Thanks to a highly successful vaccination programme and a diligent approach to testing, the UK is gradually and tentatively lifting the restrictions that have been in place – to a greater or lesser extent – since late March 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Many of us are looking forward to life “returning to normal”, with businesses reopening, resulting in the gradual revival of the country’s economy.
However, in many professional sectors, some vital lessons have been learned – not only in terms of health and safety but also of accessibility, adaptability and productivity.
In this article, we look at how the property sector has adopted innovative new approaches and made significant adaptations in order to cope with the challenges presented by the pandemic – and how many of the industry’s inner workings are likely to have changed for good, even after restrictions are lifted.
When the pandemic first began, one of the industries that was most significantly threatened was that of property and real estate. After all, home viewings, surveys and the in-person signing of paperwork were all integral to the processes of buying, selling and renting.
However, creative solutions were soon developed, allowing for continued operation throughout multiple lockdowns.
With most property specialists forced to work from home, remote meetings became par for the course. Estate agents, mortgage brokers and other real estate workers were still able to touch base effectively with clients thanks to a number of video conferencing applications.
AI and automation also became a vital factor in communications between agents, buyers and sellers.
Chatbots took the pressure off professionals, presenting answers to many questions and queries and saving vital time for employees.
Predictive technology helped to estimate when maintenance, repairs and replacements were likely to be required in rental or managed accommodation, preventing unnecessary visits and checks.
A particularly revolutionary tool in the midst of the pandemic was the “virtual tour”.
Many estate agencies and rental companies added video walkthroughs and interactive 3D renderings of their available properties to their websites, allowing potential buyers or tenants to get a clear idea of the look, feel and layout of a property without risking a visit.
As the in-person signing of documents was no longer possible, the industry experienced a significant rise in the use of e-signatures – a feature that is swiftly becoming popular across sectors.
COVID-19 revealed to us the extent of the damage that can be done – both to individuals and to businesses – if we do not have the resources to protect workers and clients from the spread of infection.
Many of the adjustments that the property industry was forced to make in a very short space of time are likely to remain in place – some honed, perfected and futureproofed – in order to improve the safety and flexibility of the companies that have implemented them.
It has also been vital for property and real estate specialists to take into account the health and wellbeing of clients and tenants as we progress into a post-pandemic world.
Challenges relating to the safety of shared housing are being urgently addressed, with a significant focus on “hands-free” technology.
Sensor-operated sanitiser stations and automatic doors are now key features of common areas, while layouts that allow for effective distancing – and therefore a reduction in potential transmission – are also more likely to feature heavily in new developments.
Virtual viewings, inspections and surveys are likely to continue. Not only does this serve to prevent the spread of any infection, but it also vastly improves flexibility, making these pursuits more accessible and adaptable for all parties and preventing unnecessary travel.
According to Ruban Selvanayagam of ‘We Buy Any Homes’ Specialists Property Solvers: “virtual tours (such as those offered by Matterport) have been an excellent way to promote properties throughout the pandemic, particularly for our online auction service. My only gripe would be that the cost is quite high at the moment and most vendors are put off by it because of that. However, I suspect that prices should decrease as the technology continues to develop in the coming years.”
Chatbots and other automated customer service tools remain exceptionally useful – with 24/7 availability and the capacity to reduce the amount of time employees spend responding to easily answerable queries, this technology improves productivity as well as client convenience.
Automated schedules for the inspection and maintenance of managed properties will also improve the flexibility of certain schedules and prevent the need for lengthy or too-regular visits to property by reducing the amount of wear and tear on certain appliances.
The dramatic changes in the approaches of real estate professionals towards their day to day work and interactions with their clients – in response to the pressures of a global pandemic – have revolutionised the technology that is employed within the industry, possibly for good.
The key now is to avoid complacency. We now understand just how important it is to take proper precautions against the spread of disease – and we have also realised that by-products of these protective measures include the potential for improved workflow as well as greater flexibility and accessibility.
With such clear benefits at our fingertips, it seems highly likely that improvement and innovation in the world of proptech will abound in a post-COVID-19 world, for the improved safety and general benefit of all involved.