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Property’s marriage of traditional and digital

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Even with the evolution of the digital world, the role of the estate agent remains imperative to transactions

Digital disruption has shaken the estate agency world, revolutionising every aspect within it. But bosses say traditional methods and elements – including estate agent services and print media advertising – cannot be done away with, and should instead be integrated with technological advancement.

Three years ago, when property disruptors began making waves in South Africa, the attitude among traditionalists was “they won’t take much of the pie” and “they won’t be around for long”.

But now, a few years down the line, traditional players are waking up to the fact technology is here to stay. So much so, that big players have acquired stakes in start-up technology property companies.

The past 12 months will certainly be seen as a time in which old-school players decided to take a leap into the digital world. PropertyFox, for instance, was the first digital player to receive a substantial investment from a traditional industry player when SA Home Loans took a 49% stake in the business in, November 2017. Recently disruptor HouseMe, the online rental specialist, signed a collaboration with Gumtree.

And this year Pam Golding Properties acquired the low-commission digital estate agency But, say the traditionalists – and even some of the tech companies – property professionals are still relevant, and likely to ensure the process of buying and selling a home is “successful, less stressful, and more financially profitable”.

Rather than being afraid of being replaced by technology and knee-jerk reactions about eliminating the digital competition, Mike Greeff, chief executive Greeff Christie’s International Real Estate, says the real estate industry should consider effectively using the tools and the technology available to do what it does even better.

“Technology is not just about making our lives easier, but also enables us, as a modern real estate business, to make the clients’ experience as effortless and enjoyable as possible.”

Greeff says attending an Inman Connect Real Estate Conference in San Francisco earlier this year opened his eyes to the impact technology is having on the traditional real estate landscape. However, he believes technology and the traditional way of doing things can and should co-exist.

“Technological advancement should not, for instance, detract from the importance of print in real estate companies’ communication strategies,” says Greeff, whose company has its own glossy print and online magazine, Outlook. It also has a big print footprint nationally. “Reports, for instance, of the demise of print media as a marketing and advertising medium have proven to be unnecessarily alarmist.”

He believes the medium is “effective at targeted messaging and is important for brand awareness”, and is one example of how the old and new can work well together.

Just Property chief executive Paul Stevens says innovations which disrupt industries often work for the good of society as a whole, but while the traditional way of selling properties is “forever changed”, he agrees there is still a great need for human contributions in the property transaction.

“The agencies that survive the digital disruption will be those offering excellent personal service and peace of mind that no website can match.”

Crispin Inglis, chief executive of digital agency PropertyFox, says the fact traditionalists have come on board to digital shows “a strong endorsement” of the affordability, transparency and efficiency that digital can bring to the market.

He says: “It is another big nod from established players in the direction of affordable digital property transactions”.

But while there is no question that technology is going to play an ever-increasing role in the residential real estate world, Andrew Golding, chief executive Pam Golding Properties, says: “The modern agent needs to, among other skills, provide insight, wisdom and personal value way beyond the basic contractual needs of a transaction. It boils down to the need for a trusted adviser. That is what a real estate agent provides, and which technology will never provide.”

Agents offer buyers free help

KEY ROLE Real estate agents still have much to offer buyers and sellers aside from only going online. Picture: Tumisu

Most house sellers choose to work through an agent, but it is worthwhile for buyers to do the same, says Adrian Goslett, regional director and chief executive Re/Max of Southern Africa.

“Considering how easy technology has made it for us to search for a home ourselves, many people feel it is not worth involving an estate agent to help with the buying process.”

Goslett says the key advantages of using an agent include: 

  • Agents do not charge buyers a fee. All the work they do for a buyer is free.
  • Agents save you time sifting through listings, physical and online.
  • They have insider knowledge of the area and local properties, and often know about properties coming to the market before they have been listed.
  • Experienced agents can often intuit what sort of home a buyer is seeking, even when the buyer is vague.
  • Experienced real estate agents have vital negotiating skills.