Yet more innovation in the marketing of property for sale

by Alistair Helm in ,


I often vacillate between a fascination for the latest shiny bauble of technology and the fundamental mantra of KISS (keep it simple, stupid). So it is with real estate marketing. Great photos, contextual information that sells the real benefits of the property; forget the videos, augmented reality and virtual tours!

But every now and then a piece of technology appears that distracts you and I find myself resetting my perspective. So it was when the iPhone was launched. I could see the impact the locational capability would have upon the real estate industry and the experiences surrounding the process of buying a home.

Equally I have long held a dislike for virtual tours which thankfully have become less popular over the past 3 years as video seems to have surpassed this early multimedia presentation. I found one example online to remind me of how nauseating they are - that sense of vertigo they create as you seem rooted to the spot as the property spins uncontrollably around you. You can sense my dislike!

So when I first heard of 3-D virtual tours I recoiled in horror at the concept of these nauseating images - but with 3-D glasses!

How wrong I was, as it turned out, and what a surprise I got. I first came across 3-D virtual tours at the annual real estate tech start-up competition called FWD Innovation Summit organised by Realogy (The largest global franchise real estate company). Inaugurated last year this competition offers the winners US$25,000 in an attempt to stimulate innovation and ideas focused on real estate. This years winner at the event held in June was Matterport the makers of a new camera technology that creates a true walk-through experience for any space, but clearly of great value for home viewings.

The Matterport camera costs US$4,500 and is more a data analysing device than a traditional camera. You simply place the camera on a tripod in various points around the home and it ‘absorbs’ the images from all around and then ‘stitches’ them together to create a complete smooth immersive walk through of the property.

No 3-D glasses, no headsets and importantly no nauseating virtual tour this is a self managed drive through, so the term “3-D Virtual Tour” is actually incorrect, it is a self-guided remote viewing for a home (bit of a mouthful!).

As ever the proof is in the pudding or in this case the viewing, so to get a sense of the power of this technology have a look at this real example of a actual listing from the embedded player below. The size of the data file could take a few seconds to load and then just dive in to virtually walk around the property with your mouse of finger in exactly the same manner as if using Google Street View.

 

This technology is smart and has been quickly embraced by one of (if not the) most progressive real estate companies I have come across - Redfin. They are planning to utilise this technology on as many of their listings as they can as quickly as they can. This is just the type of game changing advancement that a smart real estate company should and will adopt - so who will be the first such company in NZ to adopt this and show leadership.


Selling your home - a personal perspective: 1. Method of sale

by Alistair Helm in , , ,


By the way - this is not our new house or our old house - just a nice pic of a house!

By the way - this is not our new house or our old house - just a nice pic of a house!

Recently we have completed a complex, emotionally charged, time consuming and potentially life-changing process - we have moved house!

Much like 80,000 other people this year, we have sold our existing house and bought a new house to call our home. However unlike the vast majority of these other buyers and sellers I have an insight and knowledge of the industry, and the property market that gives me somewhat of a unique perspective of the process. A process I am keen to share, providing some observations and insight, now that we have successfully completed the move.

I decided to wait until we had finally completed the process before writing what I intend to be 4 separate articles which break the process down into what I see as critical components (i) the decision around the method of sale - agent or private sale, then (ii) choosing an agent (iii) the marketing and finally (iv) the completed sale.

I will be completely up-front at the start and declare that the process was highly satisfactory. Not only that, but the experience has, I am pleased to report (and to the pleasure I am sure of 10,000+ real estate agents) significantly changed my views, presumptions and appreciation of real estate agents. 

In selling our house we followed a path trodden by over 90% of people selling their home. We appointed a licensed real estate agent, who marketed the home and undertook to facilitate the process with consummate professionalism and delivered for us a result which met our expectation. 

We paid a market rate commission which in the cold light of day is a large amount of money, however whichever way I look at it, the outcome is the most important thing - we sold our house without undue stress. We were therefore able to move on to our new home in a timely manner and naturally get on with our lives.

The starting point to this whole process was the decision around the Method of Sale - the 1st chapter:

 

Method of sale

Deciding to move house is not something that comes to you in the middle of the night as a bolt from the blue and drives you to call up a local agent the very next morning. Like most people we began thinking about moving around 8 months before we actually put the house on the market. I suspect that this time period, whilst a long time in absolute terms is neither uncommon, nor unrealistic. We wanted to ensure our house was in top condition before we started marketing it and we knew there was some work to be done, added to which we wanted time to check out the options for a new location and a new house.

With the house completed to our satisfaction earlier this year, we looked at the various options to the process of selling the house. In my mind, and with my experience, there were three valid options which I wanted to sit down and seriously consider with my partner.

1. We could undertake the whole process ourselves as a private sale or as the American’s love to call it a FSBO (For Sale By Owner). The attraction of FSBO is saving money. In NZ that saving of the fees of a licensed real estate agents run into the tens of thousands of dollars. This is a sum worthy of serious consideration.

2. We could experiment with a new model of real estate - using a licensed real estate for a fixed fee and a undertaking some of the work ourselves. This model lead by the innovative service of 200Square certainly appealed to me.

3. We could appoint a local licensed real estate agent. Make them accountable for the outcome of a successful sale and pay them a commission fee at a market rate.

Irrespective of which of these 3 options we chose, I knew for certain that there were two elements of the process that were not negotiable - we would use a professional photographer and we would market exclusively online.

A professional photographer would be engaged to undertake a complete photo portfolio of the property together with a set of floor plans - an absolute must in my opinion. When it comes to online marketing the listing on Trade Me Property was a must, together with premium featuring to ensure we stood out from amongst the other properties on the market. If we went with a licensed agent then coverage online would include Realestate.co.nz as a complementary platform.

So the first issue in preparing to put our house on the market was which of these three options we would choose.

Selling privately naturally has a significant attraction in financial terms, this coupled with its ability, through the use of Trade Me Property and a professional photographer to achieve exactly the same level of market impact, viewing and potential open home traffic as any licensed real estate agent, makes it a serious consideration for many. However the fact is that marketing your home and selling your home are as separate as buying the ingredients and serving a gourmet meal. There is so much more to the process required to bring people to the point of being able to make a decisions which eventuates in a sale and purchase contract  being signed is subtle, hidden and challenging for the average person. I have gained an insight into this extensive process over the years I have worked with real estate and I can see just how complex and under-appreciated is the process of hand-holding that is required to get people to make a serious move to buying a property. It takes a certain type of personality to be at the same time persistent, forceful, cajoling, pleasant, empathetic and ultimately results-driven to get a successful sale. We can all identify a real estate agent. They stand out from the crowd. It is that personality type that makes them effective at what they do and the rest of us, pretty poor at trying to do their job!

So having decided not to go for a private sale, the simple question then was, the traditional model of real estate agent or the new innovative model? Stacking up the similarities and differences only makes the decision that much harder.

Traditional agents and innovative real estate companies such as 200Square both operate under the laws of the Real Estate Agents Act. Both services would be handled end-to-end by professional agents with many years of experience and success behind them. Both would be able to market the property as well as each other. Both would work to succeed and earn a fee / commission on successful sale.

