Technology and its disruptive impact on the real estate industry

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What is the transformative impact of technology for real estate brokers?

“Real estate agents will not be replaced by technology …. they will be replaced by agents with technology.”

– Peter Williams – CEO of Deloitte Digital

The principle here is that the real estate industry is not in imminent danger of being replaced by a single technology solution that completely disintermediates the process and makes the agent’s role obsolete, but rather that the transformations in the industry will be powered and enabled by technology. The winners will be those agents who embrace such technology rather than fight it.

About technology, the solution for agents is not to be found in the acquisition of hardware per se but in the adoption of solutions which will essentially be software solutions, applications and platforms.

At its core, the premise is that the real estate process can be segmented into five core components; analysing the impact of technology on each individual provides a richer insight into the likely long-term impact on the industry overall:

Prospecting – the task of business development, primarily a referral and profile business, requiring individual agents to market themselves and their services as unique and distinct brands in a largely undifferentiated marketplace of such services.

Listing appraisal – that task judged to be a primary service delivered by all agents and promoted as a value-add free or paid appraisal of the market value of a client’s property. A paid appraisal is much more reliable.

Marketing – creating and promoting a client’s property as a piece of marketing collateral, promoted across multiple platforms to attract the widest audience of prospective purchasers.

Facilitation – the herding and nurturing of those prospective buyers to stimulate interest and intent to make an offer to buy the property, overcoming objections and apathy to maintain interest by these prospective buyers.

Negotiation – the capability to close the deal to the satisfaction of both the buyer and the seller such that the seller’s expectation of price and conditions of sale can be met by the buyer’s acceptance of a price and necessary requirements.

Technology and its distruptive impact

These five steps are critical in understanding and appreciating where the future vulnerabilities lie for the real estate industry and where opportunities exist for those in the industry to embrace new technology-based solutions that will likely provide greater efficiency or potentially challenge current processes.

In providing a backgrounder for the outline of these technology advancements, one takes a step back to examine where the industry has come from on the technology path; where it is at this time here in Latin America, and how that compares to international trends; and then finally, to look forward to where the future might take the industry.

As a timeline, if we chose to step back to just 10 years ago. A short timeline to some extent, but in the context,  it represented a relatively significant period of change. In 2008, the real estate process had not changed much for a few decades. The tools of the trade were then mobile phones.

Agents were gatekeepers of all the data. Accessing that data at the time and place buyers wanted was simply impossible, as the nascent web offerings were limited with a large number of listings which simply amounted to descriptions with pitifully few poorly taken photos.

The advertising medium of choice at that time was newspapers and magazines. The print deadlines were the critical deadlines around which the industry pivoted and as a result, property buyers also had to wait for the weekend paper. Agents were reluctant to engage by email, preferring the phone and person-to-person meetings.

The next ten years witnessed some step-change technology introductions that have reinforced the web as the primary platform for real estate information and marketing.

2005 – the introduction of Google Maps was transformative, providing context to all properties in location terms and opening up access to addresses on almost all properties. As of today’s date, of the properties for sale,  92.5% of them are displayed on the websites with an address – that still leaves over 7.5% without an address. However, back in 2006, when this first analysis was done, only around 36% of properties listed had a displayed address

2007 – whilst images accompanying property listings did not miraculously start to appear this year, it was a turning point when agents recognised and responded to the desire by buyers to seek out more listings online and require more images. 

2009 – the emergence of social media was a new platform opportunity for agents with the ability to build online profiles and demonstrate domain expertise in their local market with insight and analysis of the property market at the hyper-local level. 

2010 – Video selling was becoming more common, although the early versions were somewhat meaningless video montages of the listing photos. The professionalism of videos has improved markedly over time, as has the adoption, with many listings now incorporating a variety of video styles.

2010 – probably more significant and essential has been the adoption of floor plans with listings. These really provide a clearer sense of context to complement the photos, just as maps did to the address 5 years before – whilst the launch of the first smartphone had occurred a few years earlier, the first app dedicated to real estate and showcasing the entire portfolio of property listings launched at the end of 2010.

