In recent years, many estate agencies have seen their practices gradually migrate to digital platforms. Detailed property specifications, images and interactive floor plans are now easily accessible on the websites of numerous real estate companies - while contact forms and chatbots have been implemented to answer questions, book meetings and arrange viewings.
Some firms can now manage the sale or purchase of property from beginning to end with no face-to-face interaction required whatsoever.
Due to the current COVID-19 crisis, a large number of property-related companies have been required to furlough staff or make swift arrangements for home working. This has led to significant changes in the short term as the UK remains in “lockdown”.
So will these adjustments remain in place, or develop still further, as the government begins to lift restrictions? And will online agencies be better placed than others to move forward once this process begins?
In this article, the team at Property Solvers - experts in selling homes fast - will explain the potential impact of the post COVID-19 environment on online estate agencies.
Digital tools and social distancing
One of the challenges presented by the current outbreak is that of social distancing. In order to prevent the spread of the virus, it is vital that companies take steps to prevent their staff from working in too close a proximity to one another or to clients.
It is highly likely that the practice of social distancing will remain in place long after the UK’s lockdown is lifted, as failure to maintain it may lead to a second outbreak.
Shifting the majority of operations online can allow certain practices to continue without interruption or the risk of infection - so one might consider estate agencies that already make extensive use of web-based digital tools to be several steps ahead.
Businesses that use Cloud-based or SaaS (Software as a Service) resources may find matters easier still. If members of staff can connect to their company’s network from home, they may be able to hold video conferences with clients, respond to emails and edit databases without visiting the office at all.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, numerous estate agencies had already chosen to implement automated or AI-powered processes on their websites in order to streamline workflow and manage time more efficiently.
During and after the lockdown, those companies may end up reaping unexpected rewards as a result of this decision - due to the capabilities of automation to reduce the need for in-person interactions.
Online chatbots that are programmed to answer basic questions relating to company practice and processes can not only help to cut down on unnecessary emails and calls but may also serve to prevent non-vital face-to-face meetings.
The implementation of VR “tours” can also allow potential buyers to decide whether or not a certain property would suit their requirements before arranging a viewing. More interactive and revealing than a set of photographs, interactive 3D models may reduce risky, unnecessary visits.
Online estate agencies and market recovery
By moving operations online, estate agencies can continue many of their practices virtually uninterrupted. With the property market approaching a standstill, this approach may be the industry’s saving grace.
If as many agencies as possible have the capacity to operate remotely and with significant flexibility, there is the increased likelihood that they will be able to hit the ground running at short notice without having to risk sending employees back into physical offices.
This could prove a significant benefit for the UK property market and may be an instrumental factor in its post COVID-19 recovery.
The success of online agencies post COVID-19
Thanks to the exceptionally useful tools and approaches mentioned above, it’s likely that estate agencies that use a significant number of online resources are more likely to survive the difficult post-lockdown environment than those that do not.
Of course, it is worth noting that many UK workers have now been made redundant - or have struggled to find employment - due to the government mandated lockdown. A large number of businesses, too, will have been forced to close or to suspend their activities.
As a result, a significant short-term recession has been predicted - which is likely to negatively impact the property industry. With this in mind, it may be less than prudent to suggest that any company within the real-estate industry is likely to “thrive” post COVID-19.
However, as the UK government lifts its lockdown restrictions, it is very possible that agencies with significant online capabilities will be able to achieve more within a shorter timescale and with greater ease than those that do not.
Furthermore, out of caution, potential buyers may be more inclined to use a property company that does not require a great deal of in-person interaction than one that is heavily office-based.
For these reasons, it seems increasingly likely that online estate agencies and property companies will see some success following the current outbreak.