How innovation is reshaping the future of the real estate sector

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of the real estate sector, changing the way we buy, sell, and interact with our properties.
  • The pandemic’s impact on real estate
  • Challenging times call for remarkable innovations
  • Visions and predictions for the real estate sector
  • Closing thoughts

It’s often said that necessity is the mother of invention and this well-known saying has been proven true once again during the coronavirus pandemic, which forced even change-averse sectors like real estate to embrace innovation in order to respond adequately to new challenges.

The pandemic’s impact on real estate

The coronavirus pandemic didn’t just threaten people’s health but also their livelihoods by causing an unprecedented wave of layoffs and business closures. As growing uncertainty about the future forced people to become more frugal with their money and put off some of the more expensive purchases – like buying a new home – until things go back to normal, the global real estate market took a major hit. House prices dropped significantly, while the value of commercial properties likewise experienced a major drop as remote work became more prevalent.

To adapt to the new market conditions and respond adequately to changes in demand, commercial real estate owners were forced to repurpose their unused office spaces, stores, and restaurants, and turn them into something people actually need, such as affordable housing. The growing reliance on remote work has also made suburban and rural properties a more attractive option as people sought to create a more comfortable working and living environment for themselves.

While the number of new homes bought did drop significantly, people didn’t stop buying homes altogether. There was one major change in the process, though. To comply with social distancing guidelines and reduce physical contact between real estate agents and prospective buyers, real estate agencies started offering virtual property tours and viewings. This impending digital transformation of the real estate sector will also be reflected in the growing adoption of artificial intelligence, chatbots, and data analytics technologies.

Challenging times call for remarkable innovations

To overcome an obstacle that lies in your path, you sometimes need to think outside the box. And that’s exactly what some companies in the real estate sector are doing in response to the coronavirus crisis.

Tinder for real estate

Finding the perfect home can be a gruelling process that takes a lot of time and requires a great deal of patience. However, there is now an app that aims to break it down to a simple swipe. Named Casa Blanca, the app presents prospective home buyers with a list of homes that match their preferences. If the buyer doesn’t like the home, they just swipe left and they will never see it again. If they do, they swipe right and are instantly matched with a real estate agent who will guide them through the rest of the process. “We wanted to build something that was engaging and made the process of finding a home fun, yet familiar,” says Hannah Bomze, Casa Blanca’s co-founder and CEO. “We’ve integrated the entire home search into a centralised hub to give clients the support and tools they need to find their dream home.”

AI-powered leasing agent

But what if you just want to lease a home, rather than buy it? Well, there is an app for that as well. MeetElise is an AI-powered leasing agent that streamlines the leasing process by filling communication gaps between apartment operators and prospective renters. According to the developer, the software has already been deployed by some of the largest multifamily property management companies, helping them increase conversion rates by more than 65 per cent. “Elise is responsive 24/7 and always answers emails, calls and texts immediately – saving our client leasing teams 2-3 hours a day (on average) to focus on other tasks serving prospective and current residents,” says Minna Song, cofounder and CEO.

Real estate crowdfunding platform

Traditionally, the real estate investment game has been reserved only for the wealthy among us. However, that may be about to change now, thanks to a new blockchain-powered real estate investment platform called Max Crowdfund. Created by Dutch property investment company Max Property Group, the platform allows just about anyone to invest in real estate, provided they have at least €100 to spare. Investors are required to pay a one-off 0.1 per cent investment fee, along with a monthly administration fee of 0.1 per cent, which are then used to buy MPG tokens. According to the company, the entire process is “fully automated and 100 per cent transparent.”

Visions and predictions for the real estate sector

Today’s consumers have wildly different expectations from the physical environment than their predecessors and the coronavirus pandemic will only serve to raise those expectations even further. “The connected consumer wants to control their experience of real estate: how they park, how they access the building, control the temperature, lighting, air conditioning and utilities, how they are rewarded for purchase and get tailored offers, book services and pay rent, plus source community news and information. They now expect it all at their fingertips,” explains Michelle Buxton, chief executive and founder of Mallcomm.

To meet these expectations, the real estate sector will have to undergo a major digital transformation. “As the digital experience becomes an indisputable expectation, advancements like digital twins are only the tip of the iceberg,” says real estate futurist Nikki Greenberg. “The physical environments will be controlled by smartphones and smart technologies. Written communication through apps, emails and text messages will be phased out, with natural forms of communication like speech, hand gestures and facial expressions reintroduced over virtual channels.” Futurist Brian David Johnson goes so far as to predict that our homes will one day become ‘sentient’, using sensors, smart devices, and artificial intelligence to detect how we feel and respond accordingly. “They will also work to lessen our environmental impact by adjusting lights, temperatures and negotiating utility prices,” says Johnson.

Futurist Richard van Hooijdonk is yet another big proponent of smart home technology, which he believes will have a major impact on the future of real estate, offering better security, higher energy efficiency, and allowing us to use our smartphones to control everything within our homes. He also expects virtual reality technology to take on a more prominent role in real estate, enabling prospective buyers to explore properties they are interested in without having to set foot in them. Van Hooijdonk further predicts that we will witness a wider adoption of data analytics technology, which will help real estate agencies provide their clients with a more personalised service. Anita Lyse, global head of real estate and group head of segments, echoes his views on data analytics, calling data “the new oil.”

Closing thoughts

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of the real estate industry, which has traditionally been reluctant to embrace change. Smart home technology will take on an increasingly prominent role within the sector, providing tenants with more convenience, a heightened sense of security, and better energy efficiency. There will also be a wider adoption of technologies like artificial intelligence, chatbots, data analytics, and AR/VR, forever changing the way we buy, sell, and interact with our properties.

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