Is there any doubt that real estate is changing in the digital age? Selling or buying a house is very different now than even a decade ago. Sure, some people still rely entirely on traditional models — listings in the Sunday paper, putting a sign in the front lawn and holding an open house or two. However, even the most tech-adverse person is going to be dragged into the digital age whether they like it or not. After all, those newspaper listings are likely appearing on the paper’s website and digital editions and if they use a realtor, listings are shared in databases and networked to increase the likelihood of being seen by the right buyer.
The computer age has already changed the real estate market and those changes will only get more astounding in the next few decades.
As alluded to above, the internet has already changed the way homes are listed for sale. Realtors have access to listing databases, real estate sites like Zillow allow buyers to browse available homes, sorting and filtering available properties for themselves to find the right prospects. Then there are sites like Craigslist that provide a larger reach than just putting an ad in the newspaper.
The beauty of this new internet model is that it is completely adaptable. There isn’t just one picture and short description with a price. Online listings can include lengthy specifications about the property, multiple photographs and floor plans and even link to information about schools, services and neighborhoods. Best of all this data can be viewed on PCs, tablets, smartphones or even on internet-capable TVs. Searching for a home is no longer limited to reading the paper on at the kitchen table or meeting at the realtor’s office.
The “internet of it all” is also leading to the next two changes.
On real estate sites today you can already see a ‘virtual tour’ of a property. Usually a collection of still images or a video that allows you to “walk through” the house even if you are thousands of miles away. Imagine if you could actually WALK through a house?
Some realtors are already experimenting with nascent virtual reality technology. It allows a buyer to don googles and sensors and feel like they are walking through a real space. This provides a sense of scale and tactile engagement that a video on a flat screen just can’t give. Software and hardware are still in development but eventually buyers will be able to go to the realtor’s office, or access a VR tour at home, to “see” what a house is like without having to disturb the current residents. Best of all, they will be able to put their own furnishings into this virtual environment and move things around to really see what it would be like to live there — all without ever seeing the place in person.
In the past, buyers relied on their realtor to scour the listings to find homes that met their criteria. Today they use the filter option on real estate sites to narrow down the options. But what if the site could predict what they wanted without those filters? Think of how Amazon, Netflix, and even Google learn your preferences and begin to suggest the things you will like. Those recommendations are based on mathematical algorithms that “learn” your preferences over time. And algorithms are starting to be used on real estate sites now.
The next step will be artificial intelligence — a virtual realtor who knows you as well as a friend or family member and can help you identify those preferences before you even realize you have them. AI may seem like something from the faraway future, but it is really just one or two breakthroughs away.
What else is in the future of real estate? Here’s just a few ideas:
- Use of drones to capture images of properties and neighborhoods
- Creating scale models of new construction (or existing buildings) using 3D printing technology
- Manufacturing actual homes using 3D printing technology
- Conducting sales using digital currency like Bitcoin (Read more about digital currency and real estate financing on financial blogs like this.)
Believe it or not, many of the ideas listed above are already in use or experimental stages. The others are just around the corner. One thing is clear: if you want to stay on top of real estate, you need to stay on top of the developments in technology.