The only difference is really that 200Square does not physically meet you at your house, they do not have a high street office in your suburb (not that makes any difference), they do not manage the open homes; they judge that is something you can do just as well or better, and if you want someone to do it for you then can arrange it. What they do better than any traditional agency is an online dashboard putting you in the driving seat as to the progress with the sale of your house, not only the data of online viewings but an insight into the lead management and the negotiation process.

Most striking of all though is the fact that they do not charge a commission based on a percentage of the selling price which for most agents amounts to around 3% plus GST. 200Square charges $4,500 - a flat fee irrespective of the value of your property.

That comparison creates a tough challenge. 200Square has a good track record, they have been operating for over 3 years and have sold many more houses in that time than the local real estate agent, right across the country - can’t be bad.

However at the end of the day when we as a couple sat down and weighed up the decision it came down to one factor.

When my wife asked me - putting aside the costs, could I in all good consciousness tell her that there wasn't any risk in using 200Square? - I could not. Not that there is any risk at all, they are a licensed real estate agent. The issue comes down to trust and like it or not - local agents sell local houses and in our area; nobody has used 200Square in our area and therefore that presents a risk. A risk which when it comes to selling your home becomes far more amplified than for many other decision. 

The one thing which in my mind is bigger than anything else in the process of selling a property is reducing risk. That is it; and to be honest the cost of reducing that risk can be pretty high, but it is easy to justify it at the end of the day.

Future Chapters:

2. Choosing a local agent

3. The marketing process

4. The sale!


A radical change for real estate websites?

by Alistair Helm in ,


Last week was the bi-annual conference of Inman Connect.  Held in San Francisco in July and New York in January, the event is billed as the place where real estate meets technology. I have attended many of these conferences over the past 8 years, however this year I attended virtually by following the goings-on on Twitter and through the Inman site.

For me the most interesting component of this conference was the tech challenge undertaken by 1000Watt Consultancy to revamp a website in 24hrs! In the hands of the team at 1000Watt this was always going to be worth watching as they are the leaders in their field, always at the cutting edge of the innovation capabilities of technology as it applies to the real estate industry at franchise, broker or agent level.

The team took a San Diego real estate company website of Willis Allen and revamped it in the allotted time and created a radical change - contemporary, engaging and very different. When you examine the current site against the new design and explore the new design - you will see the difference.

The current Willis Allen website

The current Willis Allen website

The revamped site as designed by 1000Watt Consulting

The revamped site as designed by 1000Watt Consulting

The Inman News team covered the session and for me what I found most interesting and I really wish I could have been there to witness the moment when the new site was unveiled to Bud Clark the Managing Broker of Willis Allen who had at the outset said that he was looking for "a modern fresh site but wasn’t sure what direction to go". 

Apparently Clark seemed a little shocked at the extensiveness of the changes. “It’s different,” he said. Clark said "the firm will look at the design and consider what it wants to implement as it works to figure out how it wants to evolve its website".

He will "look at the design and consider" - this design was created by the smartest minds in the digital space in the real estate industry, profiled at the leading event in the industry and communicated through the media and all the manager can say - we'll consider it!

To me it says so much about the real estate industry's approach to digital marketing and this applies here in NZ as much as it does internationally. The heart of the problem as I see it is that every real estate company wants to have a website that first and foremost is about trying to be a property portal - placing searching for property front and centre. Why?

Home buyers don't use real estate company websites to search for property - that is the reason that portal aggregate the total pool of listings so one site offers the access to all the listings - or in the case of NZ, both Realestate.co.nz and Trade Me Property having pretty much all the listings, with private sale listings the added richness on the later's site.

Sure real estate companies want to showcase the listings they have and there is good reason to have the individual property listings on their sites - just not blasting out of the home page - see what I mean!

My advice to real estate companies would be, have current listings within the content of your real estate company website, not just current but also have old listings - all of the listings as components of the site. In that way any Google search for a property address will be more likely to bring up the real estate company site that listed the property.

But don't have a search function on your home page and clutter the home page with current listings to mimic your office window! 

The purpose of a real estate company website is as a marketing platform for the real estate company. Just as it is for any business looking to attract new customers and provide a profile platform for prospective clients to make value judgements as to the services and uniqueness of what the company offers.

For real estate that uniqueness is not to be found in the current listings. It is in the expertise, experience, knowledge, professionalism and performance of the company and its agents. It's all about local knowledge and insight. Real estate companies should look to engage visitors to their site quickly and share with them the reason why "you should choose this real estate company over all the other options when it comes to selling your home"

For Willis Allen the distilled essence of the company as exposed by the 1000Watt team was:

 

Independent, family-owned business with a leadership position earned through integrity - Willis Allen, 100 years of Real Estate

 

Too many real estate websites uses generalities "Results through Excellence", "You'll be glad you chose..", "People and Property",  "your place for everything real estate".

I have over recent years talked to many real estate companies and owners on this subject - about focussing their websites to address the needs of their future clients and prospects rather than their current clients - few, if any have taken the radical step of embracing this change. Too many seem to echo the comments of Bud Clark at Willis Allen - "we'll consider it" - but they never do!

 


Trade Me Property adds map based search

by Alistair Helm in ,


Call me cynical, but I struggle to feel that our online property searching experience here in NZ is taking bold new leaps forward with the announcement of 'map based search' from Trade Me Property.

It also appears that I am not alone in this regard as my ever insightful news-service of Twitter clearly shows.

Now the cynicism may be from a 'geek' perspective as both Layton and Dave are certainly respected in the realm of NZ Geek Society. However as Dave rightly asked me "how many years ago did we (realestate.co.nz) do that?" - the answer is 6 years ago,  January 2008 as this article I wrote on Unconditional testifies.

I certainly go along with Layton's view that the solution is well executed - something that Trade Me excels at - delivering a great user interface, great design and an intuitive feel.

However I keep coming back to this fact that this is not so much a step forward as a very long overdue catch up.

To be at least taking a step forward, Trade Me should have executed this service with the ability to "draw your own search area" as many real estate websites offer around the world. This example from Trulia in the US highlights this capability - allowing you to be very granular and definite in your search area for property, in this case, no more than 2 blocks from the beach offering just 7 properties that suit my specific requirements.

Another even better execution I found was by Homely - a new innovative start-up real estate website in Australia - far from being a multi-million dollar company, this small passionate design lead team have produced a lovely execution of "draw your own search area".



Is virtual reality a disruptive technology for real estate?

by Alistair Helm in


I have a sense that by the weekend the term 'virtual reality' and the company Oculus VR will be better known than it was a week ago. When Facebook plonks down $2billion in stock and cash to by a technology company it makes news, not as much as spending $19billion buying WhatsApp, but $2billion is a large amount of money for a company who are still only in a beta stage of development for their VR device.

In the context of real estate the question has to be asked as to the impact this technology might have for the future and could it in anyway advance Facebook's role in the industry. In short, I don't think so.

