Not too long ago, for a company to be taken seriously, it had to have a website ahead of everything else. These days one not only needs a mobile-responsive site but having a stand-out app is fast becoming a necessity – even in real estate.
This digital shift is due to the global surge in demand for smart devices that has revolutionised the way people live, communicate, assimilate information and even shop, and Google believes that consumers are quickly moving towards utilising a single device.
Some of the stats
For the first time ever, Google is getting more mobile search requests than desktop searches and their research shows that, on average, users carry out around 220 tasks on their smartphones per day, compared to 140 on a desktop or laptop. A GSM Intelligence report projects that smartphones will account for almost 95% of Africa’s data traffic by 2021, up from just below 80% in 2015, with the number of smart devices on the continent increasing from 160 million in 2015 to 540m by 2021.
The migration to mobile also means companies have to change their approach to consumer brand interaction, especially in industries as competitive as real estate.
Technology in real estate
The property industry has to keep pace with lightning-speed technology changes, because the latest “it” thing is where their market plays, interacts and consumes information.
Research by the US National Association of Realtors (NAR) reveals that 90% of home buyers search online at some point during their home buying process, and 100% use the internet to research a specific home once the choice is down to one or two. Statistics for South Africa are not as definitive, but indications are they are won’t be far off the US.
Online marketing in SA real estate
The advent of online marketing and behemoth property search engines like Property 24 ushered in the initial era of time-saving convenience in the tedious process of weeding (or filtering) out unsuitable properties by size, location, price or a host of other criteria – allowing prospective buyers to house hunt without leaving home.
They also provided the first platforms for sellers’ homes to be marketed to a global audience at a reasonable cost. But as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology has become more commonplace, the face of real estate marketing is again being transformed. It is moving beyond websites to where consumers now spend most of their digital time: on their mobile devices, deep in the world of the latest version of “mother’s little helper” ‒ mobile apps.
SA’s VR offerings
One of the most recent technologically advanced, digital, property search tools designed for the South African market is Propscan, an app that offers the real estate and auction industries a unique platform to showcase their stock.
The app has numerous advantages over standard web searches, including real-time geo-location of available properties; but Propscan’s most unique feature is arguably its advancement in VR technology. Potential buyers can inspect properties in 3D with horizontal and vertical ‘room sweeps’ simply by moving their mobile phones.
The app is the brainchild of JP van der Bergh, who says technological advances made him do an audit of property search methods in SA two years ago and come to the conclusion that there was room for improvement: “VR technology gives realtors’ clients the edge, because buyers not only preview locations in greater detail but there is also an immediate call to action communicating with the listing agent via the built-in chat and call features, without exiting the app.
“The difference between viewing a property in VR and on a standard website with photos is as monumental as the difference was a few years ago between scrutinising ‘for sale’ ads in newspapers and the migration to online property searching. There’s no comparison.”
Social media and real estate
Van der Bergh notes that while the real estate industry must look at moving into next generation VR marketing, where its consumer base is already playing, another platform that brokers can’t ignore is social media.
“Social media is an increasingly relevant marketing tool because it’s where the real estate industry’s target audience spends most of their time. World Wide Worx and Ornico’s 2017 SA Social Media Landscape report shows Facebook is now used by 14m South Africans. Twitter has 7.7m local users and LinkedIn is gaining momentum, as a more business-orientated social media tool with 5.5m users nationally.”
Apps like Propscan and the rise of social media as effective marketing tools for specialised industries such as real estate are a clear reflection of changing consumer behavior.
“People have not only become digital junkies, who voraciously devour information and want instant access and gratification, but they also systematically filter out everything that isn’t germane to them.
“Consumers want to engage directly in the digital realm. And while they no longer tolerate contrived mass messaging, they are willing to surrender a considerable amount of privacy in exchange for personalised content, especially if it’s delivered in interesting and novel ways.
“Consumers will increasingly demand the detailed search capabilities afforded by advanced mobile technology because with it they can make better, faster choices. In our time-poor modern society that’s the key to marketing and real estate companies who want to remain competitive must step up,” Van der Bergh concludes.