With coronavirus restrictions presenting an unprecedented challenge to its business model in recent months, the Australian real estate industry has embraced a number of digital tools – and it appears the technology is here to stay.
Virtual inspections and online auctions are two tools which went from being the exception to the rule when face-to-face options became impossible because of lockdowns.
Realestate.com.au launched it’s own digital inspection tool after anticipating bans on auctions and open-for-inspections due to COVID-19.
Now, a number of experts say there are several reasons why both will play a role in buying and selling property well into the future.
- There are “significant benefits” for all
Ray Ellis, chief executive of First National, said virtual inspections and live-streamed auctions worked well during COVID-19 shutdowns – a sentiment accepted by agents and buyers alike.
For buyers and tenants looking for a home to buy or rent, inspecting properties from home saved lots of leg work, he said.
“Both sides of the equation benefit, because buyers and tenants are able to better qualify the properties they think might be of interest, before physically inspecting, and agents know that they’re spending time only with clients who have a distinct interest in the property,” he said.
While the success of online auctions was “less clear cut”, they also proved successful. “Although some of our vendors can be somewhat anxious about using an online process they’re not familiar with, a majority of online auctions have sold under the hammer – a resounding endorsement of the process,” Ellis said.
David Scholes, founder of virtual auction platform SoldOnline – which helped agents make close to $20 million worth of sales in just 48 hours mid-shutdown – said the new way of going under the hammer had well and truly proved its worth.
“Initially, agents were sceptical of losing the human touch, of being able to read a room, but they have quickly realised that technology, like in every facet of our lives, actually has significant benefits, especially in reaching and breaking a reserve,” he said.
- Digital tools a boon for rural and regional areas
While some agents in metropolitan areas may return to the “old way”, those in more remote areas, having seen the power of online auctions, will stick with them, Ellis said.
“There will certainly be a continuation for some members of our network, particularly in regional areas, where the tyranny of distance affects the efficiency of operations.”
First National Bowyer and Livermore, which has offices in Oberon, Portland and Orange, just west of Sydney’s Blue Mountains, are an example, he said.
“For them, a majority of purchasers of lifestyle rural properties come from Sydney. Sometimes professional commitments make it impossible for interested parties to attend physical auctions and this is where online processes have really come to the fore, opening up more competition for properties.”
Scholes agreed. “Every regional and rural agent that has used our platform in recent months has been incredibly positive and we’ve had fantastic clearance rates for (those) properties.”
- Digital selling is the way of the future
Adam Rigby, chief executive of Upside Realty, said with the success of digital tools evident, it will be hard “to put them back in the bag”.
“While virtual open for inspections or auctions are unlikely to completely replace their in-person equivalents, their time in the spotlight will mean they are likely to stick around in some form. Simply being aware of their existence has helped both buyers and sellers see that these are extra options available to them.”
Scholes agreed. “Agents will remain the conduit between seller and buyer, but it has become obvious that buyers are confident shopping online and are already there for research; staying for the negotiation, sale and completing transactions is the next evolution.”