I know there will be those who hold the view that property viewings could become an immersive experience through this type of device whilst sitting on the couch - with the added benefit of being able to create alternative decor and style to a property for sale. This will certainly be within the capability of the technology I have no doubt. However I sense that being able to have people 'walk though' a recreated virtual version of a home will be of greater value to interior designers, architects and make-over services than to real estate agents.

The virtual reality experience is merely to real estate another version of the photo portfolio, another optional version to complement virtual tours and video tours. The fact is that property inspections in person at an open home are the only true way to experience a property before making that hard and tortuous decision to invest in a property.

I would therefore urge real estate agents and companies to save their tech funds and not rush out to start creating virtual reality portfolios of their listings. Photos are more than adequate to provide the incentive to drive viewings.

Just to avoid confusion there is a distinct difference between the Virtual Reality of Oculus VR and their immersive headset and the more practical and relevant Augmented Reality which as a service has been around for many years mashing together the smartphone property data through geo-locational data to overlay valuable information as you look at properties whilst out and about - that is smart technology of value to the real estate industry.


New boundary view - a step forward down a narrow lane! (Updated)

by Alistair Helm in ,


Trade Me Property has announced the introduction of a new feature for property listings, the boundary details of properties. This service complements the existing map view and street view. It is not universal across all listings as it needs an accurate address detail. Scanning the site randomly checking listings from different parts of the country showed that it is somewhat 'pot luck' as to its availability.

A_Home_That_Welcomes_You___Trade_Me_Property-2.png

This new feature is sadly long overdue, firstly as it a core layer of content that has been available through both Terralink's 'Property Guru' service and Property IQ service for many years - these two competing services are only available to real estate agents and other property related companies as a subscription service, although it has been on the Zoodle and QV sites.

Secondly it is the first innovation we have seen from either Realestate.co.nz or Trade Me for a very long time - we have seen both of these companies prepared to spend millions of dollars recently on advertising campaigns trying to prove who is biggest! - yet sadly the consumer as a buyer of property has not seen any innovation. This is in marked contrast to overseas property portals where innovations flow on a weekly basis and provides the competitive tension between players in other countries - the consumer being the winner whereas here the TV companies are likely to to be the winners.

Speaking of competitive tension, it will be very interesting to see if and how Realestate.co.nz responds to this innovation. In the past there was a degree of a partnering of the two major property websites with the two property data companies - Trade Me with Property IQ and Realestate.co.nz with Terralink. However effective 1 January 2014, PropertyIQ NZ Limited and Terralink International limited officially came together as CoreLogic NZ Limited. This came after the Commerce Commission cleared the merger between the two businesses in November.

So now there is effectively only one player in town when it comes to detailed property mapping and if Trade Me has secured CoreLogic as a partner as this latest innovation suggests then it leave Realestate.co.nz out in the cold. Far from the principle of how the Commerce Commission saw this situation.

In the documents relating to the merger and in the findings in favour of the merger the Commerce Commission stated that:

“The Commission considered that PropertyIQ will continue to face competition from existing and emerging competitors in these markets. Furthermore, we consider that new competitors entering these markets are able to access the key datasets through negotiations with local Councils and other sources and will also constrain the merged entity,” said Commerce Commission Chairman Dr Mark Berry.

Certainly when it comes to general mapping there are numerous suppliers - Google being the main service used by both property websites, however when it comes to boundary details this is a very local mapping service here in NZ and 'drawing' this detail on maps will continue to be done by one company (as it was in the past) the main difference is that in the past 2 competing companies could sell this service - now there is only one player to offer this service, in my view lessening competition and denying the consumer a valuable service across their property website of choice. 

Updated - Friday 28th Feb 10am

I tweeted this post and received this reply from Trade Me Property

Now I think I understand the tweet - if I am right what they are saying is that the code integration to create these boundary link images takes about 4hrs and at tis time the system is busy doing open home data load.

If this is right then the question is why not do all this code loading on a beta site before releasing it publicly. The images being shown under boundary views are images (as a picture file) and therefore all it requires is a database look up on an address and then bring into the website the weblink from the CoreLogic image server - if no file then don't show.

If I have this wrong then I have asked Trade Me Property to comment below to clarify.


Why has real estate side-stepped the technical transformation of the digital age?

by Alistair Helm in ,


Global digital data.jpg

We have long heard stories of the power of the internet and its ability to disrupt almost every business. How everyday we search online for everything we need and choose from multiple sources based on price and not on location supported by social recommendations and user reviews. How we no longer use travel agents or visit CD stores and how TV has been transformed from a linear experience to an ‘Al a carte’ experience.

Yet despite these radical changes we still experience real estate services in the same way we did 20 years ago. Sure we use smart mobile apps and the web to do the searching but this is merely  swapping one advertising medium for another. The fact is self-employed contractors with a real estate license still spend two thirds of their time hawking their service in the desire to list a property and thereby secure the opportunity (with no guarantee) to sell that property for a commission.

It is still a process based on almost the same systems and processes of 20 or 40 years ago. Still paper based agreements facilitated between vendors and buyers accompanied by hurried phone calls.

The most significant change of the past 20 years though is the cost. The average fee for the service then based on average house prices was $4,500 (in today's money $7,200). Today you will pay $17,000 for the same service.

So why have we not got an online solution that allows to evaluate different modes of selling and evaluate the capability of individual agents? Why do we not have the ability to create our own custom solution for the services we need from agents? Why does the negotiation process not happen in a secure confidential online environment with support parties like lawyers and buyers agents assisting the parties without undue pressure; thereby reaching an agreement that is digital signed and transacted? Why can we not schedule property viewings using synchronised calendars open to all parties to optimise the schedule of the sellers, the agent and the buyers?

The fact is that real estate has not changed for a number of key reasons:

  • First and foremost it has not changed because the industry does not want to change and the industry is dominated by 5 major companies that account for close on 80% of all transactions. I would go further by saying that the industry has avoided change and in many ways stifled innovation.
     
  • Property transactions are in the main a highly infrequent event for the majority of the people. For most property owners each such events leaves them with a sense of “having to start all over again” as all the people involve last time have moved on and the location has changed - real estate is a local business and does not represent itself the same in any two offices as agents play to the ‘personal brand’ service rather than a company brand model.
     
  • Property selling and buying is highly emotive and has a high perceived risk. For this reason there is a low tolerance to ‘try something new’ - the safest bet is to do what everyone else does and sell the same way everyone else sells.
     
  • Commission fees regardless of how big they are, never appear on your bank statement or have to be paid for in the form of a cheque or cash. They appear as a line item on a lawyers statement of transaction. A statement that often these days has 7 figure amounts on the debit and credit side (including a 5 figure agents commission) but at the bottom only requires you to pay a cheque for c.$1,500.
     
  • Irrespective of the market conditions the commission fee can be easily rationalised away. When the property market is on fire and property is selling like the proverbial ‘hot cakes’, the logical side of your brain says “I should try selling privately, an ad on Trade Me and I’ll have people queuing up at my door to buy”, but yet you fall back on the logic of  saying “I’m so excited that my house has risen by $100,00 $300,000 or $500,000 since I bought it I don’t mind paying $20,000 to sell it”.
    Conversely when the market is dead and property takes ages to sell the logical and emotional side of the brain conspire to say “This market is way too scary for me to take a risk of selling other than through a traditional agent - I need to sell and to get the place sold will be well worth the commission”.

