Slowly but surely, technology is digitizing the real estate market in ways we may never have guessed possible at the turn of the century. Instead of leafing through hefty paper listings, a new web of opportunities has surfaced at tips of our fingertips. These innovations are changing the game for buyers, renters, agents and developers, for better or for worse.
As it is, 68 percent of real estate agents are under 35, while 32 percent are under 25, meaning over half are millennials. They grew up with technology, and the best among them are utilizing their tech-savvy upbringing to cultivate successful careers in the industry.
Here are some of the top apps and services, born from technology, that are giving real estate insiders — as well as those that buy and rent from them — an edge:
Zillow & The Big Three
There’s a new way to find apartments, and while it sometimes goes by the name of Zillow, it’s a wider spread phenomenon with various names and faces — all of which live online.
“I spent hours on Zillow when looking for my current apartment,” said Brooklynite Jackie of her experience. “The map feature is particularly useful, because it compares costs and physical locations all at once.” Jackie was eventually able to find a great deal in Crown Heights.
Zillow is one of several leading rental-finding websites out there. The company owns StreetEasy, known for its quirky NYC subway ads, and Trulia, another serious force in the market (together, they can be considered the Big Three). Before these crop of startups became popular, Craigslist was a popular go-to for renters especially.
Before finding Zillow, Jackie and her boyfriend Matthew used Craigslist to find apartments to extremely mixed results.
“It’s much dicier,” Jackie says of the process. “People can put whatever they want on there, and it’s not always accurate. My mom was scammed once that way, so I definitely don’t trust it anymore.”
Now, the marketplace is rather crowded. Alongside the Big Three there’s Zumper, Lovely, Movement, and Urban Compass, PadMapper, RentHop, Naked Apartments, and plenty more. Many share the map layout, filters, and other search and listing features boasted by Zillow and its acquisitions.
According to BrickUnderground, even the Big Three differ in their algorithms and approaches, so it’s tricky to know what’s best, or even what’s most accurate. Whatever the case, the diversity of options gives renters an edge in finding what they are looking for, and both brokers and agents can find prospective tenants through the platforms. Other than that, it comes down to taste. Jackie says some of her friends use three or more to compare prices.
Of course, some realtors don’t like these services, and there are good reasons for their reservations.
Samuel Wood, NYS Licensed Salesperson for Island Beach Realty on New York’s Fire Island, does not use Zillow or its ilk. “Most of the information and addresses are incorrect,” he said, adding “I don’t regard any of their advertising impressions or views as legitimate leads.”
For other individuals in development and sales, it can potential buyers find their properties, and gives a sneak peak at the pricing of competitors in the neighborhood.
Paper is becoming increasingly unpopular, and worse, burdensome to the real estate industry. When you have to meet in person to sign or mail a document, that’s an extra barrier to entry.
“If I had the choice between two apartments that were equally nice,” Queens resident Ryan said, “I would definitely choose one that had the option of e-signing.” Ryan works long hours and has precious free time to spend. He also needs to move out of his current apartment and into a new one quickly, and can’t afford a delay.
“Once a landlord wanted me to go all the way to his office in the Bronx to sign a lease. That just seemed so unnecessary,” he said.
He’s not the only one, and many realtors and even landlords know it. It’s also easier for them make a deal if they don’t have to track down parties and deal with messy paperwork, after all. Digital signatures have been shown to improve turnaround-time by 80 percent.
Some of the leading e-sign platforms include DocuSign for realtors and DotLoop for brokers. Once this type of technology is adopted fully, paperwork will become much less of a pain, and perhaps fade entirely into obscurity.
Samuel Wood uses Adobe’s E-Signature for family vacation rentals. “Tenants can execute a lease by signing a document with their finger on a smartphone or tablet,” he said. “We receive positive feedback for making the booking process simple and instantaneous.”
Social Media & Marketing
You may still see flyers and magazines here and there, but by and large advertising real estate and real estate services has moved to the web. Getting listings out to buyers and renters, therefore, needs to happen primarily on the online where it can reach the most eyes.
As cofounder Bennat Berger of Novel Property Ventures wrote on his blog, “Disseminating your advertising onto different digital platforms…ensures that the listing isn’t overlooked. It also means that those browsing will have all the answers they want up front in terms of price and amenities, speeding up the process from first sight to lease-signing.”
For this reason, it’s important to take quality photographs of spaces for sale, writing clean and engaging copy, and even better, establish and maintain an online presence. Building your brand identity on Twitter, Facebook, and other high-trafficked social media platforms can help realtors and developers interact with potential customers and show off their expertise. Marketing teams can be huge assets on this front.
For the prospective buyer or renter, the more they can learn about and trust that the offerings meet their needs, the more favorable the entire experience will be.
It’s most helpful for those on the sales sade, however. According to Samuel Wood, the analytics are what make social media worthwhile. “You can create specific ads that target particular demographics, age groups, locations and interests….Digitally-savvy clientele love to get data traffic feedback from their listings.” Essentially, the analytics from social ads can inform whether to raise or lower listing prices.
It’s certainly true that technology has seeped into the industry for good, and it’s only a matter of time before it fully saturates. While disruptions like this will always have their downsides, industry insiders that follow the lead of digital trends are likely to generate the most leads in the end.