Advice and Opinion

The future of real estate is Mobile Tech, says Lew Geffen Sotheby's International Realty CEO

A smart device view of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s newly revamped website.

The manner in which prospective property buyers approach the search for their dream home has changed radically over the past decade, largely spurred on by rapid advances in technology that have transformed a bulky desktop computer into something most people carry in their pockets.

That’s according to Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty CEO Jason Rohde, who says an examination of Google Analytics data shows that more than half of the company’s online property “leads” nowadays comes from mobile devices.

“Fifteen years ago a real estate company could show good results by just placing ads in newspapers, and a decade ago it was okay have a static website, but those days are long gone,” says Rohde.

“Technology is changing at a pace that most people battle to get their heads around, but what they do know is that having a smart phone, tablet or phablet gives them an instant portal to the world, no matter where they are.”

“They’re used to receiving information instantaneously, and in a format that is quick and user-friendly. If most travellers around the world research their holidays that way, why should their expectation of researching real estate be any different?”

Rohde says it’s this knowledge that has prompted Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in South Africa to do a top-to-bottom audit of its own online real estate and radically overhaul the end-user experience.

“Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty South Africa is the largest Sotheby’s Realty licensee outside of the US, and our technology has to reflect this. We have incorporated the latest technology that’s pertinent to our industry, including geo-tagging and one-touch navigation, to make the end-user experience simple and smart.”

“And ultimately that’s what you want; an online platform that works on every smart device, incorporating instant touch technology for the things that are important to the end-user, and discarding the clutter that can make your site a hot mess instead of the hottest real estate tool in the country,” says Rohde.

Scott Allnatt is the founder of Prop Data, a company that has for 16 years specialised in creating specialist online tools for the real estate industry.

Prop Data has entirely revamped Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty’s online real estate, not only making it work optimally on all smart devices and computers, but incorporating a set of features that makes the task of house-hunting infinitely easier.

The first step, says Allnatt, was writing code that automatically detects what sort of device the home-seeker is using, and then displaying the site and its features specifically for that make or type of device.

“This does away with all the hassle of people having to search for the mobi version of a website – if one exists at all – and optimises sites that are image heavy, like real estate sites, for speed and ease of use on smart devices.”

“We’re constantly looking at how we can produce a superior end-user experience, and smart devices have given us a lot more scope to get really creative with that,” says Allnatt.

One example is geo-location.

“If, for instance, you’re out driving on a Sunday and you pop onto the Sotheby’s site, there’s a one-touch button that’ll show you all of the houses for sale and on show in your immediate vicinity,” says Allnatt.

“And if you see something you like, just touching another button will instantly open Google Maps or whatever GPS software is loaded onto your phone, and give you directions from your current location to that specific property.”

“There’s another button that’ll dial the property agent’s number without you having to exit the website, and yet another that’ll automatically save that agent’s details into your contacts if you want to stay in touch.”

“It’s all one-touch technology and it turns the Sotheby’s Realty site into a smart tool for house-hunting on your smart device.”

He says that a user-friendly property search facility is also built into the header of every page and is specifically designed to enable users to define their property requirements and search through listings in a quick and easy way.

Allnatt says that with the proliferation of smart devices, businesses across all industries need to think about optimising their websites for mobile platforms.

“Google recently did an update of its mobile search ranking algorithms, and if your business site isn’t optimised for mobile it will automatically drop in the rankings for anyone Google searching on a smart device.”

“Considering how much online traffic now moves through phones and tablets, businesses need to consider capex spend on updating their websites for mobile. Not doing so could seriously hurt their bottom lines in the next couple of years.”

Lew Geffen, Chairman of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty, says investing in technology that will increase traffic to your front door is money well spent.

“You can’t forget about marketing for one second; it has to be integral to every aspect of your business thinking because there are so many brands out there just waiting to jump in and lure away your clients. A good marketing plan that incorporates a strong online component is essential if you want to future-proof your business, no matter how strong your brand may be today.”

”The internet is a double-edged sword. It’s brought the world to our doorsteps, but it’s also made every brand accessible to everybody. To survive going forward companies are going to have to find ways to stand out from the brand clutter, and staying ahead of the technology curve is one of the best weapons in our arsenal,” says Geffen.