New Zealand real estate is in many ways not that different to many other countries in the way the industry is structured and operates. There is some degree of innovation overseas along the lines identified earlier, however we have yet to see a radical restructuring of the industry and a reinventing of the processes and charging. 

In my view there has to be a better way. There has to be a means by which greater efficiency can be brought to the process and with it greater transparency and naturally a lower cost. We cannot though sacrifice the service component nor the security of legal and principle disclosures and sureties so as to safeguard buyers and sellers in this most critical transaction. 


QR Codes in real estate - a missed opportunity?

by Alistair Helm in ,


qrcode.20223623.png

QR codes have been around a long time, infact they were invented over 20 years ago as a means of monitoring production lines in the automobile industry. Over the years I have heard it said that "this year is going to be the year of the QR code in real estate". How it will revolutionise the industry and empower the consumer. 

In my mind and in the context of real estate it is best seen as a technology looking for a solution.

I find it interesting that it is being used in very much a piece-meal fashion by some companies in the industry - a recent copy of the NZ Herald Home supplement showed QR codes on listings from Premium and Harcourts.

QR codes 1.png

The QR code on a printed ad makes sense - it can be a great "call-to-action" for access to more details of a property and that is what it does. What I find interesting, and if I may say a bit dumb is that the URL (the web address) behind the QR is not a unique link that tracks the people using the QR code but takes users straight to the listing on the company website. Try it for yourself below:

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The missed opportunity by these real estate companies is the ability to analyse metrics of the users of this QR code. To be able to track how many people actually used the QR code - when they used it and from which publication, what actions they carried out on the site once they landed there, what device they used to access the information. All of this, is vital information for the real estate company to assist the vendor and buyer.

All of this capability is free and readily accessible. I created the red QR code at the top of this article at QR Stuff and I also used the Google URL shortener which provides tracking metrics, so if anyone decides to try the QR code above then I can see the details, as you can here.

Given that in principle the QR code is the bridge between the printed media and the digital media in the context of real estate and the real estate industry is so fond of telling clients how important print advertising is, I am somewhat surprised that more of the print media does not undertake to create QR codes for all listings as a free service for agents and use the data to reinforce the true value of the print advert!

The other utilisation of QR codes has been on street signs for property for sale, there has not been extensive application of this in this country but my recent commentary about the UK real estate market showed a sign with a QR code. Again it makes sense as it can provide instant digital content without having to try to punch in a lengthy URL code for the listing.

However the process of accessing a QR code on a printed sign is lengthy - 6 steps in all

  • Switch on smartphone
  • Tap QR scanner app
  •  Tap scan
  • Hold phone to sign
  • Confirm link
  • Access to content

 

Compare that to using a smartphone app like Realestate.co.nz

  • Switch on smartphone
  • Tap Realestate.co.nz app
  • Tap 'Near Me'
  • Tap the listing flag
  • Access to content

5 steps so a little shorter. However the benefit of the app is the ease of use and the contextual information - once in the app you have all the other listings around you and the content is in a form best used to a smartphone as opposed to being on a webpage on a mobile device. You also in the case of the QR code need to get out of the car in the pouring rain and stand close up to the sign and focus the camera on the phone whilst passer-bys wonder if they should question your suspicious activity!

QR codes are a smart technology - I do suspect that they are not a perfect solution for real estate and I sense that there is better solution just around the corner.


Why I love the internet

by Alistair Helm in


Global digital data.jpg.png

The truth is, this post is not trying to 'boil the ocean' to fully articulate why I love the internet - that would take pages and pages and I might end up boring you with all the great advances, services and experience we take for granted today that we never thought possible just a few years ago.

The truth is this article is in celebration of a friend of mine (I call him a friend as by virtue of the web, I follow him - although we have not met for many year, we worked together briefly a decade ago). He - being Richard Westney, otherwise known by his twitter handle of @HRmanNZ as you might infer is a professional HR Manager. His twitter profile states 'trying to raise the HR/Recruitment bar' thorough the use of social media.

I share a kindred spirit with Richard as my modest ambition is, in a somewhat parallel way, trying to raise the bar on real estate from both the perspective of greater consumer understanding of the property market and from the industry perspective trying to create greater transparency around processes as well as to shine a light around efficiency and professionalism all empowered by digital technology. My impact may be small, but my ambition knows no bounds!

Richard writes an engaging blog called "Up the Down Escalator" in which he shares insights and opinions on the HR industry and all it's different guises and forms and is never shy in expressing his opinion. This 'platform' is what I love about the internet and what I love about the freedom and efficiency of being able to 'publish' thoughts, insights, opinions and even musings on matters that are a trigger to wider issues, everyday issues and challenging issues - having them able to be found by everyone who has a desire to read and comment on them in an open manner - all for less than the cost of a meal per year (if you exclude the cost of time taken to write). I feel an overriding desire to thank Google for without Google we would always be the poorer for not being able to be able to find such inspiration and thereby allow those who wish to have a voice to be heard and respected.

Richard recently posted an article titled appropriately "The 12 blogs of Christmas - my gift to you!" in which he has collated and curated 12 other practitioners within the HR industry to share his platform to communicate their thoughts to a wider audience, as he says people who in some cases do publish on their own site or not but who benefit from the aggregated audience platform that Richard has created around his very specialised area of interest which is HR.

My specialised are of interest is property and the real estate industry and I would welcome anyone from that industry to share their thoughts and opinions and I will gladly provide for them a platform to share their views with a wider audience at this time of year - a time for giving. Drop me a line or post your thoughts as a comment on this article.

The internet is the democratisation of communication, in a world becoming paranoid by fears of spying and interception of data we should not allow our paranoid fears blame the internet, the internet is a great asset. The internet does not spy on us - governments and organisations are the agents of such actions - justified or otherwise - yes we fear invasion of privacy but humans have grappled with just such challenges for centuries. More than a hundred years ago with the invention of the camera and recorded film people were wary of the loss of privacy, again in the later decades with the invention of audio recording and latterly video recording just such concerned were again aired. Each time people established new processes and behaviour that not only dealt with the issues but benefited from the innovation. It is called progress and it seldom happens without some cost.

I am pleased to be living in this era and able to take advantage of the opportunity of the internet, how it has enabled us to communicate in an open manner, to foster innovation as the internet knows no boundaries and no politics, it is at its heart a sharing ecosystem; computer to computer, person to person, object to object - owned by no one, company or government yet maintained by us all for the common good - an ideal, certainly, but one we have achieved in lightening speed that can only accelerate.

I value the opportunity to be able to share my thoughts, opinions, insights and views and just like Richard and many other specialists in this country and internationally I think we all benefit from the collective contribution. My congratulations to Richard on his platform and community, here's to many more such people.

