Buying Property in a Digital World

With a growing first-time buyer market and the average age of buyers in the mid-thirties, it’s clear that property purchasing in South Africa is being driven by the younger generation. The way that property is advertised and sold is evolving in line with the needs of this younger market.

Research from ooba, South Africa’s leading bond originator, has shown that the proportion of first time buyers in the property market has grown from 44.9% in April 2010 to 52.0% in April 2013. The average age of first-time buyers was 33 in April this year, and the average age of all ooba applicants was 37.

“If you think of the average 33-year-old in the property market today, they’ve probably had an email address for most of their adult lives, have used search engines over any other reference tool when they’re looking for information, have Facebook profiles and interact with friends and brands on Twitter,” says ooba COO Rhys Dyer. “Naturally, when considering buying a house, the internet is the first place they’ll look.”

This is borne out by the increase that ooba has recorded in the number of applications for bonds coming through their website, as well as the growth of online tools like the ooba bond affordability calculator, which saw 28% increase in pageviews over the last year compared to the prior year. ooba have recently upgraded their website in keeping with these increasing numbers and to cater to an increasingly technically savvy client base.

“Applications through our website have increased by 48.6% in the first quarter of 2013 compared to the previous quarter, which is significant growth, even if you take into account the fact that the overall property market has improved as well,” says Dyer. “Because of this, we’ve made sure that our website offers increased visibility and navigability of the services that our clients want to access, like our bond and affordability calculators – or even applying for their home loan online.”

Selling online and socially

Online property search portals, and real estate companies have both driven and responded to this trend, offering an increased number of services online and through social media, and ensuring that their websites are user-friendly and show all the latest stock.

“People want to be able to define the terms of their interactions with brands, products and services,” says Dyer. “Estate agents are ensuring that they have a strong online and social media presence, and that they can speak to their clients and customers the way that they want to be spoken to. ooba, for instance, allows clients to make their home loan application face to face, telephonically or online.”

While most agencies in South Africa have decent websites and have begun to offer expanded online offerings, some are leading with innovative new digital offerings, following global trends. For instance, ooba now offers clients a live chat option to chat online directly with a home finance expert during business hours.

“We’re starting to see agencies with active social media profiles, responding to queries and promoting properties on Twitter,” says Dyer. “A personal referral from a friend is still the most likely way for an estate agent to gain business, but now ‘personal’ can mean digital, and ‘friend’ can mean any of your Twitter followers who see your query.”

Very much video

Some real estate companies are also starting to upload YouTube videos of the properties that they have on their books, to give a true-to-life sense of the property to save agents and buyers time. “For the time being, these videos are accessed primarily through the agent’s site, but YouTube will increasingly become the first port of call for those looking for property,” says Dyer. “YouTube is already the world’s second most popular search engine.”

Touch screen application forms on iPads and further interaction on Twitter and Facebook are all also seeing growth.

Mobile movers

Another area of particular focus for the technically-proficient agent is mobility. In the Mobility 2011 research project by World Wide Worx, it was revealed that 39% of urban South Africans are now browsing the internet on their cell phones – a number likely to have increased significantly by now. This being the case, real estate companies now have to offer well-thought-out mobile versions of their web presences.

“Any link in the property market chain has to provide online and mobile services, says Dyer. “Everything needs to be adjusted for mobile viewing, to avoid customer frustration and to appeal to technically-savvy younger buyers.”

ooba has made the new version of its website responsive to mobile devices so that users can search for content, calculate their bond repayments or even apply for a home loan wherever they are and on whatever device they are comfortable.

This is the way that property sales and financing are headed, and as younger and more technically proficient people enter the market, these kinds of services will continue to grow and develop.

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