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Property Natter: the future of software

The days are getting longer, the sun is starting to appear on a more regular basis, Easter is just around the corner and the clocks will be springing forward anytime soon (can’t think of the date off the top of my head, but that’s what Google is for!)

All these things signal the official end of winter, although the weather hasn’t quite got the memo yet. And to bring a little bit of extra joy into your hearts, it’s time for Part 2 of my software-related Property Natter.

If you missed the first part – and I can’t think why you would! – here’s a chance to reacquaint yourselves.

This week it’s time to look at the future of software. I have once again spoken to some experts of the industry to get their considered opinion on where they see software heading in the next few years and how agents can go about choosing the best software provider.

I have also added Jeremy Tapp, Director of Homeflow, into the mix this week. So, without further ado…

What is the best way for an agent to choose a software provider?

Peter Grant (VTUK):  Most agents focus on functionality and compare this to their current system. We liken this to getting divorced and then choosing a new partner just like the old one but maybe with a nicer look. We would always advise a full business analysis from the provider which allies itself to current issues, future plans and an in-depth vision of what the ultimate goal for the agency is. It is crucial to assess both the flexibility of the system to adapt to change and the willingness of the supplier to develop in line with new tech and industry changes such as legislation and disruptive threat. 

Freya Davies (Dezrez): No two estate agencies are the same; for some this used to mean taking on a functional product to start, upgrading after two years, before building a bespoke product that would brand you a success.

This mind-set is gradually changing. Key players in estate agency are bringing in high level personnel from other industries where newer technologies have already proved themselves. So for the first time, estate agency is being influenced by other industries and looking at new ways of working and different types of technology to facilitate this.

Shawn Brown (PayProp UK): Firstly, the agent should have a very clear idea which part of the business the software is for – for example, lettings – and narrow the field down accordingly. In my opinion, it is vitally important to get demonstrations of products from all potential providers, and not to rely on videos, websites and other materials to come to an informed decision.

The agency should book a demo with all the companies they wish to get to know, and do a simple comparative analysis afterwards to understand which product suits their business best.

Gary Whittaker (Rentman Software): Good preparatory research into the many choices available followed by in depth live demonstration where you can ask as many questions as you want. Seek recommendations and avoid pushy sales pitches.

Mark Goddard (The Property Software Group): We have noted two key areas which has led to agents selecting their property software provider. Agents want unified sales, lettings, property management and accounting software, all under one complete platform. The other key driver to selecting property software is moving to the cloud. No longer do agents want to be tied to their desks.

Rajeev Nayyar (Fixflo): Choosing a software provider is like choosing a key employee. Start with an objective matrix of the requirements for your business with input from the key stakeholders. Use this matrix to build a prioritised scorecard before speaking with suppliers so that you end up with the best system for your needs. 

Jeremy Tapp (Homeflow): If you believe the argument about customer needs demanding more and more two way communication with their agency, then you need to pay particular attention to how your systems enable that. You need to get clear on your needs, and the relative weighting that you put on price, reliability, usability, "traditional" functionality and the "new integration" requirements. You'll need to understand your requirements in each arena, and be clear in looking for them.

How do you see agents' software developing in 5, 10 and 20 years?

Peter Grant: In the next five years, Zoopla and Rightmove to venture fully in to 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 head teachers. 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. 

Freya Davies: Cloud is just the start. As estate agents are won over by less restrictive technology they’ll look towards software platforms that can connect and mould multiple systems around their business needs.

Shawn Brown: Property software will follow other global technology trends as they develop, from apps and mobile devices to social software and big data. That said, cloud-based, consumer-driven systems that let users see information in their preferred format on the device of their choice will remain a strong design area.  

The big question is whether software will make the industry faceless – will there be any need for agents in the future? In my opinion this will ultimately be a threat, but not for the next 10-plus years. The reason for this is the size and importance of property purchases – there would have to be a change in consumer buying habits, and the software in question should help by inspiring buyer confidence. However, when looking at the travel and legal industries, services across the board are increasingly moving online with less and less face-to-face service, so the property industry should keep pace with developments.

Gary Whittaker: The current model of software will evolve to reflect the gradual move to online estate agency and the demise of the high street agent. Estate agency software will become less about marketing, as that will be increasingly portal dominated, and more about coordinating specialist service providers.

Mark Goddard: There is a clear focus on Consumer Engagement being driven across not only the property industry, but western culture as a whole. As such, meeting the needs of the consumer becomes all important.

Consumers are increasingly utilising technology to meet their needs 24-7, and as such, the development of software will need to keep up.

Rajeev Nayyar: Agents’ software is simply a tool to help clients’ businesses to become more successful. That means that the real question is how will agency change over those time periods? 

In the short term, less than three years, I expect cloud based systems to become market standard as agents require increasing flexibility and data access when out of the office. In around five years, I expect 24/7 communication to become standard. Beyond that connectivity will become king with smart homes moving from the niche to the mainstream.

Jeremy Tapp: With the advent of pure online agents and larger agency groups responding by planning their own online responses, there is now suddenly much more emphasis on the integration between back office software and front office marketing channels like the web and email. Applicants and vendors are starting to demand more intelligence and joined up communication. They want to be able to book viewings, run searches that branch staff know about, see viewing feedback, register valuations online, even commence the house listing process

In sum: the core needs, which used to run deep in software, have rushed towards the surface, and are now all evolving in the arena of integration.

So that’s that. These two Q & A’s have helped to show us how closely software and estate agency are linked, the things agents should be looking for when it comes to choosing a software provider and whereabouts software is heading in the future. From holograms to 24/7 service, who knows for sure what the estate agency world will look like in 2036!?

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