COVID-19 and the property market
How does physical distancing affect property transactions?5th May 2020
As we change the way we physically interact, all industries have to change the way they do business – and the real estate industry is no exception. Even before the lockdown, estate agents and prospective sellers were reluctant to let people into their houses – and prospective buyers were reluctant to enter houses where the absent owners may or may not be carriers of SARS-CoV-2. So, even once the lockdown is over, it’s clear we will have to make some serious changes in the way we market, buy and sell property.
Websites and social media
All reputable estate agents have websites that list and showcase all the properties on their books but, since the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, many are upping their online presence by adding in more and more interactive features, and aggressively using social media to increase their web traffic.
Learning from developers
Of course, developers who sell off-plan have, for decades, been marketing properties that people have not seen. At the top end of the tangible scale, they have used a single show house that prospective buyers can physically walk through, and they can then wander over the site to look at specific erfs. But savvy developers have also long used comprehensive plans and maps, artists’ renderings of houses, and even computer-generated video, to enable prospective residents to ‘put themselves in the picture’.
Virtual shows and tours
Virtual shows are not really new, but they are certainly coming into their own. These applications work a lot like Google Street View. From the safety and comfort of their own homes, prospective buyers can ‘walk’ through a virtual home using clickable arrows to change perspective, check out the view from the windows, and figure out the flow from one room to the next. As virtual reality headsets become more commonplace, these ‘tours’ can become so much more ‘real’.
Of course, like any technology, it is only as good as the data on which it is based, so it still requires at least one initial visit and some very intensive, comprehensive and well-produced photographs and footage.
Customer relations management (CRM) systems are an essential element of the real estate business model, as they enable agents to manage each campaign from either a buyer’s or seller’s perspective, by tracking leads for each campaign, uploading and cross-referencing all their leads, and booking and managing appointments. Agents can nurture cold and warm leads by programming the CRM to regularly send appropriate messages to their leads.
As COVID-19 pushes us out of our comfort zones, individuals and businesses are becoming more willing to try new ideas, new technologies, and even new ‘currencies’. It requires a bit of a leap of faith, but some estate agents have embraced blockchain technology, and are now accepting bitcoins as payment for high-value property sales. The technology has proven to be secure, efficient and transparent in real estate transactions, and it enables agents to avoid intermediaries like banks, some of whom may still require the actual physical signing of documents.
There is nothing new about e-signing, but it’s only very recently – in fact, only in response to COVID-19 – that estate agents have truly embraced it. Real estate is possibly the most tangible of all assets, and buyers, sellers and agents have not been keen to move away from those thick paper contracts that invariably get stained with coffee mug circles. Especially for first-time home buyers, there is something quite viscerally pleasurable in signing your name at the bottom of a fat contract – with a flourish. Perhaps even with a fountain pen. It’s a rite of passage, and agents know this. So it is with some reluctance, but a pragmatic acceptance, that they are moving towards full electronic transactions – pretty much the same reluctance that all parties show at no longer being able to conclude the transaction with a symbolic handshake, or even light up a cancer-causing cigar, or pop a bottle of bubbly, consume it there and then after signing, and then drive home. There was a time this was considered normal!