Five Technologies That Are Changing Real-Estate Marketing

13/04/2018
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Marketing and technology have evolved significantly over the last few years. We explore how marketing for real estate has changed and where it might go from here.

With thousands of properties going under the auctioneer's hammer every weekend, standing out from the crowd has become harder for real estate agents. Increasingly sophisticated buyers have grown accustomed to getting more detail about properties than ever before. Yet while new technologies promise an immersive, unprecedented buying experience, agents have had to temper their enthusiasm to avoid compromising the time-honoured art of selling.

It's a fine line to walk given the real estate industry's longstanding enthusiasm over new online technologies, which have allowed them to extend their reach and effectiveness with a relatively small investment. Although, some realtors still believe in the demonstrable value of print advertising , today's buyers go straight to must-be-seen listing sites. 

Better availability of property-related data has also created ancillary markets for sites offering value-added information such as sales histories, property renovations, historical photos, and nearby planning permits. Taken together, the current real-estate landscape offers unprecedented information for buyers – and a myriad of ways for real estate agents to leverage new technologies to get buyers through the doors. 

Ready, set, action! 

Apart from online real-estate listings, the biggest innovation to take hold in real estate sales has been the explosion in the use of videos to provide value-added tours that highlight significant features of certain properties. 

Videos typically complement property photographs, offering a series of short walkthroughs that provide a better sense of what it's like to be inside the property. Panning shots can help convey a sense of size or scenic context.

Production values for real-estate videos have increased dramatically in recent years, thanks in no small part to the emergence of specialised video producers like Melbourne-based Real Estate Productions, Gold Coast-based PlatinumHD  and Sydney's Nuance Photography . Full-service firms like Real Estate In Motion  take the proposition a step further, with a stable of video producers as well as automatic video generating, mini-sites hosting all content from a particular branch office, video messaging to realtors, and more.

Video has been particularly useful in marketing high-end properties, where potential buyers may not be local and will gravitate towards a more detailed property listing that provides the richness a casual drive-by inspection cannot.

Around 50 percent of the properties marketed by Marshall White® - a boutique real estate agency concentrated in Melbourne's inner southern suburbs - now include video, says Kerrie Wade, the firm's general manager of marketing.

Video provides "a more engaging and realistic presentation of a property," Wade explains. "As we specialise in premium properties, this product also showcases more aspirational and lifestyle elements, which tend to be more compelling."

Use of video has another benefit, she adds: Google algorithms favour sites with video content, providing better organic search results and ideally more views for these properties from prospective buyers. 

Drone on and on

Videos may make real-estate marketing a more emotional process, but drones add another dimension - the third one.

Once a niche novelty, drone photography has become a staple of real-estate property photographers and video producers like Droneheadz  and Property Snaps® , which utilise a range of equipment to get new views of target properties that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Whether through photographs or videos, drone-level imagery of a property can bring it alive in ways that conventional photographs simply can't. A photo from just 10m up, for example, will give a new sense of the height and grandeur of a property as well as better showing the type and state of neighbouring properties.

Drones also allow real-estate agents to demonstrate a property's proximity to CBD areas, parklands, or the beach. These can be key attributes for many buyers - particularly developers that may be looking for proximity to public transport lines or major roads.

Be careful when choosing a drone photographer: literally anyone can buy a camera-toting drone and fly it around the neighbourhood, but not everyone has formal certifications or public liability insurance for damage they may cause. Also, remember at all times that you must comply with all relevant Australian legislation for drones, including gaining a Remotely Piloted Aircraft Operator’s Certificate (or ReOC) if required. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has information that can be found on their website.  

Drone photography and videography carries an additional cost, but it can pay off many times over by highlighting properties' particular characteristics. Use drones to help buyers see what's special about a property, or fly one around the corner to the local shops or park to give a sense of a particularly desirable neighbourhood. 

