You’re getting ready to buy a house. You don’t call an estate agent, or start driving around neighbourhoods looking for “for sale” signs. More likely, you sit down at your computer and begin the house hunt online. And once you’ve done a couple of virtual tours and found a property you like, you simply book a viewing online, directly with the seller. It couldn’t be easier.

It’s all part of a technology-driven revolution, accelerated by Covid-19, which is turning the real estate industry on its head – and the big winner is the South African consumer.

Buyers are getting an easy experience that saves them time and shows them exactly the properties they want to see. Sellers are getting value for money, full control over their transaction and a range of benefits that traditional property transactions couldn’t dream of. And this is just the beginning, says John Murray, the chief technology officer at residential property platform Leadhome.

“Real estate has been one of the hardest industries to transform through technology, given the complexity of transactions and the low frequency with which they happen,” says Murray. “But by using technology across the entire buying and selling process, we’re changing the way we buy, sell, and interact with properties forever.”

Murray sees three main trends emerging as technology starts filtering into the local real estate industry.

A dramatically different buying experience

Buyers want to look for their homes and book their house tours online. The only time they actually want to see an agent is when they need to do paperwork. Driven by customer research and feedback, artificial intelligence platforms make property searching and buyer matching easier and more intuitive than ever.

Buyers can use a range of additional filters – like pet-friendly, fixer-upper, swimming pool – and the smart matching algorithms that they make ensure that they don’t miss out on properties that almost match their criteria that they would previously have missed. And thanks to the ability to take virtual tours, they don’t have to endure being shown a range of unsuitable houses by an agent with an eye on their commission rather than their client.

“Online bookings have become one of our most-loved features. Buyers book, cancel and reschedule online, avoiding the old pain of back-and-forth between buyer, seller and agent,” says Murray.

Transparency and control for sellers

After pricing their home right, the biggest need sellers have in any property transaction is for transparency, and to know exactly what they’re paying for upfront. By using technology to cut out the expensive intermediary layers in any transaction, modern agents can pass massive savings directly on to the customer.

Sellers also want to feel they are in control of the process. They want to know how many enquiries there have been about their property; how many serious leads were screened to view; and exactly what the feedback was afterwards. Now, they can track every step of the process on a customised online dashboard, including the notoriously time-consuming conveyancing process.

A new-generation estate agent

All this access to information has radically changed the role of the estate agent. In the traditional approach, agents play an intermediary role between buyers and sellers. Now, their main job is to counsel the seller, negotiate between buyer and seller, and use real-time data to understand the real value of properties at any given time to ensure sellers get the best possible price for their property.

“Traditional agents probably spend half their time making viewing bookings, which adds zero value to themselves or the customer. By automating a lot of their work and allowing clients to self-service, our agents can focus on what they’re good at – and it makes them far more efficient. Where “traditional” agents in South Africa sell an average of 0.6 properties per month, or around R1m worth of monthly sales, our agents sell an average of 3.5 properties per month, or around R5m per month,” says Murray. They also tend to sell properties quicker – 68 days, versus the current industry average of 99 days.

“We’re seeing a real opportunity to use technology to improve the entire property value chain in South Africa. Over the last four years we’ve set up a solid foundation, and we’re continuing to build on that, but this is just the beginning of a tech revolution,” says Murray.

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