Consumer experience innovations in residential property portals

It’s 21 years on from my first work experience foray into real estate and my current role focuses on UK digital, technology and data needs for one of the largest global commercial real estate services and investment firm. As part of this role I conduct ongoing discovery around market trends, consumer behaviours, customer needs and pain points, and I analyse competitor products in the market. As part of an extra-curricular project, inspired by my fire safety scandal issues, I’ve been researching the residential real estate market to understand trends and underserved areas of the sector. This post is the last of a blog series exploring digital transformations for residential movers and property investors. The series started by recalling my real estate experiences before the dawn of the internet, before reflecting on how technology and consumer experience has evolved since the internet took off. The last post finished by posing the question “is innovation in property search stagnating?” In this final post I showcase some of the latest residential property portal innovations and explore what the future consumer experience could look like for investors, buyers, sellers and renters. As ever, please use the comments to share your thoughts and ideas or to flag any topics or tech products you’d like me to explore further in future posts.

Is innovation in the property search market stagnating?

If you read part 2 of this series it would be easy to think the consumer property search experience has stagnated, and innovation has halted. With the exception of mobile “use my current location”, the way we search hasn’t fundamentally changed in a decade. We go to a website or app, enter a location or area (perhaps with a couple of other search criteria such as price range, number of bedrooms, property type and date listed) and then the consumer is expected to scroll through pages of results or click pins on maps to explore the results. Property portals have a lot of information on what we are looking for and viewing on their site and where we generate contact leads for specific properties – but they still don’t ask us explicitly what we are looking for and specific property features that would make or break a deal. They also don’t capture data on when we’ve discounted a property or why. If they did then this type of data could be used to improve search result recommendations. Zoopla does have a neat keywords search filter – but these are not quite the same as understanding things like your maximum commute time to work, schools and gym, minimum floor size you would consider, lowest or highest floor you’d like, desired age or quality of property or your local area and demographic preferences.

Meanwhile Location Location Location’s Phil and Kirstie are on series 35 and have been on British TV 21 years together showing property searchers that humans can still find you the home of your dream in a way many movers can’t do by themselves. This underlines the importance of real people and local experts (aka agents) as part of the property search and moving process.

Consumers in other industries are increasingly willing to give their data in return for a better experience and making more relevant connections and matches. Just ask friends who use dating apps and site how much information they share to find the perfect someone or some thing(s). People are even willing to pay companies and give them more data in return for richer functionality and shortlisting capabilities or to get a chance to view something first. Other examples include the insurance industry where consumers are willing to give their driving data in order to secure better value premiums. This begs the question:

Is the residential property sector adapting to changing consumer needs and behaviours such as those willing to give companies more personal data in return for better value?

Expand the sections below to see evolutions in the online property arena you may have missed, and to discover exciting technologies being developed that seekto change how you interact with property:

The pandemic has forced technology to adapt

The pandemic has forced agents and property portals to rethink how they list and view properties – driving less physical touch points as a result of lockdown restrictions.

Use of video is a great example. In 2020 Rightmove launched additional video features to it’s portal, and in Feb 2021 they boasted that 34% of sales and 17% of lettings now feature video content compared to 2% and 1% respectively in Jan 2020. Video is becoming increasingly popular, and with the launch of 5G internet the barrier to watching videos on the move is reducing. 

Since the pandemic the commercial real estate world is also seeing a big uptake on immersive viewing experiences and 3D floor plans. The technologies behind these cost a lot more to develop so are clearly more applicable to larger and/or prestige buildings (right now), but its not beyond the realms of possibility that developers for large residential sites may assess the technology for use in selling large and/or high end new builds.

An area I’ve been researching tech opportunities is property viewings and how centralising this data could create better insights for sellers and generate more targeted leads. For sellers it could also provide insight into what sells quickly or for the best value, how to present their property for sale, and/or why their property sales may not be matching their expectations. As a former apartment block manager such data could also give insights into the health and desirability of the block and areas for improvement. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find that both Rightmove and Zoopla already have this technology available. Rightmove via its Viewing Manager (which they enhanced during the pandemic), whilst Zoopla offer Property File to its agents. At the moment neither of these products appear to data mine that viewing feedback data to provide insight products to help improve listings, inform agents and vendors, or target the best prospects to get the best match and price. But surely this is just time, right?

