• Gary Yang

Old Tech Finds New Uses During Pandemic

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed how people interact with real estate. Although the industry has historically been resistant to new technologies, the pandemic has made it clear that it must also adapt. These technologies are streamlining the entire real estate process — from buying, to flipping and selling — and creating better resources for out-of-state and other opportunistic buyers. In this article, we cover the different functions of real estate and our tech recommendations for each:


Virtual Showings

  • Real estate agents have taken to using Zoom and even Apple Facetime to reach out to more buyers. As such, it is now much easier to see a property from the comfort of your own home. Instead of spending the better part of a day traveling between showings, buyers now only need to set aside an hour or two.

  • Platforms like Zillow 3-D Homes and Matterport remove an additional barrier by allowing prospective buyers to see a home on their own time, without needing to schedule a call with an agent in advance. They have also been wildly popular during the pandemic: from October 2019 to the same time this year, use of Zillow's 3-D Home Tour feature has skyrocketed by 152%.


Key Services

  • For those who still want to tour a property in-person, one option is to use a key service like Rently. The process is simple: after registering, buyers sign a Terms and Conditions statement and provide their credit card information. (Rently needs this in case of damage to the property.) Then, they use the app to find the home they would like access to and text a certain number to receive a one-time lockbox entry code. They just need to make sure to return the key when they’re done viewing.


A map of properties available to view in Chicago on Rently.com.


Virtual Documents

  • DocuSign, as its name suggests, is streamlining the process of signing documents. This obviously has great implications for time flexibility — parties to a contract don’t have to be in a room at the same time to sign — and reduces the likelihood of forms being lost or information being compromised. Another benefit is less paper usage, which can be inconvenient and costly.

  • HelloSign offers a similar service to DocuSign, with some benefits and some drawbacks.


Property Surveillance

  • With less physical presence on properties, having a robust home surveillance system is more important than ever. Alarm and Simplisafe are two products that provide just that — allowing property managers, homeowners, and agents to oversee properties from offsite. While both platforms advertise themselves as home security solutions, they have also proven useful for keeping track of contractors and ensuring work progress.


Communication

  • Slack is a powerful tool for organizing projects and teams. It’s especially useful for people who need to stay on top of multiple tasks at the same time; Slack’s channel function allows you to create different topics and assign people to them. Slack’s integrations with Google Drive, Trello, Zoom, and DocuSign (among others) make it a great all-around platform for communication.

  • WhatsApp is great for more casual messaging. WhatsApp Business has a built-in function for messaging business clients.


Conclusion

We at Altus believe there is an inherent value in human interaction, and things like in-person walkthroughs continue to be an important part of our due diligence process. That said, we also see a rising importance in new technologies which are making it easier both to buy and sell real estate. Reducing our presence on the ground has allowed us to stay safe during the pandemic; provided us with new opportunities for marketing; and freed up significant time for us to channel our productivity.


We’re using a number of these technologies to expand our marketing reach and to guard against the spread of the virus. For example, we have installed keyless entry points on several of our properties to reduce surface contact. We are also using the Rently service in combination with virtual tours to get tenants and buyers interested in our properties. Additionally, we are implementing camera systems at our work sites in order to keep track of our teams without needing a property manager on-site. While we have always been a remote-functioning team, Slack and WhatsApp have been especially important for keeping in touch during the pandemic.


Going forward, as an investor, it will be increasingly important to have access to these platforms. While some people will inevitably transition away from them when the pandemic ends, the fact that so many sellers, buyers, and agents alike have implemented new technology, and in many cases boosted productivity, means that they are likely here to stay. In fact, according to a survey of property managers conducted by Appfolio in early June, as many as two-thirds of them plan to continue using virtual showings. Staying on top of these changes will ensure that you can leverage all the options available to you, whether you are a seller, a buyer, or an investor.


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