How COVID-19 Is Changing Real Estate Brokerage

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Rahul Phondge, CBO – Residential Services, ANAROCK Property Consultants

Even as lockdowns are gradually being lifted to aid economic recovery, both property sellers and buyers will remain wary of doing things the old way. Real estate broking firms across the globe now rely heavily on technology to continue doing business to the backdrop of a major pandemic with no clear end in sight.

Real estate is fundamentally a people business based on relationship-building – but as the proliferation of social media channels proves, there is more than one way for interactions to take place.

Use of Technology

In particular, customers’ ability to view properties from the comfort and safety of their homes has been a major breakthrough. For this, real estate brokers have begun using drones to provide unique perspectives of both residential and commercial properties. Drone cameras can capture still images, videos, multiple overhead map images, and even 360-degree panoramas – a lot more than the human eye can.

In India, ANAROCK has deployed its proprietary one-stop IDSS (Integrated Digital Sales Solution) platform, which virtually integrates all property deal operations from discovery to engagement and sales bookings. IDSS connects customers, developers and brokers and provides real-time inventory updates, 3D renders, virtual walk-throughs and product videos, video conferencing with the sales team, and all relevant documentation. Similar technologies are now being developed and used by brokerages in other countries.

Another key area that brokerages now focus on is streamlining of the purchase process. US-based tech start-ups such as DocuSign and the recent Zillow-acquired Dotloop were early innovators in bringing the property transaction process online by enabling e-signing of relevant documents. Now, start-ups such as Qualia are putting all transaction documents inside one transaction hub where lenders, agents, and homebuyers can interact and view all stages of the transaction.

Blockchain, a universal digital ledger, may soon emerge as another major post-coronavirus real estate innovations. Propy, an early leader in blockchain technology for real estate, uses the Ethereum blockchain as the base of a platform that acts as a single digital location for buyers, sellers, and their agents to transfer properties via smart contracts.

 Safety Measures

The rulebook of post-coronavirus real estate brokerage is still being written. However, it is certain that concerns about safety will continue even after lockdowns, and site visits can obviously not be dispensed with altogether. Some of the emerging new post-lockdown best practices for mutual safety of buyers and sellers include:

  • Site visits must involve adequate social distancing, use of protective gear and a strictly limited number of attendees
  • Transportation to and from sites must involve separate vehicles for agents and buyers, with the latter preferably using their own vehicles
  • Every aspect of the business not requiring in-person attendance must be digitized
  • All brokerage staffers as well as developer’s sales team members to be screened regularly
  • All office spaces and vehicles to be sanitized regularly

A Long Way to Go

Until the Government implements e-registration of properties across the country, the value chain of the real estate deal remains incomplete. 80% of the homebuying journey happens online these days, and buyers only do the rest offline because they have no other option. Another problem is that unorganized brokerages and developer sales teams may be tempted to do business the old way, putting everyone at risk.

While technology can be used in several ways, it remains limited to specialized agencies and developers. Approximately 90% of the Indian real estate industry – both in terms of developers and brokerages – is still unorganized, and such players tend to remain stuck in the non-digital age. A vast number of real estate brokerages will not be able to use specialized technology even if it is provided.

The coronavirus is a highly disruptive force in the economy, and customer sentiment will remain impacted over the mid-term. The degree of impact will ease over time, but in the meantime the focus needs to be on fostering relationships and maintaining an even keel operationally. Brokerages should use this time to upskill their teams and adopt whatever technology is available to them.

Technology will be a primary driving force in Indian real estate brokerage going forward. Failing to bring adequate technology into the business process will result in escalating setbacks in the future.