Is the ‘hu­man touch’ in the real es­tate busi­ness now ob­so­lete?

HT Estates - - HTESTATES - Anuj Puri ht­es­tates@hin­dus­tan­times.com The au­thor is Chair­man, ANAROCK Prop­erty Con­sul­tants

With the ad­vance­ment of the Internet and e-com­merce, the ‘hu­man touch’ and ‘face-to-face’ in­ter­ac­tions are on the de­cline. Hand-writ­ten let­ters and post­cards have gone the way of the di­nosaurs, and even e-mails are rapidly be­com­ing passé as the world shrinks into smart­phones and mes­sag­ing apps re­place al­most all other modes of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

The way we shop has def­i­nitely un­der­gone a mas­sive seachange over the past few years. Less than five years ago, or­der­ing food, gro­ceries, clothes, fur­ni­ture and a whole lot of other com­modi­ties and ser­vices with the click of a but­ton would have seemed like far-fetched science fic­tion, but it is a re­al­ity to­day. And it’s not only in shop­ping where the hu­man touch faces ob­so­le­tion, but al­most all forms busi­ness.

The Internet was not the only fac­tor in­volved in the ‘de­hu­man­iz­ing’ process.

As an as­set class, real es­tate had be­come in­creas­ingly com­modi­tized and home pur­chase be­came more of an in­vest­ment play done purely for fi­nan­cial gains.

Thank­fully, the slow­down in the In­dian prop­erty mar­ket put paid to the ex­tremely dam­ag­ing spec­u­la­tive ac­tiv­ity that drove up prices and cre­ated a stag­ger­ing bur­den of un­oc­cu­pied homes held solely for cap­i­tal ap­pre­cia- tion.

Still, it can­not be de­nied that the Internet has had a pro­found ef­fect on the real es­tate busi­ness. It has steadily eroded the hu­man fac­tor which, in ear­lier years, was al­most to­tal through­out the search-to-pur­chase process. Con­sid­er­ing the spe­cific char­ac­ter­is­tics and quan­tum of in­vest­ments in real es­tate trans­ac­tions, dig­i­ti­za­tion of all ‘stages’ of this busi­ness seems far-fetched. How­ever, a closer ex­am­i­na­tion of th­ese stages re­veals that the hu­man touch is di­min­ish­ing - prob­a­bly for good.

Hu­man in­volve­ment in the search and dis­cov­ery phase is al­most neg­li­gi­ble to­day. Home buy­ers can scout for projects on var­i­ous prop­erty por­tals, and th­ese searches are ‘ lo­ca­tion ag­nos­tic’ as they can hap­pen from a desk­top/lap­top, mobile web or an app.

In the search and dis­cov­ery phases, there is al­most no need for hu­man in­ter­ac­tions for home buy­ers who are dig­i­tally savvy and equipped.

There are sev­eral por­tals that help in com­par­ing iden­ti­fied projects on­va­r­i­ous pa­ram­e­ters such as bud­get, size, ac­ces­si­bil­ity and avail­abil­ity of so­cial in­fra­struc­ture. How­ever, the ‘com­pare’ stage has not to­tally shed the need for hu­man in­volve­ment, as a home buyer’s so­cial net­work still plays a ma­jor role in In­dia. Prospec­tive prop­erty op­tions are still dis­cussed with his friends, fam­ily and col­leagues - although on­line fo­rums def­i­nitely also play a part.

The last two stages of a home buy­ing process - fi­nal­iz­ing the prop­erty and clos­ing the trans­ac­tion – con­tinue to be heav­ily de­pen­dent on hu­man in­volve­ment. Af­ter prop­erty com­par­i­son and short­list­ing, the home buyer typ­i­cally in­ter­acts with a real es­tate con­sul­tant and/or de­vel­oper to get vi­tal ‘last mile’ in­for­ma­tion on the prop­erty to validate the fi­nal pur­chase de­ci­sion. This is the first point where a home buyer shifts com­pletely out of the e- world and into hu­man in­ter­ac­tion mode. Of course, if any doubt ex­ists, the prospec­tive buyer will go back to the pre­vi­ous stages.

Con­sid­er­ing that the quan­tum of in­vest­ment is con­sid­er­able and that real es­tate pur­chases are emo­tional de­ci­sions for end- users, in­ter­ac­tion with a knowl­edge­able real es­tate con­sul­tant is more or less in­dis­pens­able. The fi­nal pur­chase de­ci­sion can­not and is there­fore usu­ally not based solely on the in­puts of a de­vel­oper, whose per­sonal bias to­wards his own project does not pro­vide a rea­son­able com­fort level to the buyer.

The last stage wherein the home buyer closes the trans­ac­tion is ob­vi­ously heav­ily de­pen­dent on hu­man in­ter­ac­tion, as it in­volves a lot of pa­per­work and in-per­son ap­point­ments with the reg­is­trar. With the beef­ing up of the reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment sur­round­ing prop­erty pur­chases, real es­tate trans­ac­tions have be­come in­creas­ingly com­plex and a sig­nif­i­cant amount of hand- hold­ing is re­quired through­out the fi­nal trans­ac­tion process.

In short, while the e- com­merce and the vir­tual world have doubtlessly re­duced the in­volve­ment of real peo­ple in a large part of our trans­ac­tional ex­is­tence, the most crit­i­cal stages of the real es­tate busi­ness will con­tinue to be peo­ple de­pen­dent.

In other words, the hu­man touch in the life­time pur­chase which lies clos­est to the hearts of most In­di­ans can­not be­come ob­so­lete. Real es­tate re­mains ‘real’ and will not be en­tirely re­duced to ‘vir­tual’, noworinthe fu­ture.

MINT/PHOTO

De­spite digi­ti­sa­tion, some stages of buy­ing prop­erty are de­pen­dent on hu­man in­volve­ment

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