 

 

 

 


Real Estate and Technology – the event of the year

by Alistair Helm in , ,


This week will see me in San Francisco attending one conference and hosting another; both of which are central to the future of real estate's reinvention through the power of technology.

Inman Connect starts on Wednesday 10th and runs through Friday 12th July. This conference operated by Inman News through its inspiring publisher Brad Inman has for over 15 years, created a forum to chart the future of the impact of technology on the real estate industry domestically in the US and internationally. Hosted bi-annually; July in San Francisco and January in New York, these events attract an audience of over 1,500 from across the US and the world – a mix of real estate agents and business owners as well as technology companies and property portals. The format is rich in content, and fast of pace; presentations, discussion sessions and face-to-face challenging debates. 

I have attended a number of Connect conferences over the years in my role as CEO of Realestate.co.nz. In the early years these events were pivotal in identifying the trends such as social media and mobile which I brought back and enthusiastically adopted in some cases a year or more before the competition. Inman Connect was the reason I started blogging back in 2007 with the Unconditional blog as well as starting a closed industry forum for agents. As for mobile, Realestate.co.nz certainly benefited hugely with an 18 months lead and 100,000 download advantage over Trade Me before they launched their specific property app as a result of the focus that capability showcased in 2009.

The conference I am hosting this week in San Francisco is part of my 'other day-job' as CEO of Property Portal Watch. To coincide with the Inman Connect conference we organize a one-day conference for CEO’s / owners / founders / executives and investors in, and partners to the world of property portals. This event will be the 8th Property Portal Watch conference and our largest yet in San Francisco with at this time 120 attendees from 24 countries representing 41 different property portals from the powerhouse operations of ImmobilienScout24 in Germany, Zillow in the USA and Realestate.com.au in Australia to the emerging markets in Africa and South America. These attendees will participate in discussions around the core themes of Big Data, Social, Mobile as well as operational topics and strategic investment issues and opportunities.

Both of these events will I am confident provide rich pickings for future articles. I will be ready with laptop in hand to cover the core sessions and emerging ideas as well as hopefully to chance upon a few new start-up companies that showcase their wears at the Connect conference offering new functional services for real estate companies. I will be writing a couple of articles here on Properazzi, but also check out the article over on Property Portal Watch.


Will algorithms spell the end of the real estate agent?

by Alistair Helm in


digits iStock_000000839419XSmall.jpg

Recently I have been reading widely on the subject of technology and its likely impact on business. Every such article or book leads me to ask the question, what could the likely impact be of these new technological innovations on the real estate industry?

Writing in Wired magazine, Kevin Kelly estimated that by the end of this century 70% of today’s occupations will be replaced by automation, could this be the case for real estate agents?

In the book by Christopher Steiner “Automate This – How algorithms came to rule our world” he details the way that equity trading has been transformed by automation where over 60% of all trades are made by machines driven by the most complex and sophisticated algorithms, such algorithms are more and more invading all aspects of business and commerce. In the realm of healthcare he believes that the doctor of the future is likely to be driven by (if not wholly operated by) algorithms. A somewhat scary thought, but diagnosis is all about interpreting data and the results speak for themselves.

Anything that requires decisions to be made based on data can be transformed through the power of algorithms that are becoming more and more sophisticated. But what might this mean for real estate?

A number of years ago I heard the quote

Agents will not be replaced by technology, they will be replaced by agents with technology

I have used this quote extensively in presentations to agents; to shake them up to the reality that understanding and leverage the digital technology revolution, to become a smart, more connected, more transparent, more social is a key differentiator. Slowly (for real estate is an industry slow to change) agents are apprecaiting the digital world we all live in and they are beginning to appreciate the power of being found by potential clients prospecting for smart agents rather the time-honoured but grossly inefficient process adopted by most agents to prospect for listings.

However my recent insights as to the power, capability and potential influence of algorithms in real estate makes me wish to revise that original quote, now updated to read:

Agents will not be replaced by technology, they will be replaced by agents with technology, who will then be replaced by algorithms

I really do believe that technology in the form of highly developed algorithms may well in the coming decade radically change the real estate industry.

Now I am not about to suggest that the whole end-to-end process of real estate will be done online with no human intervention, connection or facilitation; but I think the human element will be marginalized to the extent that lawyers are marginalized in the real estate transaction process to the conveyancing and due diligence component. Agents in the future will be the facilitators and negotiators handling the process after a property has been found, that suits the buyers needs and matches the sellers requirements.

What do I mean by this statement “handling the process after a property has been found that suits the buyers needs and matches the sellers requirements” – let’s unbundle it to allow me to share a future scenario.

The property buying and selling process is inefficient, now I don’t make this statement solely in relation to the real estate agent for which I have previously expressed my views very clearly, but in relation to the marketplace of real estate in a wider sense.

 Think about it for a moment, when we decide we want to move house we are given a very narrow shopping list of properties from which to choose. When you apply the filters of location, price and size you will, even in a city the size of Auckland end up with the portfolio of barely 20 houses that are available over a 5 week period that match your criteria. Widen that time period to 10 weeks or 20 weeks and the option list multiplies – wouldn’t we like to have a wider option list. This is where technology can change the very heart of real estate.

Why should it be that we can only buy what is actually on the market? – when the reality is there are probably as many property owners who have not yet put their home on the market but would very happily consider moving right now.

Could it be that the very structure of real estate, this very theatrical process of For Sale signs, open homes and auctions is actually not the best way to facilitate a market for house transactions?

Why could we not leverage technology to be able to allow us to seek out the right house for us right now from all the houses in a given area and price bracket, not just those on the market. Such technology would know what the situation was for all homeowners in an area and be able given inputs by all homeowners identify the propensity of all those property owners prepared to move over a forthcoming time period.

The technology could then align a chain of transactions such that your ideal house could be part of a complete chain whereby the current owner of that house meets their desire to move and so on. The process seems at first very simple, but start to consider all the variables across the 400,000+ homes in Auckland or 1.7million across NZ with all the inter-relational aspects to match the timing, circumstances and needs of all the active property owners likely to move in the coming months.

Such a process would remove the need for all advertising of property, all listing of property and all prospecting by real estate agents. It would though still require the facilitation and negotiation skills of active professional agents. Their services and skills would though be valued on an hourly basis rather than a commission.

Such a system because it is focused on satisfying buyer demand rather than facilitating vendor supply has the capability to radically transform the very form of property transactions, create far more liquidity in the market and also potentially cushion property market price cycles as the efficient satisfaction of a property chain removes the price pressure of the current market.

Maybe this scenario is too far-fetched but remember how dating and personal connections have been revolutionized not so much by the internet as by the algorithms that power personal matching sites – what is so different about the algorithms being applied to property in much the same way?

 


Leveraging technology to be a smarter property investor

by Alistair Helm in


Technology iStock_000003518333Small.jpg.png

I have often heard it said, that smart property investing is all in the buying. That makes sense, but surely it is as important to manage an investment property smartly as it is to make a smart purchasing decision.

Needless to say technology can play an important part in acquiring and managing a property and I have been checking out some of the latest tools and apps that I think are vital for smart property investors.

