How Technology Is Changing the Way You Buy a House
The "for sale" sign of the future could be here sooner than you think.
So, you’re getting ready to buy a house. It’s likely you won’t call a real estate agent right away, or hop in your car and start scoping out “for sale” signs. More likely, you’ll sit down at your computer and begin the digital house hunt. Your dream home, you hope, is just a few clicks away.
It cannot be overstated how much technology has changed the real estate industry. Since the introduction of listing hubs like Zillow and Realtor.com, house hunters can peruse listings – and study neighborhood amenities and sales prices – from afar. Agents have tools like drone photography, videos and FaceTime at their disposal. And developers are hiring tech companies to help better sell apartments. Such radical changes have some real estate agencies scrambling to catch up, while others test new technologies to stay on top. For the buyer, it’s an immersive – and sometimes overwhelming – world of potential homes and information they’ve never had access to before. One thing is for sure though: the merger of tech and real estate isn’t slowing down anytime soon, with more big changes in our future.
Johnny Depp | Lexington, Kentucky | Price: $1.995 million
Johnny Depp’s Kentucky horse farm, which spans a grand 42 acres, is up for grabs if you’ve got $1.995 million. On top of two barns holding 12 stalls, there’s a 6,000-square-foot, six-bedroom home and an in-ground pool. The surrounding acreage, just outside of Lexington, provides celebrity-approved privacy.
Ellen DeGeneres | Santa Barbara, California | Price: $38 million
America’s sweetheart Ellen DeGeneres and wife Portia de Rossi have a reputation as expert home flippers, and this Santa Barbara estate is their latest to hit the market. Named the Villa for its Italian villa inspiration, the 1930s home is rich with details, from wide wood floors to rustic 18th-century Italian tiles to vintage light fixtures. The 16-acre grounds are lush with olive and eucalyptus trees, plus charming fountains, gardens, statuary and sculpture. Transporting to Europe with Ellen won’t come cheap — the property’s asking $38 million.
George Strait | San Antonio, Texas | Price: By Request
"Breathtaking" would be an understatement in describing country singer George Strait’s 12-acre estate in San Antonio, Texas. The 8,000-square-foot abode mansion sits on a hill with views of the Texas Hill Country. Inside, details include raw wood beamed ceilings, 14 hand-sculpted fireplaces and custom-stained glass windows. Don’t forget perks like a hot tub and infinity pool, wine cellar, basketball court and separate guest house. The price is by request.
Eva Gabor | Los Angeles | Price: $14.495 million
Designed by architect-to-the-stars Paul Williams in 1938, this Los Angeles property was called home by legendary screen actress Eva Gabor. She’s part of a string of celebs who have lived in the white Southern Colonial — residents include Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow, Audrey Hepburn and David Niven. Perks of the 6,400-square-foot pad include a tennis court with a viewing deck, pool house with a kitchen, and a sauna off the swimming pool. It’s now asking $14.495 million.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z | Hamptons, New York | Price: $15.995 million
This star-studded Hamptons mansion, known as Goose Creek, could be yours for $15.995 million. Beyoncé and Jay-Z rented the stunning estate in 2012 for a whopping $500,000 a month. Jennifer Lopez and Madonna are other reported renters. It’s easy to see why the eight-bedroom home would appeal to the rich and famous, as the downstairs contains a 110-seat screening room, adjacent to a bar and even more entertaining space.
Emily Blunt and John Krasinski | Brooklyn, New York | Price: $8 million
Dreamy celeb couple Emily Blunt and John Krasinski are selling their equally dreamy Park Slope, Brooklyn townhouse for $8 million. The four-story, seven-bedroom limestone home, built in 1909, was completely restored and includes details like stained glass and wood-burning fireplaces. The decor feels both chic and comfortable, a seemingly perfect fit for the couple and their two young daughters.
Alonzo Mourning | Miami, Florida | Price: $11.999 million
Basketball Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning bought this Miami mansion in 1996, the year he signed a contract with the Miami Heat for over $100 million. Now the waterfront estate is asking $11.999 million, with grand entertaining spaces boasting views of the Biscayne Bay.
