Proptech predictions for 2021

With more residential Proptech adopted during the Covid lockdowns in Australia than all of the three years prior, what are the tech trends that will define 2021?

Much of the Proptech that we saw being embraced in 2020 is what I’d call “catch up tech”. Agents and agencies finally embraced technology and platforms that had been around for many – and in some cases many, many – years (video and virtual tours anyone?). 

This allowed us to continue to transact rather than close our doors completely during lockdowns and periods where staff were required to work from home. And while it was motivated in many parts by desperation, all adoption is good adoption when it puts paid to arguments of “that will never work” or “we’re ok doing it the way we’ve always done it.” 

So in 2021, my prediction is that we will see the escalating adoption of proptech in residential real estate that is not necessarily brand new and shiny but is well known for its innovation and efficiency. While this is not quite as sexy as past year predictions, it’s nevertheless important because my call is that 2021 is the year we see some important proptech go mainstream.

Here are the areas that are leading the charge:

Lead generation 

There is now a clear spectrum of lead generation options for real estate agents. They can outsource through longstanding platforms like OpenAgent, fully automate the experience (with a raft of other activities) through newcomer AI options such as AIRE (Rita) or they can manage the ecosystem themselves as part of their digital marketing strategy with established players like ActivePipe.

Regardless of the option chosen, what we saw in 2020 were that the agents and agencies that embraced these technologies and used them during lockdown grabbed a significant lead on their competitors. Check out any list of top performers and behind them all are smart lead generation programs that support lead prioritisation and direct cold calling.

Prediction: 2021 will be the year when the majority of agents finally wake up to the idea that trying to “hustle” your way to real estate greatness by cold calling every contact on your mobile phone is like racing a horse against a Tesla.

Digital marketing

The final death knell on print advertising sounded loud and clear during Covid when newspaper companies closed titles during the lockdown with most never to return. It prompted many real estate agents to realise, despite being more than 10 years old, maybe now IS the time to understand digital marketing, in particular email and social media marketing and how these need to complement and work with physical marketing. 

Some great solutions now exist to make what was previously convoluted and hard to understand, simple and easy to pull together to create comprehensive lead capture and contact nurturing. ActivePipe dominates the email marketing and now also has content integration including articles and data-driven video to capture intent. For social media, Spoke offers the smartest Australian built option that makes it easy to target the right audiences on Facebook and create great posts quickly, while RateMyAgent’s review engine also has a very clever marketing back end to help your testimonials and reviews become the core of any marketing campaign. There are also solutions like Plezzel which is a digital marketing platform across the entire customer journey from inquiry to closing the deal. 

Prediction: 2021 is the year when it’s no longer about either traditional or digital marketing, but that we start to see marketing as a whole that is planned out across both physical and digital paths. It will also be the year when agents stop playing around on Facebook (not that it isn’t fun) and get serious about making the new tools work for them in terms of leads and connection. It will also (hopefully) be the year when agents stop posting endless streams of property for sale as their only attempt at engagement and start to recognise the power of content to connect and start conversations. 

End to end digitisation

One of the reasons that real estate is a stressful job is because humans are needed to move the process along from one stage to the next. And with so much going on – and so many stages – and so many people needing contact, there can be a lot of dropped balls. 

Real estate institutes in most states have been working to streamline transactions for the past five or more years with REI Forms Live (Real Works in Queensland) integrated with Docusign and usage ramped up considerably during Covid. But in 2020, this was supported by the emergence of end to end digitisation platforms – platforms that capture sections of a typical property transaction – from winning the listing through to the sale through to settlement. 

In the winning listings and presentations space, think solutions that start with Realtair and then move into the sales contracting space with Real Time Agent. Into this mix come the sales and negotiation platforms like MarketBuy, Openn and RESO together with the Auction apps like Bidtracker and Auction Now. There are newcomers due out in 2021 in the conveyancing space, which all finish up at Pexa solutions tying up the settlement and exchange process.   

Prediction: We’re still a long way from a single end to end digital process but we’re making definite progress. If agents and property managers can finally be convinced that attaching a PDF creates more work than it saves, we can expect some major time and efficiency improvements in 2021 freeing agents from a lot of the stress of the current workflows, and take important steps to improve the buying and selling experience. 

Buyer and tenant services

Buyers and tenants have long been the poor cousins of the real estate transaction, but due to their scarcity in 2020 we saw changes in attitude improve and efforts made to make their lives easier. 

In real estate marketing, the lockdown was the impetus for agents to finally embrace both video creation and virtual tours, allowing both buyers and tenants to cross properties off their list with confidence before they jump into the car for an inspection. 

Popular virtual solutions were the Scann3D tech, but local players included Virtual Tours Creator and Diakrit. BoxBrownie, cemented its reputation for making property photos stunning quickly and easily for even the stingiest agent no matter the state of the property, while at the same time delivering a virtual solution that is based on existing photos. 

The rise of the negotiation apps last year (mentioned above) put a renewed focus on making the offer process transparent for buyers, underscoring the importance of putting forward your best offer and addressing the disappointment of missing out on a property. We also saw the profile rise of platforms that make it easy to move like MovingHub, Direct Connect, MyConnect and Connect Now (plus others that I’m sure I’ve missed), making life easier for new owners and tenants – while offering agents a valuable add-on service for little hassle. Many have been around for years, but in 2020, suddenly letting buyers and tenants know about them seemed like an easy win.

Prediction: In 2021, agents who don’t make it easy for buyers and tenants because they’re too busy chasing the next listing, will continue to fall behind their listing and revenue goals making their own lives harder. Delivering great service to buyers and tenants will be recognised as part of a bigger lead generation play based on relationship nurturing, while also creating the building blocks of new revenue models. 

New team dynamics 

Lockdowns showed the industry once and for all that agents and property managers do not need to be in the office. Sure, it’s fun and social, but we CAN actually do our jobs from home – or anywhere – if we are clear about our roles, are held accountable and given the tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams to connect virtually and cloud-based apps (many mentioned above) that connect processes and streamline transactions. 

The days of “command and control” management styles are proving less effective, and with better led and managed teams, we’re now seeing bigger offices of more agents run more professionally and with bigger visions for real estate that are based on service KPIs rather than just revenue targets. 

Prediction: The impact in 2021 is changing team dynamics. Expect to see a lot of agent and property managers on the move to offices that support more flexible working conditions, better technology and goals that are more rounded than just GCI  and better work/life balance. 2021 will also be the year when we realise the work we’re doing to support outsourcing tasks offshore is helping us to automate our processes and add AI to our businesses. So 2021 will become the year when we become more comfortable with managing change. 

Smart homes

Cecille Weldon was bleeding edge when she launched Liveability for the LJ Hooker network, outlining the 17 things that made a home liveable – including environmental and social – and how agents could capture their value and pitch them better more than five years ago. She’s since sold Liveability to CSIRO who validated the science behind the approach, and in the meantime, the environmental and smart home juggernaut has gained momentum. That’s placing even greater importance on the ability of agents to be able to explain and demonstrate what makes one property more liveable than another and why buyers should pay more for them. 

Australia has the highest level of solar power adoption for residential homes in the world and as internet of thing (IoT) gadgets become more common in homes managing security, airconditioning, heating, power and other appliances around the home, agents need to get smarter about how they position and sell these features. 

Prediction: Expect to see digital keys, digital twins or digital logbooks tech solutions emerge in 2021 as a way of capturing all of the data of a home surrounding its asset age and technical manuals and warranties, so they can be more easily handed off to new owners, and also support better home maintenance and management.