So-called ‘smart’ technology is everywhere these days including in our phones, TVs, laptops, cars and even watches.
But while estate agents may be tooled up in their personal lives, the march of tech into the property industry has been a lot slower, with only the lettings industry and its younger tenant demographic adopting it in a meaningful way.
In the sales market there has been plenty of chatter about proptech particularly during the past 12 months, and hours of cud-chewing over the exciting future just over the horizon.
But progress has been relatively glacial. After all, the way homes are marketed, sold, progressed and completed is much the same as it was ten or even fifteen years ago.
There is one sector on the brink of significant change, though. Or ‘disruption’, as investors like to say.
And that’s virtual property tours or 3D tours. They’ve been around for a long time but portal enthusiasm about them has been lukewarm until now and, consequently, their adoption and use by house hunters and vendors has been restricted to prime properties. Their owners and agents are happy to shoulder the £200-£400 extra that high-quality 3D tours can cost to produce.
For example, of the 70,000 floorplans a month created by market leader Metropix, only approximately 20 per cent of those are converted into 3D virtual property tours, it recently admitted, and that only half of estate agents had tried them.
It’s limited appeal has been compounded by the rise of US firm Matterport. The company’s extraordinary high-end cameras and impressive technology bring floor plans to life in a spectacular way, but the cost of the kit is eye watering, and very few agents use it relying instead on Matterport service suppliers to do their 3D work for them.
Matterport has also got £65 million behind it and seven years of development in the world’s largest property market, the US.
But two developments are likely to blow the world of 3D or virtual property tours wide open next year. The first is that last week
Rightmove quietly rolled out an update to its platform that will give these virtual property tours a huge boost. No announcement, no razzmatazz and not even a press release.
Just a quiet service updated, but the boost shouldn’t be underestimated; during the first half of this year the portal received 830 million visits to its platform, while a staggering 70% of the time people spend on Rightmove is on a smartphone, its own data shows.
The phrase game changer is often used, incorrectly, by innovators supplying services to the industry. But by any measure Rightmove’s upgrade is a real one.
A second accelerator is the mobile phone. Their increasing sophistication is driving some interesting 3D developments. This includes EyeSpy, which has created a smartphone ‘app’ that claims to offer the same functionality as Matterport all from a Samsung or Apple screen.
The driving force behind the service, which DealMakerz was shown an exclusive run-through of last week when the ‘live viewings’ part of it was launched, is Andrew Nicholls.
He has high hopes for his service, which has been around for some time but which has recently begun offering ‘live viewings’.
“We wanted a way to get agents in and out of a property very quickly, and then when they get back to the office enable them to create a near-as accurate floorplan as possible, photos, a virtual tour and do virtual viewings as well,” he says.
The EyeSpy system also enables agents to process approximately six properties a day compared to two properties with more ‘equipment-heavy’ systems.
“We have always wanted to create a service that can be used affordably and quickly in volume, and not be just for the top five or ten percent of properties,” he says.
“We’re trying get someone who’s selling a £50,000 property in Bradford as much as someone who’s selling a £25 million house in Kensington.”
The game-changing part of the service is that house hunters will be able to conduct virtual viewings around a property with the agent digitally ‘on site’ with them.
This ‘live viewings’ service is not intended to replace traditional tours, but filter out tyre kickers or help agents ‘pre-qualify’ buyers, to use the jargon.
EyeSpy’s tech works but it’s got a mountain to climb; the property industry has so far proved reluctant to abandon its traditional vendor metrics, although one of London’s best-known and largest estate agents is trialling the system at the moment.
The challenge is that vendors like people coming to view their homes, even if they are tyre kickers.
“Agents need to change their KPIs; historically, a lot of these older business models are all about the number of viewings keeping the vendor happy, but what people need to understand is that [digital viewings] are also ‘a viewing’,” says Nicholls.
EyeSpy is not a homespun tech firm, though. The company has clients in 70 countries as well as in the UK, and Nicholls spoke from Dubai when DealMakerz interviewed him, busy tying up deals.
“No one in our immediate tech and market sector is doing this – we are definitely ahead of the curve,” he says. “ We continue to tweak it but it’s ready to be used now.”
Of the 70,000 floorplans a month created by market leader Metropix, only approximately 20 per cent of those are converted into 3D virtual tours, it recently admitted, and that only half of estate agents had tried them.
3D tours aren’t all about marketing properties. Some agents have embraced the technology to extend the reach of their business beyond the industry, including Cornish firm PDQ.
Its MD Chris Wood has invested in a Matterport system which, although it offers virtual tours using the system to its customers and other agents, has also discovered an unusual income stream to help pay for the kit.
“It started off as something to make a few quid out of and help pay for the Rightmove bill,” he says.
“But it developed very quickly and recently we made more profit from the 3D business in three months than we did from PDQ over the last couple of years.”
This has included doing 3D tours for celebrity chef Marco Pierre White’s restaurant in Bristol and a fleet of luxury yachts in Crete.
As sales agents face a difficult 2019 in many parts of the UK as the Brexit fiasco rumbles on, and lettings agents endure the looming fees ban, maybe 3D technology has more of a role in property than disrupting the viewings business model