, Why UAE estate agents and developers need to bridge the technology gap

Real estate companies with virtual imagery and 360-degree virtual tours have reported overwhelming customer interest during the Covid-19 lockdown

Technology has undoubtedly paved the way to make our personal lives more comfortable while enabling cost savings and greater efficiency from a business perspective.

Healthcare, manufacturing, finance, education, and retail are just a few of the industries that have been positively impacted as a result of technologies such as blockchain, big data, virtual reality (VR), the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, and artificial intelligence (AI).

With so many positive examples, why has the multi-billion-dollar real estate market in the UAE been so slow to adapt?

In 1999, the dot.com boom saw numerous technology platforms begin to compete with the traditional role of estate agents.  20 years on, the real estate industry again finds itself at a crossroads. This time, rather than technology representing a threat, it is a competitive necessity. Real estate needs to be creative and forward-thinking by making the best use of existing technology to enhance its value proposition, the resulting customer journey and buyer experience.

Unfortunately, when we look at how technology has advanced in real estate, in many instances, we are still asking the same questions and facing the same issues that existed a decade ago.

These include relatively basic practices real estate has uniquely failed to adopt such as online document signing, electronic/remote property transfers, virtual property tours with video, and online payment for real estate requirements.  By failing to adopt these basic technologies, we are falling further behind the curve. The technology exists to enable 360-degree virtual presentations of upcoming projects, the use of webcams for live construction updates, and online inventory selection and unit booking systems. Unfortunately, there are very few examples in the region.

The way the world has changed over the past couple of months due to the Covid-19 pandemic will undoubtedly have a long-lasting effect on many people’s future behavioural patterns. From a real estate perspective, global lockdowns and travel bans have eliminated property viewings, resulting in estate agents and developers around the world suddenly scrambling to find alternate solutions.

Many have recently opted for virtual tours as a substitute to physical viewings to entice buyers. The intriguing thing is that virtual tours are nothing new and have been available to the real estate industry for more than 15 years. However, the adoption rate has been meagre. Even some of the largest property developers and estate agents in the world have not fully adopted 360-degree virtual tour or video technology.

There will always be a need to buy and sell a property. Buyers, sellers, landlords, and tenants will gravitate to companies that have the best tools with which to deliver the best immersive customer journey, and thereby yield the best customer experience.

Real estate companies that possess virtual imagery, 360-degree virtual tours, virtual reality, and immersive project apps, for example, have reported overwhelming customer interest during the Covid-19 lockdown, as buyers were attracted to them by the fact that they could still engage, albeit in a non-conventional form.

The majority of the UAE’s property buyers come from around the world, and, by the pure virtue of the vast geographical distances that separate these buyers from the UAE; it naturally creates the inability for them to be present to view properties at any given time. This fact alone warrants the statement that Dubai developers and estate agents should be adopting a higher level of virtual technology to showcase their properties and projects more effectively.

Which segues neatly to my next point with regards to developers being able to sell their properties while they sleep. As we have already established, a large number of UAE property owners and potential owners come from overseas and as a result time zones differ. In this day and age, it seems farfetched that a sale could be lost because the UAE based real estate agents’ office is closed for the evening, but it still happens.

A website that does not meaningfully interact with a potential buyer around the clock is now defunct. This again underscores the importance of utilising the available technology to ensure developers are more customer-centric, engaging, and always ‘on’.

The basics of real estate sales will never change - in terms of the social interaction and relationship that is built between the parties. However, how we engage each other and how properties are presented will most certainly change.

The more a company embraces technology, the greater the competitive advantage they will have, and competitive advantage will be a critical element for survival in the ‘new normal’ real estate landscape.