With nine in 10 home buyers relying on the Internet as one of their primary research sources, and Real Estate-related searches on Google growing exponentially on mobile devices, the Real Estate tech market is scrambling to stay a step ahead of consumer demand for tech-driven home shopping.
“In today’s complex, rapidly changing, and digitally driven media environment, capturing a home shopper’s attention in order to build a Real Estate business and personal Realtor brand is tougher than ever,” the National Association of Realtors said in its “Digital House Hunt” report.
While some Real Estate professionals readily admit that the industry has experienced challenges in capitalizing on new technologies, tech companies are finding a stronger foothold in the home-buying process with increased funding — Google announced last month that it is investing $50 million in Auction.com, an online Real Estate marketplace — cheaper and better mobile devices, and more accessible (and customizable) programs for them.
Redfin Real Estate agent Stacy Holscher uses Skype and FaceTime to remotely connect clients with homes. She is currently working with a military service member based in Germany who is looking to buy a fixer-upper home in Virginia.
“The most complicated part of helping a homebuyer without ever meeting in person and only meeting via Skype or FaceTime with a five-hour time difference was earning my client’s trust,” she said. “It took us a few weeks of e-mailing back and forth to get to know one another and for me to understand his needs.”
Last week, Holscher virtually toured a home with the client using FaceTime on her iPad. Every Redfin agent now has an iPad with a data plan that they can use to share information with their clients while on tours, and to write offers while on the road – something that has become increasingly important in the last several years, said Redfin spokeswoman Rachel Musiker.
“What most excites me about being able to use technology in this way is that I can use it to help make my client’s life easier,” Holscher said. “If my client had to wait to buy a home until he was on the ground, he would have to find a temporary home to rent, and ship his belongings to a storage space. Being able to search for, offer and close on a home from abroad makes it possible for my client and his family to transition back to a new home in the U.S. easily and seamlessly.”
New web-based programs are allowing Real Estate agents at smaller firms with limited IT budgets to incorporate custom technologies into their business, said Floorplanner.com CEO Jeroen Bekkers. Floorplanner allows agents to customize an interactive 3D floorplan for listings and marketing purposes using only an iPhone. And this kind of technology is growing – Google’s Project Tango shipped out a limited number of its real-time 3D mapping device prototypes this spring.
When Floorplanner launched in 2007, only 2 percent of the homes in the company’s home market of the Netherlands had a floorplan included with the listing. Now one in three new home listings does. To date, the site has assisted with the creation of more than 12 million floor plans, and recently joined forces with Room Styler, which allows customers to create custom designs for their home online.
“With the Internet there are big changes in the Real Estate industry,” Bekkers said. “Consumers are getting better educated, and technology has improved a lot, making it easier for agents to make specialized information and better content. And agents are using it – they are all over these kinds of tools.”