HOUSE HUNTING FOR THE FUTURE
A recent study by UK estate agents Savills discovered that homeowners move on average 1.8 times in their lifetime. Prior to 2008, the average was 3.6 times after buying a first property. With the uncertainty of Brexit and the sharp rise in house prices, it’s not hard to see why there has been a boom in people choosing to extend their existing homes to avoid the stress of moving.
Thankfully I’m happily settled where I am. Packing up our family of four for a week’s holiday in the caravan is stressful enough. Add to that the prospect of disbanding my empire of Philips Hue lightbulbs and bubble-wrapping dozens of Sonos speakers – it’s enough to make me break out in a cold sweat at the best of times!
For some, moving house can be very exciting but it’s more commonly known as the third most stressful life event, behind divorce and bereavement.
And moving house is only part of the story. You’re likely to view between 5 and 7 houses in person before you find “the one”, not to mention the hundreds of hours spent mindlessly scrolling through online property listings when you could be enjoying time with your family, reading a good book or bingeing on the latest must-watch Netflix true crime documentary.
But I’m not here to bemoan the country’s housing market. I’m interested in the rise of online estate agents – a thoroughly modern approach to house hunting that could make things that little bit easier for the next generation of buyers. In early 2019, online estate agents held 7.3% of the market share. Whilst not a huge figure, it looks certain to grow – especially as they usher in the next exciting phase of buying and selling: Augmented Reality.
How can technology help?
Waiting on the street for flustered agents to arrive or spending your precious pre-work hours dusting and hoovering before viewings may soon be a thing of the past. Augmented Reality and 360 technology are already helping buyers, sellers and estate agents save precious time by building virtual tours of homes.
Such technology is particularly helpful in understanding dimensions and taking the guesswork out of furniture fitting. Interactive 360 imagery enables you to scan the room as a whole, rather than trying to determine where that troublesome corner sofa could sit from a still photograph. It also enables clear communication, with key selling points available at the click of a button as you tour the room.
Zoopla, Rightmove, and OnTheMarket currently use this functionality throughout their property listings. What’s more, Swedish staple IKEA offers a 3D wardrobe builder on their website, showcasing their space-saving storage solutions in situ.
What more can technology offer?
KeyAGENT is an example of a company that allows you to take virtual tours of homes via an email. The link is open for anyone to see or post on social media to help target potential buyers. They also offer a bespoke audio tour consisting of a montage of house photos with a professional voiceover. They claim their 360 technology has led to 95% more client calls and 49% more qualified leads.
Such technology requires a small investment – KeyAGENT’s offering, along with many others, is powered by Matterport who provide beginner plans starting at £7.99 a month. All you need is the camera, making it an accessible option for the average home buyer.
And it’s not for indoor use only.
VR marketplace GAROU is a community-based platform that allows users to share their own VR content. On their website, you can currently explore some of the key sights in New York City, including Central Park and Times Square, as well as take a tour of the latest Tesla model.
Apple’s Indoor Maps - while currently limited to large malls and airports in the US - is a great example of just how much scope there is for developing this technology. Using co-ordinates from floor plans, Apple has built location readings that are purportedly accurate to within 3 to 5 metres. With a multi-storey building, the technology gives a detailed floor plan that changes levels as you scroll.
VR also has great potential to stand out in digital marketing campaigns. Typically, video brings higher engagement rates than still images on social media so the reach of mini-tours of holiday homes and hotels could be much stronger.
Once a readily-available and reliable foundation has been built for imaging technology, the next logical step would be for virtual agents to accompany tours – an assistant on hand to answer questions instantly about the age of the boiler, the noisy neighbours, the local area and so on.
The ability to tailor such assistants to individuals is an even more exciting prospect – a young, professional couple looking for a studio flat in Shoreditch will surely have different requirements to Derek and Doreen, the retired pensioners from East Lothian looking to downsize to a bungalow. Seemingly small factors such as tone of voice, accent, and pacing can make a huge difference. After all, you’re more likely to want to part with hundreds of thousands of your hard-earned pounds to someone who genuinely knows the local area – and the property - inside and out, even if they are a robot!
For now, however, we’ll have to “make do” with talking to real human beings to buy and sell houses. And whilst I have no plans to move home in the next decade, I’m intrigued to find out how radically the real estate industry transforms in that time. Who knows, “collecting the keys” may be a thing of the past by 2029 – we’ll be queuing up for door-opening microchip implants instead!