Whether you have 2 or 20 investment properties it is critical to keep track of them in regard to rents, maintenance, tenant details and inspections. I’ve a found a single tool that matches this task list and the beauty is that it is a kiwi innovation, built right here in Wellington and providing services globally with clients in the UK, Australia and the US.

PocketRent is an online tool that helps you manage all those tasks as well as improving communication between you and your tenants. From a finance perspective it is integrated into the Xero accounting solution, another great kiwi company taking on the world in accounting software and beating the best in the game. I have checked out a number of online solutions for property management and have to say PocketRent is the smartest.

The proof of any good online service these days is the promise of satisfaction from a ‘try-before-you-buy’ option, this is how PocketRent works, you can load up a single property for free and try it out, pricing then is scaled to the number of properties you own.

If you prefer to unbundle the tasks of property management either because you have you own record management systems or you just like to do things that way, an excellent app for managing property inspections is Happy Inspector. This app for the iPad provides a great way to record property conditions and prompts you to tasks during the process. It naturally captures and integrates photos seamlessly and synchs the data to your home computer or any computer for that matter, as well as providing printed reports and forms to coordinate with contractors and repairers as well as agents.

If you happen to manage some furnished properties it is worth looking at the My Inventory Manager app on the ITunes app store. This app allows you keep a track of all inventory in a property with serial numbers and values.

I started off by stating that managing an investment property was as critical as buying smartly. Naturally any review of technology for the property investor could not be complete without the importance of websites and apps for searching property on the market. Naturally when it comes to finding property for sale you cannot go past Trade Me Property and Realestate.co.nz. For finding tenants Trade Me Property is the answer.

For more detailed information on property values and sales QV and Zoodle provide great insight and valuable data as paid for reports. If you happen to be in Wellington then check out Watch My Street - you have the benefit of this free site for local authority property info. Hopefully in time they will be able to provide this service for all of NZ.

Whilst I have outlined a number of valuable fit-for-purpose apps to assist the process of property management and purchase I thought it would be helpful to also share some more generic recommendations in regard to technology.

One of the most fundamental, and one that is all too sadly overlooked until you become the victim of it, is lost files. As with family images; property data and historical reports on properties are valuable to you. Ask yourself, what would happen if your computer hard drive were to crash, if your laptop were lost or stolen? – Where is your data back up?

There is a simple 3.2.1 rule to remember for data storage.  Three copies of everything, at least 2 mediums (one in the cloud and one on a physical disk) and at least one copy off-site. I use a great service called Dropbox, which provides a fully synchronized copy of all my files, I run it on 2 computers – one at home, the other at the office. In this way I have a copy in the cloud and 2 copies on hard drives with two different physical locations. Dropbox also offers a great service for version control so if I accidently delete a file or do something dumb to a spreadsheet I can retrieve a copy of a prior version, very helpful.

Another tip I would share regards passwords. I like most people, are hopeless at remembering passwords and tend to use the same password for many accounts. This is not smart. The vulnerability though is never where you think it is. It is unlikely that your email and password will be hacked from a trusted site or critical site. It will be a weaker site where you use the same email /password combination – malicious access to these type of sites is sadly more common and once collected these email / password combinations can open up the more critical sites. My trick, which I have used for a number of years, is that on all non-critical sites where I don’t provide important personal information or credit card info, I simply use the site name as the password, that way it is easy to remember.

A better and safer solution to this problem nowadays is using a service like LastPass or 1Password. These services use two-factor authentication to create an encrypted password for each site that your computer safety and securely stores. These are very secure services and ensure you only need to remember a single access password, which is secure.

A final thought in regard to technology and the property management relates to social media and your role as a landlord. If you manage your own properties, you really should be aware of the impact the democratic web could have on your reputation and through that the prospects for future tenants. Just as TripAdvisor has had an effect on hotels and their reputation, the web and its multiplicity of users could be sharing experiences about you as a landlord, the properties you own and your tenants grumbles and complaints.

You cannot stop people writing online and sharing what they want. What you can be, is alert to any such comments. Something as simple as setting up a Google Alert based on the address of each of your properties could be an easy and simple way to track if every anyone makes any comments. Google Alerts are free and can be scheduled to send you an email on whatever frequency suits.

If you become the victim of such negative feedback, to be forewarned is vital. As to action, my advice would be; be cautious about being drawn in. If the comment is from an existing tenant I would recommend face-to-face communication rather than online. If the negative comment comes from a prior tenant and shows signs of escalating then it can be valuable at some stage to add your own comment. Remember it is important to be polite, be calm, respectful and factual – becoming angry and inflamed only through fuel on the fire!

Technology is a core part of our lives, our business and our communications, my advice is use it where it can make life easier, you don’t need to be an early adopter, just don’t be a laggard!

This article is also published in the April edition of NZ Property Investor Magazine


How should REINZ invest its asset sale – how about technology investment?

by Alistair Helm in


The Real Estate Institute (REINZ) has announced that it is selling its head office in Parnell to move the offices to the city fringe.

This seems a pretty sensible decision. The section has a capital value of $6.1m and is in size, in excess of its needs. The property is outdated and from personal experience (I worked there for 2 years) it is a very antiquated office layout far from conducive to modern work environment.

So what to do with this capital gain of $6+ million given the financials of the Institute can more than maintain a new city fringe office and staff – income from fees alone totals over $2m a year.

The article in the NZ Herald stated that the Institute was "looking to invest the proceeds in buying an investment property". Why? The role of the Institute as I read it from their website is to promote professionalism and quality and represent the interests of its members.  Surely there are more productive ways of using $6+m then buying a dead asset?

As a starter and to prove that I am not just being negative about REINZ. How about REINZ taking a leaf out of their sister organization in the US – National Association of Realtors (NAR).

NAR announced last year that they were establishing a tech incubator – ‘NAR Reach’ is a tech accelerator programme which will help up to 10 companies develop useful tech tools for Realtors and others.

The real estate industry is by comparison with other industries a technology laggard. This has to change. This will change. The only question is - does the Institute consider its role includes facilitating and driving this change?

Would it not be of great long-term value for REINZ to invest and support technology companies who could provide services and tools to the industry to assist its member become more productive and enhance professionalism.

Smart technology for real estate agents would also be financially beneficial as the processes of real estate in NZ are almost identical to Australia, UK and many other markets, thereby creating export opportunity and credibility for REINZ as well as a valuable long-term asset through equity ownership in start up companies.

Now as with any incubator investment programme there are going to be winners and losers, however if REINZ were to invest $100,000 in each of say 5 NZ companies equating to less than 10% of the proceeds of their property sale; in 3 years they would likely be down no more than a couple of hundred thousand as a worst case scenario, but more importantly they would have challenged their members to embrace new technology ideas and systems and maybe created a new toolset of long term value. They might just be held up as a progressive industry organisation investing members assets in growing the smarts of the very future of its industry!


Scheduling property viewings just got a whole lot easier thanks to Skedge.Me

by Alistair Helm in


Calendar.jpg

Here’s a scenario you’ll recognise. You see a property you like online, there’s no scheduled open home but you would love to view it. So what do you do. Email the agent or pick up the phone. Both methods whilst effective will likely result in a backwards and forwards flow of information to align calendars to arrive at a suitable time. Seems dumb in today’s technology world and wastes time for you and the agent.

