Should The Real Estate Industry Use COVID-19 As A Chance To Become More Digitized?

Over the years, certain industries have been more resistant to digitization than others, with it mostly depending on what their customers demanded. Real estate is among the industries that have been able to function largely offline for a long time. After all, the core elements of scouting and purchasing real estate are offline activities. A prospective buyer can visit an estate agent, browse their listings, pick out some options, arrange some viewings, and go from there.

Image credit: Wallpaper FlareImage credit: Wallpaper Flare

This remains true despite the challenges provided by the COVID-19 pandemic, admittedly, but things have inarguably changed. It’s already been necessary to make various concessions, and the question real estate agents must now ask themselves is how they should operate as they move ahead. Should they take this opportunity to embrace digitization, or simply rely on things eventually going back to normal? Let’s consider it.

Online processes are generally more convenient

There’s a truism that applies across all industries: once people have become accustomed to a certain level of convenience, it’s extremely difficult to sell them on doing things the harder way. This is very significant when it comes to the digitization of the trickier and/or more arduous parts of the property-buying process. The easier it gets to automate them, the less viable it will be for a given estate agent to maintain their old processes.

Take the process of mortgage pre approval, for instance. Through a smart online service like Breezeful, someone trying to get their mortgage sorted out can take a major step in the right direction without needing to deal with any red tape or shop around for the best deals. Then consider the relative-recent addition of virtual property showings from services like 360 Walk-Thru Property: once you’ve had the chance to tour a property without leaving your home, you’ll want to keep it as an option for all future searches.

Safety regulations will be relevant for a long time

Another reason to focus on digitization is that the safety measures put in place to combat COVID-19 aren’t going to simply disappear when vaccines start to be widely distributed. In fact, it’s very unlikely that they’ll be relaxed in the foreseeable future. We can expect workers (those who need to meet prospective customers in person, at least) to be following these measures — donning masks and maintaining social distance — for years to come.

Due to this, the concerns regarding meetups considered unnecessary will linger, and plenty of people will be markedly less eager to visit estate agencies or deal with physical paperwork. Accordingly, companies that want to remain competitive will need to confront this and move to safeguard their interests by implementing general digitization.

The value of traditional viewings will increase

Note that what we’ve looked at so far doesn’t somehow mean that traditional property viewings are going away. Far from it: in fact, the net result of this digital transformation will be an increase in the value of a traditional viewing (even as there’s a decrease in its commonality). Look at it this way: viewing a property in person has always been the default action, an inevitable step in the process of deciding how to proceed. Due to this, it was taken for granted.

Now that it’s becoming more challenging (and seemingly dangerous) to see properties in person, and companies are coming up with ways to showcase them digitally, physical viewings will likely serve more as tiebreakers. This holds particular relevance given the changes in what people are looking for (by now, they’re looking for places that are great for remote working, which is affecting the market). In short, this means that they won’t be eliminated entirely. They’ll simply move from everyday occurrences to occasional necessities.

It’s all about getting the balance right

Returning to the titular question, then, should the real estate industry take this chance to become more digitised? The answer is simple and clear: yes. But that process of digitisation doesn’t somehow mean that every estate agent must pack up its office, suspend all viewings, and move absolutely everything online.

Whether it’s the additional context provided through seeing a property in person, or the notable impact of being there will an estate agent who knows all about it and can provide you with further details upon request, there will always be value in the traditional elements of real estate. Only by balancing old and new methods will real estate companies be able to thrive.