Property portal’s are booming

Boomin.com, brought to you by the guys that launched PurpleBricks.co.uk, launched a new property portal in 2021. Boomin have committed $50,000,000 in marketing alone over the next 3 years to make it a household name. Along with the standard property search stuff, they aim to challenge the status quo with two differentiating features:

  1. A cool “Play” feature which takes inspiration from Pinterest to allow users to create moodboard of interior design inspiration. This appears to be the modern day equivalent of looking at show houses (a popular hobby of my mum’s friends back in the day) – even if you’ve no intention of moving. As a regular pinterester for property inspiration I’m sure this will drive traffic to the site, boost marketing figures and help raise brand awareness – but for me the jury is still out on whether it will drive new qualified leads to property listings, or merely artificially skew listing viewer stats for its own benefit. 
  2. A “Secret Property” and “Matchmaker” feature designed to allow potential buyers to place a free advert pinpointing up to 5 streets where they’d love to live, and enabling potential sellers to be introduced to the those looking for their dream home. This feature is reminiscent of Zoopla’s “Tempt Me” feature – and its success will likely depend on the market coverage of available properties and on adoption of the site.

    It’s interesting to note that Zoopla too is evolving its “Tempt Me” feature and as part of its revamped product strategy is launching “My Home” to help consumers understand the value of their home and flirt with putting it on the market.
Knowing their customers and personalising your results

Whilst the property portal giants may not ask you too many questions about what you are looking for, other sites are catching on that not everyone is looking for the same – and understanding your needs can help tailor your experience. In Product Management we call this customer segmentation and tailoring your experience according to the Job to be Done. What’s more the sites below will put extra data about the market in your hands to inform your next investment, will save you time to find your next home and may help avoid you missing out on your perfect home or investment.

Here are three exciting brands emerging that give you much greater control over what you are looking for:

  • Propertydata.co.uk – They provide market research, help source properties according to your needs, and evaluate the value of properties. They data mine property listings to help refine your property search according to 28+ investment strategies. For example you can search for homes in need of modernisation, quick sales, HMOs, homes under auction, corner plots, repossessed homes, land with development potential, cash buyers and much more. As someone who sees their next home as a victorian terrace with extension potential this is a great way to save time by short listing options quicker.
  • SearchSmartly – This Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered platform promises to “provide hyper-personalised property searches in minutes”. When you sign up SearchSmartly begins by asking you a number of questions to understand your property, lifestyle and commute preferences and then quietly scores and ranks all in scope properties it is aware according to your criteria. The results are a personalised list or properties ordered accordingly to what it thinks you’ll love most. You can even check air quality score for the properties – if that’s your thing. Their focus is currently on London properties and the Home Counties, but with £1.25 million seed investment secured in June 2021 they plan to expand to enable home searchers across the whole country. Could this be the digital version of Phil and Kirstie?
  • Bricks & Logic is a free website to use and gives you visual insights into the market. Combining Land Registry house sale data with their own community crowd sourced data to help you visually identify which areas of the market have seen the biggest changes in prices over a defined period of time and how specific homes compare to the local average. Their property data is a little richer than that the leading property portals (e.g. it captures building style, home size, floor number for apartments, condition and type of outdoor space) and if you find an error you can submit corrections to the data. The focus of the site is currently London only as they look to refine their product and find the right market fit, but it clearly has a lot of potential if it can scale whilst improving the richness of property data to help you inform investment decisions. Personally I love this site for the market insight visuals alone and its already provided me inspiration for my day job in commercial real estate. I’m curious to see where they take the product next.

