Monday 19 February 2018

A mouse about the house?

Online auctions, virtual tours, drone photos - the way we buy and sell our houses is changing. In the run-up to the National Residential Property Conference which examines the impact of technology, Paul McNeive reports on the future for house sales

Online viewing is one of the many promises of the future of house-hunting
Online viewing is one of the many promises of the future of house-hunting

PiCTURE the scene: John and his wife Patricia have done well in America but want to return home and buy an apartment. John's mother Mary has been keeping an eye out for something suitable in Dublin and she spots an online advertisement for a new apartment tower in the docks. The building is under construction, the apartments are selling fast and the developer has decided to auction the last few units next week.

John makes an appointment to view an apartment online with the selling agent in Dublin. His wife, who's away on a business trip, and his mother in Dublin all join in the appointment online on their smartphones. All three see a "virtual fly-by" of the completed apartment tower and surroundings, filmed by a drone, and then find themselves at the front door of the apartment.

The Dublin estate agent now joins the appointment and welcomes our three viewers while they don their Google Cardboard headsets. All three step through the front door into a "virtual reality" version of the apartment. The viewers take a 3D walk around and as they go they chat live with the agent, who answers their questions.

John is concerned about the view so he steps out onto the balcony, where he sees an exact replica of the view from that apartment, in all directions. He can tell when the sunlight will be affected by adjoining buildings - and the video includes sound, so he can assess the level of street noise on the balcony.

All three love the apartment, but how can they buy it at this short notice? John and Mary can't drop everything and travel home to attend the auction. However, the agent explains that all of the contract documents are available online to their solicitor and they can participate in the auction online.

A few days later, John and Patricia make a series of bids in the online auction and successfully purchase the apartment. They sign binding contracts and pay their deposit online that day.

All of these innovations are available to home buyers - and emerging technology is affecting the operation of the property market worldwide. In fact, it is exactly these technologies and their impact on the market that will be considered at the National Residential Property Conference 2016, to be held at the RDS, Dublin, on March 2 as part of INM's Property Programme.

One of the speakers will be Keith Lowe, chief executive of DNG. He sees a lot more of the interaction between buyers and agents happening on the web. He reports a mixed reaction to some of the online viewing technologies but says that technology is helping agents to service enquirers much better. As an example, he says that once a purchaser makes an enquiry online, they are automatically emailed photos and details of suitable houses as soon as they become available.

Other popular facilities on the DNG app according to Lowe are the "Near Me" button, which sends you information on houses near your current location, and a link to the Property Price Register, which sends you the prices achieved for houses in your area.

Enda Gunnell, CEO of Pinergy and lead sponsor of the conference, will discuss how home owners can become "active energy citizens" by following world trends in energy production and conservation, and how technology will influence the types of homes we build and buy.

And there will be discussion of whether all this digital technology is here to stay, or, given our fast-growing population of "digital natives", are we simply at the dawn of a new era of change for house buyers?

Conrad Jones, CEO of Conrad Jones Creative, has been at the forefront of bringing new technology into the property market here. On March 1, in conjunction with his UK colleagues, he will launch Smart Viewing, which allows viewers to make an appointment to take an online virtual reality tour of a property, whilst accompanied online by the selling agent.

Other technologies he supplies are well established here, such as "Vieweet 360 Tours", which allow purchasers to take an interactive property viewing via their mobile phone. Conrad Jones told me that this technology "is slowly being adopted by estate agents here, but the viewers love it". He gives the example of a new homes scheme at Barnageeragh Cove, Skerries, Co Dublin, "where over 46,000 people took an online tour last month."

Another technology being offered by several agents is the "Vieweet Scan", which is augmented reality technology. This allows the purchaser, having downloaded the app, to scan a code on a brochure or advertisement that launches a video of the property or a brochure on their device.

Getting high-quality marketing material to enquirers this easily is a salesman's dream, but technology is quickly changing the buying process too. Stephen McCarthy, managing director at Space Property Group, whose brands include Allsop Ireland, QRE and Hunters, has been disrupting the market here with new technology and held four residential property auctions online last year. All bidding is done online and deposits are paid and contracts signed online that day. He tells me that 85pc of the 220 properties were sold and he is running two more online auctions shortly.

McCarthy says that purchasers "are much more trusting of the internet now and find it more transparent than the traditional private treaty sale process where buyers sometimes wonder who they are bidding against." He is also launching an online "best bids" sales process where "pre-qualified" buyers, who have paid a deposit and confirmed availability of funds, can bid online in a transparent process. This avoids the dreaded "best bids in a sealed envelope by 5pm" process, which is disliked by many.

Estate agency is a personal service, which I don't think will ever be fully replaced, but changing technology will increasingly affect how we buy and sell our homes.

For more information on the National Residential Property Conference 2016; log onto

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