Due to lockdown and limited in-person engagement, the real estate industry has had to fast track the adoption of virtual and video tours, with some agencies already on the band wagon and others having made no progress in this space.

Antonie Goosen, principal and founder of Meridian Realty. Image: Meridian Realty

Antonie Goosen, principal and founder of Meridian Realty. Image: Meridian Realty

Antonie Goosen, principal and founder of Meridian Realty, says many agents had to evolve and adapt the way they showcase properties to possible buyers as regulations during lockdown and people practising social distancing meant fewer on-site viewings. This is just one example of how technology can be used by estate agents to transform their business.

“The technology is available for estate agents who seek to do things differently. It is a matter of being willing to adapt, change and embracing new ways of doing things. For example, virtual tours are created using cameras that take 360-degree images of a space, creating near-perfect virtual representations of a space, to showcase it virtually. Matterport is one of the major suppliers of these cameras and is one of the leading global spatial data platforms. We have been working with Matterport over the past years and this evolved during lockdown to sharing virtual tours or property videos over video conference allowing for commentary and input from the agent during the tour with potential buyers. During hard lockdown between April and May 2021 we sold numerous properties using virtual viewings via Matterport or video tours that was facilitated with an agent,” says Goosen.

He says the real estate industry has seen good recovery in demand from the second half of 2020 into 2021, which still exceeds pre-pandemic levels, according to the FNB Property Barometer in July 2021, and the market remains resilient. The question for estate agents should be how can they capitalise on this increase in demand for property in the current market with all the restrictions they face.

Goosen says in research recently conducted by World Wide Worx, titled the ‘Digital Corporation in SA 2021’, it points out that while digital transformation may have slowed, there is clear spend on ICT to lay the foundation for digital corporations of the future. “The real estate industry needs to keep pace with the rest of corporate South Africa and to digitally transform the way they do business. One way is to adopt technology to streamline businesses using property portals, social media, CRM systems as well as other software and integrated applications to generate and nurture leads, reach potential buyers remotely, manage rentals and create brand affiliation,” says Goosen.

He says a good example would be to use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software system that helps to nurture relationships with potential buyers and sellers, connecting all data from sales leads and customers in one place. “CRM systems contain contact information, purchase history, enquires, sales opportunities, and even marketing campaigns can be managed with a CRM. A CRM system can increase real estate sales with end-to-end sales execution introducing new efficiencies into the real estate industry. This is a far cry from paper notes, files and excel spreadsheets that many agents may be accustomed to.

“Meridian Realty has invested in a custom-built CRM system that also enables marketing automation, called ‘Meridian Connect’. Agents set up a potential buyer on the system with all the necessary and approved details as well as the potential buyer’s requirements. From there the system automates Covid-19 screenings for in-person viewings and shares details of safety protocol in advance of an in-person viewing. The system also boasts a seller portal where sellers can get automated feedback on viewings recorded by the agent. Finally, from an admin point of view the system stores important documentation like the Offer to Purchase (OTP), FICA documents as well any other documents produced and required during the transfer process. Meridian Realty agents have access to a section where they can automatically generate the OTP based on answers to a digital questionnaire that the agent completes – this ensures that only the right conditions and clauses are included in the documentation to be signed by buyers and sellers,” says Goosen.

The automated process not only ensure agents are working in a disciplined way, but also that they follow process. In this way they dedicate more time to what matters – providing exceptional service to clients and potential buyers.

“Another way of incorporating technology into your real estate business is by using property management software in the rental space. This can assist agents to attract, screen, and manage tenants, respond to maintenance requests, and account for all of the expenses and revenue that go hand in hand with rental properties. This sort of software is not designed to replace the agent, but rather assist in rental portfolio management to enable agents to provide superior service to their clients. WeconnectU is a rental asset management software that is also used by Meridian that automates tenant credit vetting, rental account management, lease management and inspection and maintenance management. This cloud-based system changed the rental industry fundamentally and allows rental agents to position themselves as Asset Managers with information at their fingertips to advise clients on information like their annual Return on Investment (ROI) and the value of their property,” says Goosen.

He says during the hard lockdown phases of the pandemic, social media became a critical tool for estate agents, not just a nice to have. In an industry that relied heavily on face-to-face interactions, transitioning from traditional marketing methods like print advertising and face-to-face meetings was not easy for some. Many agents were forced to increasingly embracing social media to showcase their value, and their properties, virtually.

“The use of social media is useful for brand awareness and can be extremely targeted. From an agent perspective, social media is great for personal branding and reputation. For that reason, Meridian Realty has an in-house team of social media and design specialists that manage their agents’ social media as an additional service. This includes compiling content, creating the design as well as the scheduling of the posts,” he says.

According to Goosen in the past, most people accessed properties for sale via the newspaper or by driving around a neighbourhood seeking out ‘For Sale’ boards. “Property portals and websites are now the first point of call for buyers. Property searches can be targeted and done in real time (as opposed to waiting for the Saturday paper) and the results and hits are measurable. Portals allow buyers to view and compare a multitude of properties, whittling them down quickly to the ones they are most interested in. This saves time for buyers and sellers. Some properties sell before they have their first show day!

“There is no doubt that the digital economy is all encompassing, and that Real Estate Industry is not exempt from this shift. Buyers and sellers expect to have access to digital means to buy or sell a property, whether that be using portals and apps to search for properties or to market a property.

“Agents need to be attuned to all of this and use technology to their advantage.  Virtual tours allow potential buyers to view many potential homes and narrow their options down without visiting every property. Agents need to be even more localised than they were in the past, they need to market themselves digitally and use systems like CRM’s to move buyers through the sales funnel. This is advantageous to all parties involved and I believe that by being an early technology adopter, estate agencies can position themselves and their properties competitively to take advantage of the continued demand to buy property in South Africa at the moment,” concludes Goosen.