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What does the future hold for buyers' online property searches?

I recently read an article in City A.M. titled: ‘Five ways we will be buying property in 2025’ – it makes for rather fun reading for those who like to hear how technology might change our market. 

For instance, how about using a drone to ‘view’ the local neighbourhood in order to ascertain what it’s like at all hours of the day? 

Or utilising virtual reality in order to ‘look around’ a new-build property before the foundations have even been put in place?

It’s not quite in the realms of Blade Runner but you can see it providing a much more interactive and technology-driven experience for all involved, especially when it comes to visualising new-builds. 

Show homes and show apartments might well be usurped by a more interactive three-dimensional experience, though I’m not sure whether the ‘haptic technology’ - where potential purchasers get to ‘feel and smell’ a property before it’s even been built – is quite the step forward the article suggests it to be.

What did really interest me, however, was the necessity to have much improved data when seeking to convert the interested individual into a purchase. 

How will we market our properties to buyers who want to know the minutiae before making a decision about whether a property, neighbourhood, catchment area or locale is going to be right for their needs? 

We’ve obviously seen much progress in terms of what online property searches can deliver in recent times, with it now much more important to be able to show where, for example, the local schools are, or how strong the transport links are. 

But in the future what will the buyer’s requirements be?

Clearly, the property itself is always going to be important but the old adage about ‘right property, wrong location’ has perhaps never been so important. 

This is why when we were putting together our new property portal we ensured our search engine didn’t just concentrate on the post code but also facilitates searching close to train stations and/or schools. 

As professionals we know that buyers are going to be narrowing their search down after finding the right location, so we need to understand what the underlying factors are behind this location choice.

This look at the future for property searching and purchasing is interesting because it suggests that increasingly we as agents – and the major portals we use – are going to need to broaden the data mix that is utilised and accessible to purchasers. 

In a sense, the search is going to need to become that much more personalised, meaning the filters we use will need to be broadened and strengthened.

So, as the City A.M. article suggests, we’ll need to be able to filter out all the properties without a south-facing garden if this is a requirement, and all-important school-based information will need to be more prominent and more detailed than ever before. 

As we know, more and more parents are choosing where to live on the quality of the schools they want their children to go to, but the story suggests that in the future this won’t simply mean looking for an Ofsted report filter, but will go into more depth about the specialities offered by the school, perhaps even full results, the extra-curricular activities, and so much more. 

Having a search engine which can tailor this highly specific information to each individual need would undoubtedly provide a competitive edge to those who are able to lead the way with this technology.

On top of this will be the use of virtual reality tours to allow purchasers to ‘view’ a property without leaving their laptop, as well as enabling purchasers to talk to the vendor before committing to a physical view – a communication element that is already growing in popularity across other markets. 

And of course, this will all need to be easily accessible and navigable across multiple devices but particularly the mobile phone, which is increasingly our window on the property world.

To me, this point is why the supposed growth of the ‘online agency’ market is a red herring – all agencies are already ‘online’, and will continue to be. 

The differentiating factor will be what additional, unique or new services an agency can offer – online or offline. 

So, while we all think about the here and now of the estate and letting agency industry, it’s important that we can keep one eye on the future and hopefully plan and prepare our businesses for its requirements. 

Technology does not stand still and we need to ensure we have the systems available to meet the growing demands of today (and tomorrow’s) purchasers. 

Those portals and search engines which can provide access to all the required data, and then some, look likely to win the property search race.

*Rob Clifford is CEO of CENTURY 21 UK, part of the SDL Group

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