“There’s a reason that about 90% of home buyers now begin their home searches online and why the vast majority of home owners still sell their homes through an estate agent, and that reason is convenience”, says Jan Davel, MD of the RealNet estate agency group.
“Clearly it’s much more convenient for prospective buyers to search online listings of homes for sale than it is to spend several weeks trailing around actual properties with various agents while the owners look over their shoulders – and the search process has become even easier with the optimization of agency websites and property portals such as Private Property and My Property for browsing via smartphone, as well as the ongoing introduction of better viewing ‘tools’ such as Virtual Tours”.
“Now consumers can view homes privately, wherever they are and whenever they have time – at home in the evenings, while travelling on the bus or even while standing in a queue – and select just a few that actually match their criteria and which they feel are worth viewing, or even request an immediate SMS alert when a new property matching their specific requirements is listed.”
On top of this, he says, the internet gives home buyers easy access to an ever-increasing amount of related information about the schools, shops and transport facilities in various areas as well as the property purchase process and home financing.
“So it is hardly surprising, really, that an estimated 90% of buyers now begin their search for a new home online – or that the real estate industry has seen a huge uptake of new technologies in recent years to address their preferences and to enable agents to engage with an audience that is increasingly online.”
However, says Davel, the situation is definitely not the same on the home seller side of the equation and the reason, once again, is the pursuit of convenience.
“It is true that most sellers have embraced technology in the sense that they expect their agents to be able immediately list their homes on a variety of high-traffic property portals and websites and thus expose them to a huge number of potential buyers within hours of being awarded a marketing mandate. But it is also true that they really don’t want to have to deal with those buyers themselves”.
“They much prefer to have someone else – that is, their estate agent – filter the responses to their home listings; ask prospective buyers the awkward questions about their finances and whether they are likely to get a bond; negotiate the price and terms of the sale and then administer the transaction right through to transfer.”
Even more than that, he says, sellers want personalized advice from someone with detailed knowledge of the current property listings and sales in their area when deciding how to price their property. “Also, the vast majority really don’t want to have to arrange and conduct viewings of their home themselves as they find this very time taking and awkward, not to mention the fact that it can be a security risk for certain sellers.
“What is more, most buyers do also prefer to view properties with an agent to whom they can express their observations and opinions without any risk of offending the seller, and certainly like to have an agent sit with them and explain the various clauses when they are signing an offer to purchase.”
In short, says Davel, for all the high-tech it has adopted in recent years, real estate remains a high-touch business in which both parties to any transaction generally prefer to deal face-to-face with a trained, experienced and empathetic agent who can guide them through the process.
“And that’s likely to be the major obstacle in the way of the spate of online companies currently identifying themselves as industry ‘disruptors’. We have seen this before with low-commission agencies even when they offer home sellers the prospect of fairly substantial savings. They just don’t take off to any great extent, quite simply because they require their sellers – and prospective buyers – to handle too many critical aspects of the transaction on their own.”