technology puts estate agents in a unique position to offer clients the best of both worlds. It gives them the opportunity to meet consumer expectations, while simultaneously managing their own businesses better. Estate agents must embrace technology in order to remain connected and relevant in an increasingly competitive market. Powered by APIs, this gives them the freedom to hit all pain points at once, and use technology to enable a fully scalable and flexible business model.
Matthew Dendle is Head of Architecture at Dezrez, where he oversees the technical aspects of the core platforms, including Rezi.