How Technology Is Changing the Way You Buy a House

The "for sale" sign of the future could be here sooner than you think.

By: Emily Nonko
Related To:
Technology and Real Estate

Technology and Real Estate

Photo by: ©iStockphoto.com/fatido

©iStockphoto.com/fatido

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.

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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