James' Blog about Property

Discussion, advice and philosophical points about all things property whether UK or International markets

Changes in technology past and present and the affect on Real Estate

Posted by jamesdearsley on January 7, 2010

I distinctly remember my early days of working through applicant cards when dealing with potential buyers. They were fantastic times until you went on holiday for a week to come back to an empty applicant box as all your colleagues had mysteriously nabbed all of your applicants.  

I then remember the day that computers started to take over and the first so-called CRM system. It was terrible and I longed for the day when I could go back to my simple applicant cards (they were a lot faster too!). However, I remember the day that my then company, Foxtons, worked alongside CISCO systems at great expense , and started to actually build a personalised CRM system. It changed the way that I worked for life and it changed my perspective on the way that technology could not only aid the real estate market but the whole business world.  

Being able to work with technology and being far more patient than other colleagues I quickly began to grasp the CRM system and, despite its teething problems (lasted almost a year I have to say), both myself and my clients benefited a great deal. This is still the case today and I do believe that my appreciation of technology and the way that both my clients and staff interact with it, is a reason for the success that I have experienced so far. I am a great believer that we have seen a seismic shift in our working patterns in the last few years and I believe this will further accelerate in the coming years 

Looking forward, I believe technology impacts on two main areas of our working day: 

  1. CRM systems or other internal systems that staff are likely to use
  2. Marketing techniques 

I believe the CRM area is far less sensational at this present time and if we are honest, it probably started changing the way we worked as soon as computers entered the workplace. Continual changes to internal systems make great inroads to the way we work with clients but that is exactly it, they have been continual changes. It is the second area, detailing marketing techniques, that has really accelerated in the last two years – especially as a result of the recession.  

Recently, I had a discussion with a high profile Managing Director from the Real Estate world who recounted a discussion he had in the 1990’s with another Managing Director of a large FTSE 250 builder. They were talking about the evolution of the Internet and the Builder MD stated that they had just had a large board meeting where it was decided to not invest in the development of a company web page; “a house will never be sold using the internet” was the channel of thought.  

We might look back with hindsight and raise our eyebrows but it was the truth then and it is still the truth now, in my humble opinion of course. It is very rare in our business to sell a property unseen (even in my industry of selling off plan properties thousands of miles away from the UK) because people still want to see what they are buying. Property is still a physical sale.  

The mistake however, that this MD made, was that the development of the internet site was only to facilitate the sale and was therefore a marketing tool and not necessarily a sales tool; not a front line sales tool anyway. An internet site gave people the impression the company was professional and, for the smaller companies at the time, it gave them an opportunity to appear larger than what they were – a website has no physical presence and so people had no idea if you were a one man band or whether you were that FTSE 250 company – this is true today as well and is still messing with the dynamics of business and branding. With the development of the Internet it made a level playing field and those that took advantage of it grew very quickly.   

The same situation is arising now with the Social Media explosion of the last two years. I hear people now asking what the benefit of having a Social Media profile is if it isn’t going to generate sales. “Twitter is not going to sell me a house”. I have heard this statement numerous times and again, I will agree with them. However, the point they miss, like the Builder MD in the 90’s is that it is all about facilitating the sale of a house. The sale may well be a secondary action and one that the more analytical managers among us, hate – how can you monitor its success? Social Media marketing is all about brand, much like the local papers once were for real estate agents. You can’t monitor its success  in the short term, and much like the Internet in the 90’s,  it was only about 10 years later that you could actually tell that the Internet was becoming the forum for clients to research for a property to buy.  

One thing is for certain, the generation who have grown up using the internet are coming of age and will now be looking for technology to help them buy or rent a house. 

The question is how far technology will affect the Real Estate industry. We are already seeing Google make a big move in the world of Real Estate which is causing Property Portals a slight heartache. The move to allow anyone to promote their property for sale on Google maps could really upset the business model of the Portals and could make it much easier for private vendors to benefit – could this affect actual Agents, I am not sure. I think it is something just to be aware of and try to work alongside.  

The Real Estate world is under pressure and I believe 2010 is going to be a very challenging year for some who are not willing to open their eyes to the sea of change that is occurring right in front of them. Sales people are not necessarily the best users of technology but maybe this is the year when we all have to step up to the plate and take notice of what our clients are being offered in the world of technology. Those that collaborate with the clients on a multitude of technological levels will stay one step ahead and those that don’t will sadly, in my opinion, look quite antiquated and we all know what that means.


2 Responses to “Changes in technology past and present and the affect on Real Estate”

  1. housingdabble said

    Nice post James. I too said back in 1996 that no one would ever buy a house from the internet, but in my defence I was working for one of the least progressive companies when it comes to IT.

    This year will no doubt shake a few things up in terms of online engagement for property professionals but I agree with you that it will take time for Google or any other developments to really make an impact

  2. Hi Ben,

    Funny isn’t it, I distinctly remember recieving applicant requests over the internet which used to get handed out at the start of the day. We all used to groan as we all knew the best applicants were the ones that walked into the office – it used to be as competitive as the Olympic 100m with certain aspects of a rugby scrum to get to the front of the office to meet the incoming clients – you knew these were the really hot clients of course.

    How times have changed; Not only am I the one actually handing out the applicants but I have never seen such attention paid to applicants that come in through the web. The ones that actively come walking in nowadays are few and far between (is that perhaps an indication of Estate Agents offices as well I wonder?)

    Thanks for the comment as always Ben.


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