All of the above got me thinking – what other type of data could be used to create insights that help market, improve and get the best value from a home? For example, when I’m searching daydreaming for my next home I find going from property listing to Apple’s 3D maps to look for evidence of rear side extensions or loft conversions on neighbouring properties. If I find them I then search Local Authority planning portals for local planning history of nearby properties to gauge types of property changes and likelihood of approval. LandTech, another exciting PropTech, already make this type of search easy for their subscription users and help you with evaluating, sourcing and planning for development sites. I wonder how long before other property sites help you understand the development potential of a home?

Your car has an MOT log book – so why not your property?

Since December 2008, every house for sale in Scotland has to be marketed with a Home Report. A Home Report is a pack of documents which helps to give would-be buyers more information about a property that is up for sale. Key documents include a property survey (an assessment by a Surveyor of the condition of the home, a Valuation and an accessibility audit for people with particular needs), an energy efficiency report and a property questionnaire detailing cost factors that will be useful to buyers such as council tax banding. There is a fourth optional document: the Mortgage Valuation Report. Such reports can help you understand changes and the value of a home and inform any decision to make an offer. The rest of the UK has no such requirement and as things stand, there seems little appetite for mandatory Home Reports to be introduced outside of Scotland. 

When buying my first home in England I was let down twice by sellers who accepted my offers on their properties only for them to pull out at no cost to themselves but at over £2,000 cost to me for the legal, financial and property due diligence checks. Now as a homeowner I’m acutely aware of the complexities of owning a leasehold apartment and the hidden costs and undocumented repairs associated with it that future buyers will have no visibility of. I’m not advocating for or against Home Reports here, but the concept of giving prospective buyers more information upfront to inform their investment is a sound one.

The fire safety scandal has caused others to question why cars have log books to show they are safe, and yet buildings do not. The folks over at Building Safety Register are campaigning for transparency in building safety and for the creation of the Building Safety Logbook for all buildings. They’ve even built the technology ready to deliver this and have over 2,800 blocks listed on their Building Safety Register. Their technology doesn’t end there – you could use it to log and track key documents associated with blocks and individual homes (e.g. safety checks, insurance documents, internal change approvals), track expiry or renewal dates, or even store and track personal documents such as passports or proof of purchase and warranty receipts. Imagine the benefits if you moved into a new home and it came with a digital version of all the key documents for appliances in the property, all safety check certificates and details of the fixtures and fittings in case you needed to repair or replace them. Twindig (short for Digital Twin) is another PropTech offering similar technology to store important documents and information about your home. Their mission includes helping you maximise your home’s value, sell your home faster, buy a home with greater confidence and maximise your rental returns. In my own property I’ve had freeholder approval to change some of the internals. Yet our Right To Manage company took over the block and changed management companies the previous Property Managers did not transfer knowledge of this change approval. In this scenario a digital twin of my property would help audit and protect my investment.

So is this a niche use case, or could you imagine yourself using something similar?

Over at Zoopla their “My Home” feature claims it will provide “valuable insights to help you understand if it’s time to move and sell”. Whilst this doesn’t sound the same as a digital log book, it wouldn’t be a stretch for them to extend this feature. The team over at TwinDig certainly agree and note they already offer many of Zoopla’s future capabilities to their customers. With ZPG’s wider portfolio of insurance and comparison service products such a log book could simplify the experience of applying for and evidencing home service products or claims. They could also make it easy to share property or belonging particulars (e.g. boiler details and service history or proof of purchases) with trades people and service providers (e.g. insurers). As a bonus, the property sector could maintain a relationship with you and your current home, making it simpler for future buyers to understand the value and changes to your home and making it simpler for you to prepare detailed property particulars that could differntiate your home on the market.

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Which of these technology products excites or scares you? What do you see as the be the future of online property portal experiences that you expect to see over the next decade? Let me know via the comments.

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Darren

Darren

Darren is an experienced product manager currently working in the Real Estate industry. He is passionate about using data, listening to people and focusing on user experience to identify and solve real problems and in doing so to make a lasting impact for our communities.

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