June 6th, 2012

Technology sounds death knell for recalcitrant realtors

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A new age has dawned for the South African real estate industry on the back of massive technological advancement, to the point that 80 percent of sellers now start their property searches on the Internet.

That’s according to Richard Gray, CEO of Harcourts Real Estate (SA), who says today’s cutting-edge technology in the hands of NQF-qualified agents is sounding the death knell for recalcitrant operators.

“There’s no doubt that technology, along with the new compulsory NQF training, is changing the industry,” he avers. “A few years ago, an agent could get by with a car. Nowadays, the basic industry requirements are an NQF qualification, a laptop or iPad, and a smart phone.”

Commenting on Harcourts’ latest page viewing statistics from Google Analytics, Gray says today’s buyers invariably start their searches, not by visiting show houses but by typing in key search words such as “real estate” and “property” as well as their preferred suburbs. Only once they find a property that suits their requirements do they contact the listing agent to set up an appointment to view.

According to Anton Jansen van Vuuren, Head of Technology for Harcourts, the group receives an average of 400 web enquiries per day. Depending on demand for an area, this figure can rocket up to 1 000 or more, at times. Current record holder is Harcourts Maritz in Centurion, which received 230 000 website page views over a four month period earlier this year.

This, he says, is evidence that today’s property seekers are increasingly technology-savvy, hence the importance of providing them with the widest possible range of listings on comprehensive, easy-to-navigate websites.

On top of this, he adds, consumers are less and less tolerant of the poor communication that has long dogged the industry. “Accordingly, leading companies are making use of tools such as automated contact management systems to ensure good communication between clients and agents. And when it comes to price counseling, there’s no excuse for thumb sucking: top products such as Lightstone enable agents to ascertain market-related selling prices and produce high quality CMA’s (comparative market analyses).”

Consumers also want to see the bigger picture, he continues. “Buyers know about and expect value-adds such as virtual tours and QR (Quick Response) Codes, which enable them to access listings and websites instantly via their smart phones. And once on the site, they expect high resolution photos that can be enlarged without loss of quality.”

Sellers today also have heightened expectations, he says. “They want their properties exposed to the widest possible buying pool, not only on the listing agency’s website but on all the other important property portals in South Africa and overseas.”

“In short, it’s all about adding value,” maintains Jansen van Vuuren, who anticipates that the “next big thing” to hit the real estate industry will be a faster form of ADSL. This, he says, will allow for faster uploading of data and downloading of website pages. He’s also predicting increased use of QR Codes, along with the advancement of websites, which will in part be defined by better quality videos and photos, to complement the search and viewing experiences of potential buyers.

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