How the real estate industry has responded to sweeping COVID-19 restrictions

The property industry has typically been a slow adopter when it comes to new technology and new ways of doing business but has been witness to major changes in a very short time amid the coronavirus crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing property businesses to innovate and do so at a pace never seen before. For these businesses, they are now in a situation whereby if they don’t innovate, they may not survive.

Since the Prime Minister announced the new round of business and event lockdowns on the evening of 24 March, the number of auctions scheduled over the next six weeks fell by more than 50%.

While this is truly a decline in auction listings, with many reverting to other methods of sale, many agents are embracing the use of virtual tools to sell homes. These tools will obviously take time to be fully adopted, plus they are being more widely introduced at a time when the overall economy is virtually shutting down. However, this is the sort of innovation that some customers have been crying out for.

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These days consumers can buy almost anything online, so why not property? Picture: realestate.com.au

Here are some of the ways the industry is adapting:

1. Auctions

After auctions were cancelled by the Federal government, agents were forced to adapt quickly to sell existing stock by either changing to private treaty sales or digital auctions.

Auctions had previously been predominately held on-site, with bidders having to be registered and participants needing to physically view the property in groups or privately by request. But all this is changing in the days of self-isolation.

A great example of this was in Melbourne where a first home buyer won her digital auction over the weekend for a one-bedroom Fairfield apartment, beating out six other registered parties.

EYS auctioneer Manny Zennelli gave participants plenty of time to bid and asked each of them to actively declare they were “out” before bringing down the hammer.

Agent John Bisignano, director of The Bisi Agent, said “the theatre (of an on-site auction) was gone. But I feel like the result would have been the same.”

virtual auction

EYS auctioneer Manny Zennelli takes bids for the Fairfield property on Zoom. Picture: Supplied/ News Corp

We could even see digital auctions becoming the new normal given there is absolutely no good reason why properties always need to be sold via an on-site auction. We know that not everyone can always attend and often, by and large, those looking to bid have done their research and have probably already visited the property – potentially on multiple occasions.

Online auctions are a better solution for auctioneers; they don’t have to race between auctions on a Saturday and can run them from a central office (or home).

Some agents and auctioneers may disagree because it may prove more difficult to create the same tension and momentum when people aren’t physically in attendance. But given time, I am sure they will learn how to do this via an online system

For a potential buyer, an online auction also makes sense. It means they can bid on properties without physically being there, and it will also help if there’s a number of properties they are interested in potentially purchasing on the same day – they can bid on whichever they want at the same time, if need be.

After all, consumers have the ability to purchase almost anything else that they need from the comfort of their home, so why not property?

2. Virtual property inspections

Realestate.com.au launched its virtual property inspections feature last week, which is another leap forward in terms of how agents present properties.

Having to attend an open home with dozens of other groups, and struggling to get time with the agent to answer questions you might have, is a real frustration for buyers.

As virtual inspections evolve, buyers and renters will be able to get an initial look at a property from the comfort of their own home .

The time is ripe for the real estate industry to evolve – and they’re rising to the challenge.

This should be beneficial for buyers and renters in deciding whether they are truly interested in a property and for agents, it should help to weed out those non-legitimate buyers or renters.

This kind of innovation is truly a potential win-win for the industry.

3. The signing of virtual contracts

Given that this is largely now how many businesses operate, we could see contracts being signed virtually so the agent doesn’t have to keep driving around and getting signatures.

There’s no reason why this can’t be done online now.

4. The industry is ripe for further innovation

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the type of innovation we might see coming from the industry.

When an unforeseen event like COVID-19 occurs, it is no doubt tough for the economy; and when the things return to normal they will be forever changed.

For the property sector, we shouldn’t look to how things were done in the past but look to the future and how the sector can be improved and better meet customer needs moving forward.