Now there is the potential of a smart flexible solution. One that almost anyone can use.

Skedge.Me is a new service which was brought to my attention by the guys at 1000Watt Consulting who are the smartest team when it comes to shaping the future of real estate using technology.

Skedge.Me allows anyone to publish an interactive calendar on a website. Their own website, a property website or a company website. The calendar can be pre-set with allocated timeslots for the public to choose meeting times to view properties or catch up with agents.

I thought I would try the app and so set up using a 30 day trial. I’ve embedded the calendar on the weekly-newsletter page.

Weekly newsletter — Properazzi-1.png

You will see there are two options to set a meeting with me – you can meet me for a real estate meeting for which the time slots are pretty flexible, or you can see a schedule for viewing 22 North Street. In the second scenario of a viewing you will see I have opened up 30 minutes windows over 3 afternoons next week.

Weekly newsletter — Properazzi.png

It’s so easy, it took me 5 minutes to set up an account define the calendars I wanted and paste the code on the page of my site (you do need the ability to add code to a site).

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I also checked out the mobile experience. From an iPhone I navigated to the page and instead of seeing the calendar you see “Book” icon – clicking this takes you to a custom page hosted by Skedge.Me for my calendar perfectly formatted for mobile, making it really to schedule meetings and viewins whilst out and about.

Skedge.Me looks to be a great solution. As I see it, the solution only provides one embedded calendar per account with multiple options of what to schedule. This could work with a few properties.

For a larger real estate company I suspect they would need to talk to Skedge.Me about their white label solution. Best solution of all would be for the property portals to embed this solution into all listings and provide each agent with a back end access to manage their calendar.


Watch My Street - Your property information (if you live in Wellington!)

by Alistair Helm in


If you are a Wellington resident or looking to buy property in Wellington then you are in luck – if however you live anywhere else in NZ then I’m sorry but the new property service of Watch My Street is not available to you (at this time).

This new property information service was launched a week or so ago and is apparently garnering a strong level of interest from residents of the capital. Helping people easily access what is basic property information in an open and accessible manner – the local authority rating valuation and other data related to the property.

The website has been built and is operated by the team at 200Square who operate a unique and innovative real estate business that is in their words is “reworking the way houses are sold in New Zealand, using clever technology, a better process and a fixed commission that puts more money in your pocket”

The team have smartly mashed together the data from Wellington City Council, Land Information NZ, combined with property listings from Trade Me Property, school zone details from the Ministry of Education and mapping services Koordinates.

This is exactly the example we need to see where public information collected by local authorities is made accessible by government agencies in a machine-readable format so that smart tech people who understand the needs of consumers can turn into a valuable service for the free – no point in wasting tax payer money getting government agencies trying to do the job, let the public decide how it should be used, after all this is our data collected for us by our government (national or local).

This is all well and good except that the following local governments do not provide such property data in a machine-readable format for free.

Far North District Council

Kaipara District Council

Northland Regional Council

Whangarei District Council

Auckland Council

Hamilton City Council

Hauraki District Council

Matamata-Piako District Council

Otorohanga District Council

Rotorua District Council

South Waikato District Council

Taupo District Council

Thames-Coromandel District Council

Waikato District Council

Waikato Regional Council

Waipa District Council

Waitomo District Council

Bay of Plenty Regional Council

Kawerau District Council

Opotiki District Council

Rotorua District Council

Taupo District Council

Tauranga City Council

Western Bay of Plenty District Council

Whakatane District Council

New Plymouth District Council

South Taranaki District Council

Stratford District Council

Taranaki Regional Council

Gisborne District Council

Central Hawke's Bay District Council

Hastings District Council

Hawke's Bay Regional Council

Napier City Council

Rangitikei District Council

Taupo District Council

Wairoa District Council

Horowhenua District Council

Manawatu District Council

Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council

Palmerston North City Council

Rangitikei District Council

Ruapehu District Council

Stratford District Council

Tararua District Council

Taupo District Council

Waitomo District Council

Wanganui District Council

Carterton District Council

Hutt City Council

Kapiti Coast District Council

Masterton District Council

Porirua City Council

South Wairarapa District Council

Upper Hutt City Council

Tasman District Council

Nelson City Council

Marlborough District Council

Buller District Council

Grey District Council

West Coast Regional Council

Westland District Council

Ashburton District Council

Canterbury Regional Council

Christchurch City Council

Hurunui District Council

Kaikoura District Council

Mackenzie District Council

Selwyn District Council

Timaru District Council

Waimakariri District Council

Waimate District Council

Waitaki District Council

Chatham Islands Council

Central Otago District Council

Clutha District Council

Dunedin City Council

Otago Regional Council

Queenstown-Lakes District Council

Waitaki District Council

Gore District Council

Invercargill City Council

Southland District Council

Southland Regional Council

So thanks to Wellington City Council for showing NZ local authorities the way to approach this matter. If you feel that your local authority should participate in the same way then I suggest you follow the advice on the Watch My Street site and petition your local council.


Closing down email newsletter

by Alistair Helm in


In the early days of writing this blog I set up a weekly email as a marketing tool to build readership and provide a weekly collection of links and stories beyond the scope of my writing ability.

I used the excellent facility of MailChimp to handles these emails. Over time I have built a small but engaged community and have published 9 weekly emails. However the email became one more thing that took my time and effort and I have found that it is time I no longer have available due to other work commitments.

So I have decided to shut down the weekly email. I have informed those subscribers and will remove the newsletter page shortly from the site.

A question I did get from a few eager readers was the RSS feed for the articles. There are two RSS feeds - one for the Opinions and the other for Insight & Analysis:

feed://alistair-helm.squarespace.com/opinion?format=rss

feed://alistair-helm.squarespace.com/insights?format=rss

I have also for archive purposes provided below the summary of each of the emails and the links to them should any of the content be of interest.

