Where technology goes, estate agents quickly follow. First it was online listings replacing shop windows and catalogues. Then it was phone apps, so you could browse the market while you were in a meeting. Or on the bus. Or walking down the street (to the infuration of fellow pedestrians). Next came QE codes, those funny little square barcodes, so you could take a picture of an estate agent’s sign outside your dream property and have the details automatically pinged into your pocket.
What’s next? Which wonderful new technologies are on the way to make it even easier to browse, bid for and buy the house of your dreams?
One of the expected trends for this year is a surge in wearable technology. At the forefront of the trend is Google Glass, a device that looks like a pair of spectacles, but which can take pictures and video.
“It’s a game changer,” says Steven Reilly, whose company, Vistabee (www.vistabee.com), is one of the leading providers of videos for property. They make thousands of videos a year, for Zoopla as well as other individual agents. Recently, however, they have started to make videos of homes using Glass.
Reilly says that the possibilities the new gadget provides are nearly endless.
“It is going to really disrupt the market. Compared with normal videos, it feels incredibly immediate. People don’t feel as if they’re looking at a camera, so they relax and the experience is much more natural. The viewer gets a real point-of-view perspective of a house. It gives you a real sense of place. People buy houses based on their gut instincts, and this really gives you that. It really democratises visual content for homes – anyone can get at it, wherever they are in the world.”
Glass creates the possibility of an agent giving a tour of a new home live to viewers around the world, who would be able to ask them the kind of questions you normally need a viewing for: is the house noisy, what does it smell like; could you just check round that corner.
“The quality is really exceptional,” Reilly adds. “Potentially it can replace the first or second viewings of properties.”
Douglas & Gordon (www.douglasandgordon.com) is one estate agent which has decided to take the plunge, and get videos made using Glass.
“It could also have a big effect on the property search process,” says Ed Mead, a director at the agency.
“Potential homebuyers wearing Glass could be able to drive around a chosen area, and geo-tagged properties could pop up on the screen. This would allow buyers to get a feel for the street and the neighbourhood, while also enjoying the property’s interior. If properties are geo-tagged in this way, it could have a significant impact on the industry.”
Another piece of technology making its way to an estate agent’s window near you soon is the drone.
As has often been the way, innovative individuals are finding civilian uses for military products. Rather than spying on the Taliban, these flying robots are being converted to domestic use.
Steven Reilly of Vistabee (left): 'The viewer gets a real point-of-view perspective of a house'
Police forces have adapted them to monitor potential troublespots. Amazon, the retailer, caused a stir at Christmas when it announced that drones would soon be able to deliver packages direct from the factory to your front door. The video might have been tongue-in-cheek, but the underlying message was serious: drones are big business.
In the USA, they are already being used to help sell property. A five-bedroom house in Greenwich, Connecticut, on the market for £3.69m ($6.1m), was having difficulty finding a buyer using conventional marketing materials.
A small remote-controlled drone, with a camera fixed to it, was brought in. Hovering up to 50ft around the house, it took pictures of the house in its romantic snowy setting. Indoors, it took a sweeping panorama of the spacious living room. The house sold soon afterwards.
Drones can take shots that you would otherwise need a crane or a helicopter for, at a fraction of the cost. They can showcase a house in a new and unusual light – and that can be just enough to entice a buyer. They are also getting smaller by the day.
“There is already a drone that you can fold up and put in your pocket,” adds Reilly. “They are potentially a very exciting development for video making too.”
Of course, it isn’t every house that gets the drone fly-by or Google Glass treatment. As is so often the case, consumer technology will start at the top of the market and then work its way down.
For now, these new techniques are ways for people to set their offering apart at the very top of the market. In time, however, they will become an essential item in every vendor’s toolkit.
Futuristic they may seem now. But as happened with sat nav and Skype, technology that was once beyond our wildest imaginations will soon be part of everyday life.