Jemima Kirke | Brooklyn, New York | Price: $4.495 million
This gorgeously restored Brooklyn brownstone belongs to Jemima Kirke, star of the HBO series "Girls." Each room is a seamless blend of historic details, like French moldings and Italian marble mantles, with a fun boho-chic decor. The icing on the cake is a private roof terrace with views of lower Manhattan. It’s asking $4.495 million.
Kevin Jonas | Montville, New Jersey | Price: $2.488 million
Former teen pop star Kevin Jonas is trying to unload his custom-built Montville, New Jersey home for $2.488 million. The 7,000-square-foot Hampton-style Colonial manor was actually built by Jonas’ company, Jonas/Werner Fine Custom Homes. He went all out, adding a glass-walled wine cellar off the dining room, a billiards room, saltwater pool and waterfall.
Chelsea Handler | Los Angeles | Price: $11.5 million
This Los Angeles home was completely customized to the owner’s taste — and that owner just happens to be Chelsea Handler. Renovations maximized the classic Californian indoor and outdoor feel, while the interior boasts cozy, modern vibes. A new buyer will get celebrity-status perks like a TV that drops out of the ceiling at the touch of a button, and floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open onto a curtained balcony overlooking the backyard. They’ll just have to pay $11.5 million to live there.
“You go back 10 or 12 years, people searched for real estate online but there were blurry and uncurated photos, there was no quality control,” says John Passerini, global vice president of interactive marketing at Sotheby's International Realty. Today’s online marketplace, he says, couldn’t be more different. Listings – especially luxury listings – boast quality photography, tons of interior details, and extra information about the neighborhood, price and tax history, home expenses and more.
All this access to information has radically changed the role of the real estate agent, experts say. Now agents usually come into the picture later in the game, after homebuyers have started their online hunt and researched neighborhoods they want to live in. “10 years ago, the agent’s value was in offering you information about the market,” says Rob Lehman, the chief growth officer for Compass, a tech-driven real estate firm. “Now, they help in interpreting the market and advising the client through the process.”
Agents also have resources to go global – “it’s not uncommon that homes are sold, sight unseen,” Passerini says. Videos, drone photography, virtual reality, FaceTime tours – all tools agents now use to sell homes to clients who can’t be where they buy. “Technology offers a confident buying experience, even if you’re not physically there,” says Passerini.
Real estate firms are trying to keep up with the fast-paced change. Sotheby’s recently teamed up with roOomy, a virtual staging technology platform, to create an app that allows consumers to utilize augmented reality and digitally “curate” a house as their own before purchase. “Augmented reality is a format mostly used in video games, but we identified it as having a practical application in our industry,” Passerini says.
Compass was founded in 2012 to take advantage of real estate data and integrate it into an online platform for agents. “The industry has been slow to pick up on how to harness data,” says Lehman. The firm tracks everything from how design and marketing impacts sales to what forces drive a buyer’s offer. “Through this data, we can reach insights on more sophisticated decision making when it comes to renting or selling a property,” says Lehman. Compass also trains its agents on how to best utilize technology, from Facebook and Instagram marketing to data-driven sales strategies.
270 Nettleton Hollow Road
This New England estate, which spans 54 acres just outside the quaint town of Washington, Connecticut, comes with a formal parterre garden that stuns. The elaborately-designed hedges surround a limestone fountain and sundial. It all makes for an impressive backyard for the classically-designed brick home, listed for $6.5 million.
40 Beverly Park
This insane Beverly Hills mega-mansion, designed in the French Chateau-style, sits on two acres of meticulously landscaped gardens and lawns. Hedges, flowers and trees surround the seemingly endless outdoor amenities, which includes a swimming pool, reflecting pool and tennis court. All that lush greenery is best enjoyed from the covered dining terrace. The whole shebang is priced at $39.995 million.