11th January 2013 - Choosing the best real estate agent / Market observations from Olly Newland / Property for sale should have a sell-by-date / Surprising data in first NZ Property Report of the year / So what does $134m buy you in London / Latest research on the role of digital in the house hunting process / When young people buy their own homes, they feel like citizens with a stake in society / 15 buying and selling myths

7th December - Blink and you've bought a house / Coolest 25 houses of 2012 / Better to buy or rent? / Available inventory of property for sale falls as sales continue to rise / Gap narrows between asking price and sale price in Auckland / Here's a new way to use Google Street View / Properazzi now has a Facebook page / Internet trends - the 2012 update

30th November - Advertising property online vs offline / Could floating houses be the answer to Uk floods / Only 17% of sellers see value in make-overs / The affordable housing solution from the UK from under $20k / US property market finally seems to be getting a head of steam / Tablet devices are the future when searching for a home / Spain proposes to offer residency to prospective property buyers / Greatest real estate technology ever / Trade Me shows the way with new visual search

9th November 2012 - The property market in October certainly shows growing confidence (in Auckland at least) / Auckland house prices did not leap by $33,000 in a month / 30 of the most ingenious Japanese Home designs presented by Freshome / 1 in 3 searches for property in the UK on a mobile device / Installed base of smartphones and tablets set to overtake PC's early next year / House hunting in NZ how the NY Times portrays it

2nd November 2012 - Canterbury property market, latest insights and analysis / Warren Buffet moves into real estate / Overseas property websites report strong interest in NZ properties / NZ Property Report for October / 'The Hamptons' suffereing from the property market fall out as well / All marketers are dumb

26th October 2012 - Auckland housing - a crisis in the making / Wellington property market / When is a house not a house / Interest rates likely to remain lower for longer / Tree houses / Online marketing is the new prospecting tool for real estate agents / The Canterbury effect on the Auckland housing market

19th October 2012 - 5th anniversary of the housing slump / The great auction debate / Do you want to succeed in real estate? / Over priced property puts off 6 in 10 house hunters / Timber design awards / Rents are on the up - here in Auckland and similarly overseas / Mortgage lending continues a pace with new records being set / The US housing market is on the rise / Residential development conference - Auckland

12th October 2012 - There's something inherently wrong in real estate / Most expensive car park / Housing fever can work both ways / Auckland Property Investors Assoc presentation / Major UK lender abolishes interest only mortgages / Don't confuse low inventory with a lack of listings

5th October 2012 - Home broadband critical for house buyers / J.K. Rowlings house sale / Mortgagee sales data / Real Estate commissions / Auckland's CV infographic / Gold or Property as an investment / NZ Property Report


Tablet devices are the future when shopping for a home

by Alistair Helm in ,


New Apple iPad mini

New Apple iPad mini

The most important medium for property buyers looking for their next home will increasingly be the tablet device. Not exclusively, but more than likely the most importantly. That is my considered opinion after some useful reflection from the presentation by the Google team at the Digital real estate conference held in Melbourne last week hosted by the Real Estate Institute of Victoria and RealEstateView.com.au.

Data is always pivotal when it comes to Google – they are a data company. Their presenters Lucien Schneller and Pedro Queiroz shared some key qualitative and quantitative data on the move to mobile for real estate search.

Let’s start with the quantitative. The chart below shows real estate search as tracked by Google benchmarked against other key categorized for both general mobile usage and specifically tablet usage.

In Australia 12% of all real estate searches on Google are undertaken on a tablet device – higher as a proportion of searches than for these other main powerhouse search categories of cars, jobs and dating. Given the current installed base of 40% of households having a tablet device at present, this level of representation of searching on a tablet device will only continue to grow.

So to the qualitative research. The primary factor in device usage is context. Where a user is, and what a user is doing, drive the device of choice. This is why we don’t try and use a laptop in the car; and why a smartphone is a great device for checking messages whilst your partner goes to the bathroom whilst out for dinner!

The tablet is universally becoming the device for the couch and the conference room, and the airplane and the waiting room and the café etc etc.

Coupled with context the understanding put forward by Google into the type of usage undertaken on each device – the PC, the smartphone and the tablet speaks to how users define each device.

The smartphone

This device is seen as a fast, easy-access device. It allows for action-based activity here and now. It is always with me, and is my central communication device – communication in all its forms of email, voice, text and social.

The PC

This device in its near-ubiquitous form of the laptop is clearly now defined as a “work” device. I undertake work on it. I create work documents and I sit down in a work-like mentality to use it. It is a serious device.

The tablet

This device is actually defined as a happy device. It is an easy-to-use device which allows me to casually consume material. I use it when I am in a relaxed state of mind. It is less about defining and actioning a task and more about exploring and consuming.

This for me personally, is a critical reason why tablets are not incorporating mobile phone capability in the traditional sense. In the sense that phones are interruption devices. That is different to the role of a tablet when used for Skype chats or hangouts, those are actioned activities for which the tablet is well suited.

So when it comes to real estate and the task of browsing, searching, sorting, collecting, examining, exploring and investigating all about properties; the tablet is the device of choice. You have the gesture based experience which is akin to the time-honoured browsing of a magazine, you are more likely to undertake real estate searching on the couch. It is in the main a solitary event, punctuated by moments of sharing for which tablets are great.

So when it comes to crystal ball gazing the future of real estate search in a digital future the tablet is the device of choice for which real estate portals should focus. The smartphone will have a key role as the complementary tool to take all that collected information and shortlist of properties in your pocket, but the key engagement and loyalty building platform is going to be the tablet.


All marketers are dumb!

by Alistair Helm in


I wrote this post some months ago now whilst sitting on a plane - a habit I have developed over the years - its always a creative place for me. It was triggered by this spray painted "advert" on the pavement in Auckland the previous day.

Transient

All marketers are liars – so wrote Seth Godin as the title to one of his many excellent, easily digestible books. I have respectfully plagiarised the title to headline this post.

I am not drawn to blog often to matters non-real estate related, but when it comes to the web I am often moved by what I see as inane marketing online, certainly here in NZ and likely as not overseas.

The matter that drives me to believe that all (well at least some) marketers are dumb is the seemingly blind devotion to Facebook.

I am seeing an ever growing move to drive more and more consumers to Facebook – whether it be a competition or as a surrogate home page. Do not these technically competent people realize that Facebook is a “walled-garden”? – a community where brand loyalty is to Facebook and not your brand.

As a marketer you create compelling content online and invest in rich content to drive deep SEO for your website which may very effectively drive e-commerce or at least response to you through contact forms or details of your physical location or your retail outlets and then you literally throw it all away by saying to people “Find us on Facebook” in some apologetic attempt to say that we as a company and a brand are happy to bow down before the “almighty Facebook”.

Yes I hear the cry of “well 1 billion people have a Facebook account and somewhere around 500 million people use Facebook everyday – the fact to remember is that to get to Facebook you have to access the internet through a mobile browser, app or the web. This core infrastructure is what your website runs on. The analogy would be for a fashion  brand building a great retail store on the high street and then saying come and visit us at the discount remnant store out of town in which all your branding counts for nothing with all companies apparel lined up and sold on price with you receiving cents on the dollar.

Facebook is a commercial company; the Internet is a free and open environment. On the web you can build what you like, how you like and when you like and control every facet of the experience and your investment can be rewarded through SEO and engagement. Facebook is not open, it has even begun to charge users to receive traffic to your page through promoted posts, this is likely to be their core future revenue, especially when they have your customers, but it is not flexible creatively or commercially.

As marketers we have always argued that branding is a developed art that creates and sustains a point of difference that can create loyalty and hopefully sustain premium positioning and differentiation. Why would you sacrifice all of that to flock to the Altar of Facebook?

Don’t forget that the web is accessible to likely as not twice as many people and Facebook – be creative, use Facebook, but please stop believing the web is Facebook and do a service to consumers to educate them.

As a demonstration of how to use Facebook in marketing - as opposed to being used by Facebook for your marketing have a look at this campaign currently being undertaken by Amnesty International - trial by timeline. A perfect execution in my opinion.