2011 – the natural evolution of simple classified listings to premium and super premium listings occurred as agents recognised the value of enhanced profiles which drove more exposure and enquiry and naturally became a crucial part of their marketing platform.

2012 – the tablet became a core platform, and whilst there are various options,  the best experience (albeit compromised by limited listings) is still the reader of choice.

2015 – Facebook becomes a data king allowing real estate advertisers to target their audience to precise metrics.

2017 – Drone photography becomes the norm for medium to high-value property marketing.

2018 – Disruptive selling systems like Purple Bricks and Yopa began to enter the market, taking market share away from cookie-cutter companies like Remax.

2022 – After the property booms in most countries due to pandemic restrictions, we are seeing the bust with prices dropping and sale times increasing.

Latin America still lagging behind.
While all of the above provides a sense of a dynamic advancement of technology in the consumer real estate space, Latin America lags woefully behind most markets in terms of innovation in property marketing options and hard property information. (ie. recent sales)

The global market for property portals now spans the globe, with all major markets covered with competitive players offering substantial services, providing rich rewards for the big media owners, shareholders and investors. The top 5 global property portals are collectively valued at more than $20 billion and the global market probably accounts for over $100 billion in revenues.

Regarding platform options for viewing a property in this digital age, South American brokers can deliver IOS and Android apps but little else; overseas options now include wearables and every possible platform from Google Glass to Kindle.

Website Design for many innovative online global service offerings has come a long way in just the last 3 years; we are used to continuous scrolling, responsive design and full-width presentations – not in Latin America and not from the very few property portals available!  Old technology is still used here, which desperately needs reinvention.

A simple tech capability somewhat ubiquitous across most of the property portals around the world is the ability to simply draw your own search area – using a digital pen with your mouse, you describe the location of choice, selecting which streets to include and that creates a personal search area – far from being constrained by suburb boundaries.

And then, of course, we come to data. For many property buyers in many countries, access to comprehensive sales data by property with estimated valuations for every property, whether for sale or not, is the norm. This insight empowers buyers and enables people to have a clearer view of where they can afford to live, unbounded by the opinions of local agents. In Latin America, we have no such reliable data as it is all subjective appraisal based on asking prices.

Future gazing
Where are the key future developments in the digital transformation of real estate?

The more affluent, more immersive means buyers will review properties for sale from Matterport and their excellent full 360-degree viewer, allowing unlimited access to the whole property in the palm of your hand. We may go as far as to experience a totally immersive experience through Oculus virtual reality to allow us to sense walking through a property and interacting with it.

The potential for fully functional digital transactions could emerge with professionally managed online auctions, as is growing in the US with the company This company started by auctioning distressed inventory of repossessed houses and now facilitates a wide variety of real estate transactions across residential and commercial properties – and here’s the clincher, just as in fine art auctions, the buyer pays the commission.

The components of real estate could likely be unbundled, so clients choose from an ‘A la carte’ menu of options, each priced in clear dollar terms rather than a bundled offering for a commission on the selling price. Easy Property has just launched in the UK; based on this model.

Those are just some future trends, but there will be more. One inescapable truth of technology is that the new smart tech that you think will change your industry will be overtaken by the tech you have not even seen yet!

So for real estate, the best answer to where the changes will most likely occur is to examine each of the 5 steps of the overall process and the likely transformations enabled by technology.

The likely disintermediation of real estate: prospecting
The whole process of prospecting in the real estate industry is massively unproductive and inefficient.

Too many agents fighting over too few clients to secure a listing for a commission fee that has to support the inefficiencies in the process. Technology will deliver a solution. It is happening slowly around the world as a large number of start-up companies seek to offer services to better connect sellers and agents, motivated by the recognition of the value that agents ascribe to a new client, a client they don’t have to prospect for, but one that comes to them.