29 Wood Road
If you’re more interested in edible gardens, look no further than this Westchester County, New York, home that’s situated on four self-sustaining acres. Besides the formal parterre garden, you’ll find raised bed vegetable gardens, a greenhouse, a large strawberry garden and mature fruit orchards. This delicious garden getaway costs $2.85 million.
4455 Harris Trail NW
The elaborate gardens at this Atlanta, Georgia, estate were inspired by Versailles. Pathways wind between the curving hedges, while the massive in-ground pool looks out at perfectly-trimmed treetops. It’ll cost you $4.75 million to pretend like you’re royalty in such an esteemed green space.
15380 SW 248th St.
Perhaps this Homestead, Florida, property doesn’t boast a garden so much as it does an insane expanse of greenery and palm trees over 20 acres. Towering palms frame the main house, two log cabins, a tranquil lagoon with cascading waterfalls and two separate swimming pools. Oh, and don’t forget the five-acre lychee farm, plus 2.5 acres of avocado fields. It’s asking $10.9 million.
189 Further Lane
A shingle-style home in the Hamptons is surrounded by three acres of manicured lawns and gardens. While lush plantings frame the 55-foot heated pool — complete with a waterfall — as well as an in-ground hot tub, pathways and bridges lead you to quiet enclaves that feel closer to a secret garden. The property is asking $14.995 million.
774 Hollow Tree Ridge Road
A long, tree-lined drive leads you to this brick Georgian home in Darien, Connecticut, which has a backyard garden to die for. Flowers, shrubs and trees form in a circular pattern around a fountain, then the land opens up over six acres. The property, priced at $7.25 million, even includes its own orchard.
New York City Townhouses
Who says city homes can’t have amazing outdoor spaces? It’s possible — but it’s going to cost you. Two Upper East Side townhouses — asking price for the combined property is $24 million — are connected by a sprawling 74-foot, two-tiered landscaped garden with its own swimming pool. Paving makes this an ideal spot for outdoor partying, or just an escape from the frenzy of NYC outside.
13400-13450 Anderson Valley Way
The home in Boonville, California, has been owned for many years by the director of the San Francisco Botanical Garden. To no surprise, the sprawling yard is full of earthly delights, from cacti to a sculpture garden to raised planting beds. A deck from the humble abode overlooks the diverse variety of plantings. The price for this charming enclave complete with expert gardening? $1.349 million.
18 Ualei Place
Indoor and outdoor harmony is key at this modern Makena, Hawaii, home asking $8.75 million. So it’s no surprise that special attention was paid to tropical landscaping across the one-acre parcel, with flowers and palms surrounding the infinity edge pool, hot tub and waterfall. You never have to step foot outside the estate to feel lost in the Hawaiian wilderness.
Developers, too, are looking to tech to distinguish their projects. James Linsley, president of GID Development Group, notes that “technology is increasingly important in everything we do.” As agents use tech to show potential buyers a home they aren’t in proximity to, developers have taken to tech to sell not-yet-built new developments. At Waterline Square, an under-construction mega-development in Manhattan, GID Development teamed up with Eight, Inc., a studio known for high-tech design, to create an immersive sales gallery with video vignettes that allow buyers to visualize how they would live in and experience the development. “It’s been an evolution from websites and social media… to be able to immerse someone in a virtual space,” Linsley says.
Real estate professionals don’t imagine tech replacing them entirely – so don’t expect artificial intelligence agents to appear for your home-buying needs anytime soon. “Our research shows that while millennial buyers are doing their own research, they haven’t stopped using agents,” Passerini says. “[Agents] still have the expertise and knowledge of markets on a hyper-local level.”
One thing you can expect to change? The “for sale” sign that hangs outside properties on the market. According to Lehman, Compass has invested in creating “the real estate sign of the future.” The firm is testing possibilities, and has patents pending, in artificial intelligence and Smart Home technology. Lehman expects an initial design to be unveiled in the months to come – and for the industry, once again, to jump on the ever-evolving bandwagon of real estate and tech.