The way that people search for, and buy, properties has changed significantly over the last few years, as property portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla have become the first port of call for potential buyers.
In fact, Rightmove alone claims to receive over 130m visits every month. Add into that the recent rise of online estate agents, and it’s easy to see why traditional estate agents are having to work so hard to adapt to the changing consumer trends.
But, if you thought things were already moving fast, you had better buckle your seatbelts as things are about to get even more hectic.
Here are five predictions that could change everything again, if they come to fruition:
1) Virtual Reality will change the way people view properties
Virtual Reality, or VR for short, is one of the hottest topics of conversations in tech-savvy companies across the globe. The technology allows for an all-immersive, interactive experience of an environment, and that’s perfect for the property market.
As the technology develops, more and more estate agents will catch on to the trend and start producing VR tours of the properties they want to sell.
Although VR tours are unlikely to completely replace real, in-person viewings, potential buyers will increasingly make a VR experience their first viewing of property. This will reduce the number of physical viewings taking place and allow sales to proceed even more quickly.
Key Takeaway: VR property tours will become the ‘norm’ on listings, and potential buyers will use them to narrow down their searches before booking a first viewing.
2) More high street agents will move to fixed-fee pricing models
Love them or loathe them, one thing that cannot be denied is that online estate agents are appealing to sellers simply because of the low fees they charge.
Whether such low prices are sustainable or not is beside the point: sellers want to sell their homes for less and online agents have made that possible. There could be no going back.
In particular, sellers have become more aware of what I and others see as the unfairness of a ‘percentage of sale’ pricing model. It punishes those who have higher value properties while offering only a small incentive for the agent to achieve a higher sales price.
Key Takeaway: Expect to see more high street agents switching to a fixed-fee pricing model as they attempt to compete with their online competitors.
3) Voice search will change the way people search for properties
“Alexa, how much will voice search change the property market?”
I’ve just asked our Amazon Echo device this very question. She doesn’t seem to know the answer, so this prediction could be a little more uncertain!
However, it’s conceivable that the rise in popularity of voice-controlled assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home and the Apple HomePod could change the way people search for properties to view.
“Alexa, email me all the 3 bed detached properties within 2 miles of M1 1AE priced between £185k and £210k.”
This is one example of how voice search might be used, thus reducing the need to trawl through the property portals. But, it could become even more intelligent…
“Alexa, find me all the properties in central Manchester that have 3 double bedrooms, a dining kitchen, and a small but easy to maintain garden that are priced below £285k.”
It follows that booking viewings and making offers could also be possible, eventually, by using voice search.
Key Takeaway: If voice search does become popular for property hunters, estate agents will have to ensure their properties can be found with the most popular commands that people are using.
4) Professional viewing and sales progression services will soar
In recent years, as I see it, estate agents have almost stopped ‘selling’ properties. Many estate agents simply go through the motions when conducting viewings, rather than try to sell the benefits of the property. This was demonstrated perfectly in this video.
This is another reason why online agents have surged in popularity; people are happy to conduct their own viewings as they feel they can do a better job than an estate agent!
Sales progression is another area that the public feel could often be done better, with both high street and online agents coming in for criticism.
Estate agents who can up their game and offer more professional viewing services that actually try and sell properties and those who can employ a team of effective sales progression specialists will be the ones who prosper over the coming years.
Key Takeaway: This isn’t a battle of online vs high street. This is a war based on who can sell properties the best, at the lowest, fairest price for the homeowner. It’s always been this way, it just got more intense.
5) Home owners will increasingly turn to DIY selling
It’s becoming less important to use an estate agent to sell your property. Well, that’s my view anyway. With the advance of the internet and the social media age, it’s possible to find buyers and receive offers without ever involving an estate agent.
That’s not to say it’s easy, or even recommended, but online estate agents are making DIY property sales less daunting. Sure, the number of DIY home sellers has yet to take off, but the more people get used to conducting their own viewings and managing their own property listings, the more we are likely to see home owners going it alone.
This could be accelerated further if a viable alternative to Rightmove comes along that allows home owners to list properties without an estate agent. An eBay-style site for selling properties, for example, could well gain traction as people gain confidence in selling alone.
That’s not to say estate agents won’t still be in demand: it’s just that their services will be more heavily focused on viewings and sales progression, as mentioned in the previous prediction.
Key Takeaway: DIY property sales will finally begin to take off and estate agents will increasingly be used only to conduct valuations and progress sales. Estate agents will need to adapt their offering to adjust to this change.
It remains to see how accurate these predictions will be and how long it will be before they begin to seriously affect the industry.
However, one thing that is clear is that the estate agency game is rapidly changing.
Those who see this as an opportunity, rather than a threat, will be the ones who prosper. For too long, estate agents have suffered from inertia, but now there’s little option but to embrace the ever-changing demands of both buyers and sellers.
* Paul James’s opinions are his own. He runs a consumer-facing site, focused on providing the latest tips, news, and advice for the property market, and which promotes online agents. You can follow it on Twitter with the handle @Property_Road