Get smart about voice and AI 

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become the buzzword in information technology and it is still in early stages within the real-estate industry. But new technologies are being refined all the time, and its rapid pace of development means it may be relevant to property sales in ways you can't even imagine.

Artificial-intelligence 'bots', for example, are already being used to handle routine technical-support enquiries for many different types of companies.  They could easily be adapted to handle front-line enquiries about marketed properties, answering questions about the size of a property, its proximity to particular locations, expected price, and so on.xvi

Most AI is trained over time, looking for patterns within large data sets generated from historical records. These techniques also work for images - producing computer-vision technologies that can catalogue large numbers of images based on their content.xvii

Carsales.com.au®  is already using computer-vision technology to automatically sort and label submitted vehicle photographs, and claims its Cyclops system has 97.2 percent accuracy - higher than humans' 85 percent accuracy rate.xvii Real-estate listing sites could easily do the same to allow visitors to search, for example, for all properties that have a white kitchen or large trees in the backyard.

While AI will offer increasingly intelligent analysis of property trends and features, it's also being paired with voice recognition to improve the experience of searching for real estate. A new breed of smart home speakers - Amazon Echo®, Google Home® and Apple's HomePod® are the highest-profile examples - allow buyers to interact with a range of information services. This has led to real-estate applications from companies like US-based Coldwell Banker® - which recently rolled out its second 'skill' , or extension, for Amazon's Alexa AI engine - and Voiceter, which recently launched a real-estate 'concierge'  also for Alexa. Expect voice-driven searching to become more relevant as real-estate providers continue to search for new ways to find and engage with potential buyers.

It's all about the data

Australia's vibrant and concentrated real-estate market has driven a significant investment in new technologies, as well as competition from providers that are fighting to present data about current and past sales in ways that provide new value for buyers.

Such services plumb massive archives of data - like the comprehensive property and market-related databases maintained by CoreLogic®, which can be paired with other sources to provide rich insight into property trends. Using this information allows them to educate consumers and potential buyers about potential purchases - and real-estate agents should assume that their buyers are now walking through the door knowing as much about the property as they do. 

That's not to say that real-estate data can't improve realtors' marketing as well. By investing in everything from customer relationship management (CRM) systems and market automation software to manage interactions with customers, to open-for-inspection tools that collect and cross-match data from prospective buyers, realtors can now maintain much closer relationships with past, current, and potential customers.

Getting real about virtual reality 

The above four technologies can improve the real-estate searching and buying process for buyers and agents alike. Another transformative technology - virtual reality (VR) - is still finding its niche amongst marketers who thought it was a natural complement when it was introduced.

VR is a natural way of presenting properties to potential buyers, who can don glasses and walk through properties from the agent's office, or their own homes. While a growing number of firms will happily build VR models of your listed homes, one early adopter has found interest restricted mostly to high-end properties.

"It hasn't really spread from high-end properties down to the mid-range marketplace," admits Alex Ouwens, director of Adelaide-based Ouwens Casserly Real Estate®, which in 2015 launched VR property tours  using Oculus VR® headsets.

VR had, he says, proved useful in the sale of a high-end home to Chinese buyers whose parents couldn't physically inspect the property. By sending a headset to the parents, Ouwens says, they were able to walk through the property as if they were onsite.

Yet VR still hasn't supplanted the good old-fashioned open-for-inspection walkthrough, says Ouwens, and it's about more than aversion to the technology.

"When you go and look at a property you can use all five senses to feel how the property feels," he says. "But on the VR goggles you're only really using sight - so you don't build a full intuition around how the property feels for you, or get the full perspective as if you were there in person."

Recent years have lowered the barriers to entry: while dedicated VR headsets are popular accessories for computers and gaming consoles, low-cost VR rigs like the Samsung Gear VR®  also allow smartphones to do the heavy lifting. This could drive a transformation in VR, which may well become much more accessible and relevant to property buyers once VR is as readily accessible as their phones.

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