The core of finding and selecting an agent is all about data. What sellers want is to find an agent that has sold a property like theirs recently in the same area. An agent that achieves a fast sale at or above the market rate. An agent that is well-regarded and has the skills and experience to deliver that sale. All of these signals are provided through data points that exist based on their work experience. Most of the data is generated through property portals, where this service of matching clients with agents is most likely to emerge in the coming years.

What is clear is that the days of door-knocking and leaflet-dropping are on the way out.  Just as buyers turn to online services to find property for sale, so sellers will turn to digital services to find the right agent (or, more likely, shortlist prospective agents) to service their needs in selling their property.

When it comes to demonstrating the proof of this approach, there is no better model to look to than Redfin in the US. They are a real estate company with real estate agents. However, they are the most data-driven real estate company on the planet. You can review all their agents by metrics of the complex sales performance data and the soft data of customer reviews – objective evaluations based on professional reviews rather than curated testimonials. Redfin is smart. It employs intelligent tech-enabled, and tech-literate agents who demonstrate the ethos of “Real Estate Agents will not be replaced by technology …. they will be replaced by agents with technology”.

The likely disintermediation of real estate – Listing Appraisal
This segment of the process is the most vulnerable as, in many countries, sellers don’t rely on agents to provide appraisals for property valuations. Online services offer insight into all property sales in the area of interest, coupled with intelligent algorithms that deliver estimated valuations that get ever more accurate with self-learning feedback. This technology revolution is shrinking this component of the real estate process and reducing its value.

The likely disintermediation of real estate – Marketing
In many ways, property marketing has already been disintermediated as the agent relies on other parties to deliver the marketing components. The photography is outsourced, with professional photographers undertaking an ever more significant proportion of listings, as this has been proven to provide serious results. In this digital era, signage is still a critical component of marketing.

As for the core of marketing, the presence on property portals remains the most critical platform despite the claims of print media. GTSA – Marketing has 20 years of experience in this space, offering vendors and independent brokers an opportunity to market in a previously unavailable way.

The likely disintermediation of real estate – Facilitation and Negotiation
These final components of the process of real estate have always been, and in my view always will be, the true value proposition of the role of a real estate agent. The persistent and persuasive ability to bring interested parties together to maintain that interest, facilitate the initial offer’s contractual proposal and motivate the parties to negotiate a successful end result of an unconditional contract is at the heart of the real estate process. It is not a process that could be outsourced to a digital solution. It is, by its very essence, the fundamental reason so many private sellers have succeeded in gaining interest and inspections in their property only to see it fail to sell. It is just too hard to undertake the facilitation and negotiation of the real estate process without a real estate agent’s professional, detached and experienced capability.

That is why it is ever more accurate that the future of the real estate industry lies in the hands of the successful future breed of agents that embrace technology and allow its transformative capability to supplement their core skills and to drive greater efficiency, which will at the same time deliver more excellent value and appreciation from clients. That is the world of opportunity for that agent. For those that fight it and defend yesterday’s methods, their client base will dwindle, and they will be replaced by this new breed of agents – more innovative, savvier and tech-enabled.

Contact the Gateway to South America team to learn about the best investment opportunities in the region. The company is a benchmark for foreign investors wishing to invest in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, providing expert advice on property acquisition and investment tours.

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About Geoffrey W W McRae

With a highly distinguished career spanning more than three decades across five different countries, New Zealander Geoffrey McRae has established himself as a leading authority on South American real estate, agricultural, and commercial matters. As the founder of Gateway to South America – a real estate consulting group specialising in six South American countries – Geoffrey has developed a reputation for discretion, expertise, and experience that has seen him represent some of the most prestigious clients in the region. His deep knowledge and experience of South American markets have placed him at the forefront of the industry and given him the opportunity to guide and advise with confidence and surety. His long and successful career – which continues to evolve and expand daily – is a testament to his talent, tenacity, and ambition.

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