I would argue the property industry is fundamentally inefficient. Much of that inefficiency is now being handled by PropTech companies and traditional property players.
However, one area that remains particularly difficult to wrangle is property viewings. Finally, though, significant efforts are now being made to solve the issue.
It’s unfortunate that one of the most important roles of an agent also continues to be one of property’s most inefficient; the matching of clients to properties and the subsequent viewing.
This inefficiency is both for the agent as well as the client when it comes to viewings; an important point to remember.
These viewings, of course, start with having to build the number of properties on your books in the first place. Ultimately, the portals own the applicant space so the agent has to do all they can to gain valuations.
Automatic valuation widgets are one way for agents to capture potential market appraisals, and PropTech companies such as ValPal – owned by Angels Media, the publisher of Estate Agent Today - are using modern technology to increase firms’ marketing yield as well as drive leads.
Increasing your leads is all well and good, but what happens when they fall just outside of your area, as is happening more and more frequently? Data from Val Pal suggests that up to 10% of enquiries are ‘out of area’ each month - a staggering 3,000 potential valuations for agents.
For an agent to view these properties, either with a client or for valuation purposes, the cost and time efficiency of travel is remarkably poor.
With an increasing demand and sustained inefficiency, it’s little wonder that a number of PropTech solutions are starting to emerge. It could be argued that sitting at the top of that pile is Viewber, founded by Ed Mead, former executive director of Douglas and Gordon.
Viewber offer outsourced property viewings; the strapline on its website reads: ‘We open doors, you close deals’. The Viewber service is built solely on the concept of surveyors not being able to be physically present at viewings. The solution is to outsource that viewing to a ‘trusted’ third party.
For small agencies with few surveyors, services like Viewber are saving the day and greatly aiding them to take advantage of more and more leads. But outsourced physical viewing isn’t the only PropTech tool disrupting the sector...
360-degree virtual tour company, EyeSpy360, has recently announced the launch of EyeSpy Live. The catalyst of EyeSpy Live, as stated in the press release, is the fact that ‘estate agents currently spend around £650 million a year on property viewings’, hence ‘allowing prospective buyers and tenants to view properties remotely is becoming an ever more popular way to market property.’
The new offering goes beyond ‘simply taking a virtual tour around a property’ and ‘allows agents to join the client in a video chat, where both parties can talk to one another while taking the virtual tour. It’s exactly like a property viewing in person, but without actually having to leave the house or office.’
On top of that, EyeSpy Live allows for clients to be joined on their tour by partners or prospective housemates, and text can be integrated into the viewing in order to offer additional data and details about the property.
Perhaps most inventive of all, is the fact that Google Street View integration means that clients can also explore the local area and view the outside of the property.
Some part of the future of property viewing is, undoubtedly, VR based. I believe that the ability to view 15 properties in one afternoon from the comfort of your living room is the direction we are heading in. Those 15 can then be whittled down to two or three which the client wishes to view in person.
But for the next four or five years, a big barrier to this movement is the simple fact that most people won’t have VR headsets at home. So, until that changes, until the tech becomes as normalised as the smartphone, solutions like EyeSpy Live are going to be an important bridge between now and the future.
Inefficiency in property is, gradually, being eliminated. The progress we are seeing in viewing - possibly the residential sector’s most persistent problem - is truly exciting.
In particular, EyeSpy’s new product demonstrates how all-out, immediate disruption is not always the best path. The new service should be a guiding light to the rest of the industry and a lesson on how predicting the demands of the distant future can help us journey there more safely.
To paraphrase T.S Eliot; this is how inefficiency ends, not with disruption but with sustained and gradual innovation.