The Covid-19 crisis has forced the UK property industry to rethink the way it operates.
With little warning, the pandemic disrupted the day-to-day operations of estate agencies across the country, forcing them to dramatically alter their working methods and approach.
Agencies have had to adapt and respond quickly to unprecedented operational challenges that make many traditional face-to-face methods of conducting business impractical in a post-lockdown world.
Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, early signs are that, coming out of lockdown, there is tremendous pent-up demand in the housing market.
MRI Software is contributing to an ongoing industry-wide insights report by blockchain company Coadjute on market activity and the figures show signs of recovery with sales viewings booked in the UK up by 111% in the week beginning May 18 from the previous week – and an increase of 851% from four weeks earlier.
While viewings booked are still 45% off the peak recorded before lockdown restrictions began, it suggests that demand for property transactions is poised to rebound.
We also saw a 67% week-on-week increase in the number of registrations for property sales the week of May 18 – which were up a total of 248% over four weeks. The figures indicate that, once conditions improve, agencies need to be prepared for a surge in viewings and transactions.
The trouble is Covid-19 has forced most agencies into a holding pattern or even significant cuts. This fact combined with the expected post-lockdown surge in demand is already placing considerable pressure on estate and letting agents. Even before the pandemic, property professionals were under the gun due to rising consumer expectations and tightening government regulations.
As the market begins to rebound, coming out of the worst of the Covid-19 crisis, agencies will undoubtedly encounter gaps in resources due to furlough or staff reductions. To deal with the mounting pressure, businesses will be looking improve efficiencies and reduce costs in all areas – aims that can be supported by technology.
Already we have seen a rise in virtual viewings and live video tours amidst the coronavirus pandemic. To navigate the dynamic set of new challenges, other digital tools such as automated responses, e-signatures, electronic payments and online portals will be essential in maintaining the safety, social distancing and the level of organisation necessary to ensure all health and safety requirements are met.
To continue to do business at a distance and maintain operational continuity, agencies must streamline processes and maximise efficiency by finding ways to save time on resource-intensive manual tasks. This will give staff the time needed to focus on what they do best: building customer trust and loyalty.
By employing dashboards, data analysis, and customer relationship management functionality, technology can help free agents from daily repetitive tasks and make the processes involved in tracking and managing viewings and enquiries more efficient.
For example, lead management solutions can help generate professional email responses to enquiries including photos, floorplans and attachments with just a couple of clicks.
By utilising technology, agents will have the opportunity to spend more time with customers and build stronger relationships.
Other digital innovations that help with automating processes include communication tools and messaging services that ensure agents are able to engage prospects and new residents at all times with the communication they prefer – whether text, email, or phone.
As agents deal with a rapidly evolving health crisis, they need tech to be an enabler of clear, consistent and more efficient communication with stakeholders.
In addition, employing online portals can also enable agencies to offer clients the ability to submit important documentation anytime anywhere. E-signature solutions ensure residents can remotely sign documents, allowing agents and customers to share and complete documents digitally without worrying about printing, scanning, or security – thus minimising direct social contact.
In today’s connected age, offering prospective buyers and residents a straightforward online experience helps agents to do business effectively while also enhancing the overall customer experience.
The pandemic has created an environment where technology is often the only way of being able to get things done, and its adoption will surely be accelerated to enable more and more customers to sign and submit documents – all from the comfort of their homes and devices of their choice.
As lockdown is phased out and society begins to recover from the pandemic, the market still has a long way to go to recover from its impact – not to mention the pressures it was already facing before the health crisis upended operations.
The new environment will force agents into re-evaluating their digital strategies and investment in technology that helps keep their businesses moving and gives them an edge over competitors.
Likewise, PropTech providers will need to have their fingers on the pulse of the industry – and be open to the innovation and collaboration required to support their agency clients.
There is no doubt that technology will play a key role in helping agencies meet evolving needs and demands and those who embrace a digital-first approach will be the ones who come out ahead.
*Trevor Youens is Director of Residential Solutions at MRI Software