So what's been happening over the past 3 years?

by Alistair Helm in ,


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I have been meaning to sit down and reflect what has happened in the NZ real estate market over the past years since I parked up Properazzi back at the end of 2013, and took on the role of Head of Product with Trade Me Property.

As would be expected, some significant changes, and some small changes. So here’s my thoughts.

 

Data

Back in 2013 the best property insights you could research as to historical sales prices and values without reaching for your credit card was at best the monthly aggregated median price by suburb or by region. At the end of 2014 a radical transformation occurred which must have sent shivers down the spines of QV and Core Logic, as first Homes.co.nz, and then shortly afterwards Trade Me Property liberated property sales records giving us for the first time the ability to search for sold prices on any property in the country.

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Homes got the early lead as Trade Me offered the data only on the mobile app, but the gap was quickly filled as Homes launched their app and Trade Me brought data to the website. Homes stepped ahead with an automated valuation model (AVM) for a majority of properties from launch with Trade Me matching with the launch of Property Insights in late 2016.

This is without doubt the game changing event of the past 3 years. Nothing comes close; and nothing has done more to assist buyers and sellers gaining a perspective as to an estimated valuation and historical sales records for all properties. It is appropriate to note that both Homes and Trade Me offer AVM’s only when there is sufficient comparable data. They have both employed sophisticated computer algorithms that churn through property data to create estimated values coupled with confidence factors which means that they are delivering around 60% of all AVM's within 10%. That is to say they can predict the likely sale price to within 10% in 6 out of 10 cases, which is pretty good as a global benchmark.

This democratisation of data has, as would have been expected, been a challenge for the real estate industry. However 2 years on, the majority of agents and agencies have recognised that a better-informed customer is an engaged customer; one they are happy to advise as to the local nuances of the market with the local up-to-date knowledge that can help steer them towards a much closer market appraisal than a faceless computer based AVM.

New Zealand has at last caught up with so many other countries that make available property sales information; thereby saving consumers money and alleviating uncertainty.

 

Digital marketing

This area has been on reflection slow to change (or stubborn to change?). The same two adversarial players of Realestate.co.nz and Trade Me Property are still the main players in town, but not for long I suspect. NZME are lining up their new portal OneRoof (more of this to come) and at the same time Homes, in mirroring the “Zillow playbook” has pivoted from property sales data and estimated valuation to now provide on-the-market listings of property for sale and rent from a growing number of agencies as they head to becoming a fully fledged property portal.

Whilst the Chinese language market is not large, it is relevant and in Auckland significant. Hougarden launched in 2011 has grown and grown to deliver a great digital service, especially as they severed their listings data-feed relationship with Realestate.co.nz back in 2015 and have now become a standalone portal.

In terms of user experience, I have to say that the key players have been slow to evolve, Realestate.co.nz has a new site which they seem nervous to commit to (more to follow on this matter) and I wouldn’t blame them. Trade Me Property has tweaked their website but their main focus has been on their mobile apps which continue to evolve streaking ahead of Realestate.co.nz which has hardly touched their apps in the past 5 years. I am clearly a party to this performance having had responsibility for all digital products at Trade Me over these year, whilst not a defense I would say it has been a learning experience as to the pace of product development at such a leading digital company (more to follow).

In the broader context of digital marketing, Facebook has made huge inroads, attracting the digitally savvy agents who seek to use the platform for marketing properties and more especially themselves as brands – many specialist marketing agencies have sprung up to assist such agents and clearly significant sums of money are now flowing into this area and likely to accelerate in the coming years.

Bottom line is that the past 3 years has not amounted to a radical step forward in digital marketing, more of small tweaks.

 

Industry structure

Little has changed in terms of industry structure. There are more licensed salespeople in the market today than there were 3 years ago. The latest data from REAA shows 12,714 salespeople in November, up from around 11,000 3 years ago. For these salespeople the market is a lot tougher, as back in 2013 annual sales totalled 80,000 and was on an upward path to peak at 95,000 property sales, today it is back down to 74,000 sales per year and heading down.

New players have entered the market mainly focused on trying to challenge with a fixed price model vs commission fees but the reality is that the top 5 real estate companies still represent close on two thirds of the market, a position little changed from 3 years ago.

One aspect of the industry of positive note is the stricter adherence to governance through the REAA and the complaint procedure process. The chart below tracks the annual total of complaints brought to the disciplinary tribunal (being the highest level of discipline within the structure of the REAA) – misconduct being the most serious finding, which for 2017 shows the lowest level since the organisation began. (The 2013 peak was probably more a function of the backlog workload throughput that the REAA took on in the early years and not so much a reflection of a single year).

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I guess the other elephant in the room that has focused the minds of the real estate industry over the past 3 years has been the investigation by the Commerce Commission into allegations of price fixing. This investigation was triggered back in 2013 by the actions and comments made by some companies in the industry in reaction to the decision by Trade Me Property to amend the pricing of listings. The outcome has been costly for the industry with close to $15m in fines levied against 13 regional and national real estate companies.