The last 18 months have been full of ups and downs, but the property market has coped remarkably well during the pandemic – in part thanks to its quick ability to adapt and evolve processes towards the new normal.
Being able to read the room and put the right actions in place to generate the right results all year round is crucial for agents, so it pays to have some foresight into what might happen in the future so you can plan accordingly.
Now, without claiming to be Mystic Meg, some of my predictions of recent years have proved weirdly prescient.
PropTech promotes remote, reliable work practices
The Covid-19 pandemic was never anticipated by anyone. However, it did push the need for agencies to welcome remote working practices that ensure viewings, paperwork and procedures could be carried out outside the office.
Back in 2016, I understood the necessity surrounding remote work and the opportunities that PropTech gives agents. I’ve been banging for the drum for a long time that we – whether in property or other industries – need to adapt by trusting a cloud-based solution to do the hard, boring work for us.
Platforms such as Openview successfully connect all the parties in transactions for sales or lettings. By using automation to minimise the amount of human interaction required for the tiresome, it allows companies to concentrate on other tasks that matter in terms of growing and improving a business.
These were my predictions in 2016: “In the next five years, Zoopla and Rightmove to venture fully into an online automated agency software provision. Agency software to react instantly to changes in client requirements through custom apps and big data collection. Rapid decline in agents on the high street, creating a 24/7 agent on-demand service requirement, but also leading to a dramatic decline in physical viewings, which the software must enable.”
“In 10 years, with the advent of new tools, a virtual viewing will no longer focus just on the house, it will allow the user to wander through the neighbourhood, with the ability to hear from selected individuals – neighbours, restauranteurs and school headteachers. Enabling the agent to truly, digitally, “take control” of the locality.”
“Year 20 we are expecting holograms and the whole transaction to be enacted on wearable tech.”
While we’re still some way off holograms and transactions being carried out on wearable tech, the predictions about virtual viewings have arrived much earlier than I or anyone else could have envisaged – supercharged by the pandemic. Although most agencies have gone back to in-person viewings now that things have calmed down with Covid, many are still combining this with the offer of virtual viewings – which in many cases are very high-tech and effectively allow people to wander through a neighbourhood as if they were really there.
Data is the new oil
Nearly two years ago, in a Property Natter feature in Estate Agent Today, I set out how data would become more important than ever over the coming years. Even since early 2020, this has proven to be the case, with the pandemic forcing many businesses – including agencies – to rethink how they use their databases in the most effective way.
Protecting data has also become more vital than ever before, thrown into a harsh light by the recent problems encountered by the Simplify group of companies, who appear to have been targeted by a ransomware attack that has now lasted for weeks.
Software that protects and automates and streamlines processes is no longer a nice to have, it’s an absolute necessity – and this really came into its own during the various lockdowns we had, when agents couldn’t speak to people in person or drum up interest in more traditional ways. They had to use their databases, they had to get clever with data, and they had to carry out the majority of their work online for a period of time.
Supply and demand discrepancy
In 2016, I warned that Brexit could have a damaging effect on the supply of homes. This is something that continues to impact the property industry.
The prediction was rooted in the fact Brexit would impact the construction industry – in particular, it would be hit with a shortage of skilled migrant labour if Britain quit the EU.
Here’s what I predicted: “With reducing migration as a de facto aim of the ‘out’ campaign, this is clearly bad for house building.”
“But perhaps more worrying is the effect of currency devaluation and hence inflation, that will lead to interest rate rises. A minimum three per cent rate increase, that looks necessary, will have an apocalyptic effect on homeowners.”
While Covid has also played a major part in soaring inflation and the likelihood of interest rate rising very soon, Brexit has undeniably been a key factor in this, too – and we don’t need to look far to see the ongoing issues the construction industry is having with a shortage of labour, which is much worse now than they were in 2016.
None of this is to say ‘I told you so’ or to paint myself as some kind of all-seeing psychic guru, but it’s just interesting to see how fast PropTech and property is moving – pushed forward a number of years by Covid-19 and the sudden need for the market to adapt, improve and evolve. This has pushed forward the industry’s digital revolution and there’s no going back now.
Now, where did I put my crystal ball for predictions for the rest of this decade?