It’s no secret that future technology will bring big changes to the real estate industry of tomorrow. What may be surprising is that many of these changes are already underway. In 2016, emerging real estate technologies are reshaping every aspect of the industry, from commercial to residential sectors and from marketing to appraisal processes.
Apps, devices, and software used by agents, homeowners, investors, and others are connecting buyers and sellers as well as facilitating efficient transactions in ways that would’ve been unthinkable only a few years ago. Here are just a few of the ways that technology is reshaping the industry.
Real Estate Photo Editing
When it comes to online MLS or brokerage website listings, agents and home sellers want to show a home in its best light. From the look of some high-quality photos, it’s clear that digital photo retouching happens. What’s surprising, however, is just how much the photo can be digitally altered.
According to Brian Balduf of VHT Studios, a network of real estate photographers, changes such as greener grass and bluer skies are par for the course. Such changes are considered fine for the listing, so long as the property isn’t misrepresented. Some retouching is even more advanced: digitally removing holiday decorations, misplaced garbage cans, cat toys, and even digital snow removal for homes photographed in the spring. Photo editors can also add enhancements, depicting a fire in the hearth, swapping overcast days for abundant sunshine, and adjusting lighting.
Some photos are also digitally staged. “The agent is showing the potential of the property, not the actual property,” Balduf notes of such photos, which have to be clearly labeled. A digitally staged home might depict remodeling potential or virtually added furniture and accessories.
Virtual Reality Tours
Digital renderings have come so far that sales materials have transitioned from flat mock-ups to three-dimensional experiences. Virtual reality (VR) tours are now being used to sell properties from Manhattan to Seattle, with the technological uses only expected to increase. Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research firm claims the entire VR industry could be worth $80 billion by 2025, with real estate technologies occupying a $2.6 billion piece of the pie.
“Virtual reality has been a big piece of early sales,” Julie McEvoy, a real estate agent in Seattle, told Curbed earlier this year. “Being able to see and experience the space is huge. The technology doesn’t replace a salesperson’s explanation — a first-time buyer still needs to be talked through the details — but now you can show them.”
Commercial Data Analysis Software
Real estate buyers of all types of properties often want to be shown the value of prospective properties. For commercial investors, landlords, and tenants, that often means seeing proof of local vehicle and foot traffic.
The tech startup Placemeter has developed a technology that analyzes and categorizes moving objects in a real-time video feed. A year ago, the company was in a public beta phase when Commercial Observer reported on how the technology was helping New York retail spaces choose locations. A simple camera phone or webcam setup could be used to count and track bicycles, vehicles, and pedestrians, then crunch the numbers to provide actionable analysis.
The latest version of the software can distinguish between large and small vehicles, bikes and motorcycles, and more. The software has been deployed by local officials in Paris, and plans are in the works to refine the technology even further.
Digital Mortgage Origination Processes
Software is also having an impact on the home buying experience, as more lenders and mortgage originators go high tech. A survey released last fall by J.D. Power on the customer satisfaction of mortgage customers found that overall the customer experience was improving. That was especially true for customers able to use digital communications channels to fill out their applications, submit documents, and get status updates.
The survey found that younger homebuyers were big fans of a streamlined homebuyer process. “As the number of millennial homebuyers continues to rise, lenders must be ready to meet their expectations. This generation is highly digitally connected, so ongoing communication and transparency via the channels they prefer, particularly mobile, are vital,” said Craig Martin, director of mortgage practice at J.D. Power. Martin added that digital communication was a key factor to having a positive mortgage customer experience.
Apps for Professionals in the Field
Just as borrowers, loan officers, and underwriters stand to benefit from real estate tech in the office, in-the-field professionals benefit from mobile applications. Note-taking apps, scheduling apps, and sales and marketing apps are helping more real estate professionals work smarter and more efficiently. Job-specific apps also abound.
TSI Appraisal, an appraisal management company, developed the My Appraisals app to meet the needs of their appraisal partners. The application helps appraisers communicate and operate more efficiently by providing updates and notifications on orders in real time. Like many such industry apps, My Appraisals integrates with the device user’s calendar app and notifications functions, making appointment tracking or accepting an order as easy as the click of a button. For appraisers, this streamlining of the appraisal process means better workflow and more adaptability while out in the field, helping to cut down completion time on appraisal orders.
The Future of Real Estate Tech
In the future, the importance of apps, software, and other tech is sure to increase. It’s likely that new devices and technologies will further modernize and automate larger segments of the real estate industry, with interconnected systems adding to efficiency and accuracy.
For now though, real estate tech is focused on reshaping individual market sectors as users and consumers explore possibilities and seek better homebuying experiences, and only time will tell what these processes will look like in the future.