How coro­n­avirus will change the way we buy prop­erty

Es­tate agents and house hunters are hav­ing to adapt with the tech used in video games and self-driv­ing cars, writes Melissa Law­ford

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Consumer -

e are in Mar­bella. My guide, José Luis Leirós, is ges­tur­ing like a weath­er­man to a golf course on a map of the Costa del Sol. And then, as if he is Q and I am James Bond, the map flips, be­comes three­d­i­men­sional, and we zoom to­wards a wind­surfer who is speed­ing across the Mediter­ranean.

Leirós is now miniature in the cor­ner of my screen. But, at the touch of a but­ton, we are on the ter­race of a white, new-build villa. “Big sur­prise!” says Leirós. “There’s some­one in the pool and it’s me!” Video gamers might recog­nise a few things. Leirós is the di­rec­tor of in­no­va­tion at Aedas Homes, a Span­ish prop­erty de­vel­oper, and he is the first to ap­ply the tech­nol­ogy Epic Games uses to make the vir­tual re­al­i­ties of on­line games, such as Fort­nite, to the world of prop­erty.

The re­sult is Live, a plat­form that con­verts hous­ing de­vel­op­ments into nav­i­ga­ble cy­ber land­scapes. The twist is that, un­like video games, the tech­nol­ogy can in­cor­po­rate a real per­son. And un­like nor­mal house view­ings, Leirós is able to change the colour of the kitchen.

As the global pandemic makes view­ing homes im­pos­si­ble, and as the gov­ern­ment ad­vises paus­ing any house moves, coro­n­avirus is push­ing the prop­erty sec­tor much fur­ther into dig­i­tal realms. It is easy to imag­ine that this will be the fu­ture of real es­tate.

A fleet of young com­pa­nies spe­cial­is­ing in vir­tual tours are boom­ing. In the past two weeks, Zoopla has seen a 215 per cent surge in view­ings of new-builds us­ing its AdReach video tech­nol­ogy. Re­mote tours of de­vel­op­ments “are quickly be­com­ing the new nor­mal”, says Andy Marshall, of the prop­erty por­tal.

Cru­cially, the tech is also get­ting much bet­ter. Live was de­signed sim­ply to en­cour­age Aedas’s clients to fly to Spain to view the properties in per­son, but Leirós cites a cou­ple from Rus­sia who re­cently made a €415,000 (£380,000) trans­fer off the back of a vir­tual tour alone.

Though most buy­ers are un­likely to be per­suaded to make the most ex­pen­sive pur­chase of their life with­out see­ing it first, tech­nol­ogy might just be able to keep the prop­erty mar­ket alive for now. And it’s likely it will change it for­ever.

Knight Frank’s Bea­cons­field of­fice started us­ing a sys­tem called Mat­ter­port to 3D-scan homes at the end of last year, says Oliver Beales, of the agency. The re­sult is a dig­i­tal dolls’ house ver­sion of a home, which is sus­pended in your screen and can be zoomed around in a sim­i­lar way to Google Street View, but with much more de­tail.

The phys­i­cal side of the mar­ket is go­ing to get more stream­lined. “Ev­ery­one is go­ing to do a lot more ground­work and in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­fore they visit a prop­erty,” says Jeremy Leaf, a Lon­don es­tate agent. Tech will hugely re­duce the num­ber of face-to-face in­ter­ac­tions needed to se­cure a sale.

There are lots of tech firms gear­ing up to fill the breach. Pupil, a Lon­don-based AI mea­sure­ment start-up, aims to add cer­tainty to floor plans and there­fore val­u­a­tions. In Lon­don, it is es­ti­mated that homes are mis­sold by an av­er­age of £33,800 be­cause the size of the properties on the mar­ket are es­ti­mated with such in­ac­cu­racy.

Its first prod­uct, Spec, has a fleet of dig­i­tal sur­vey­ors who make 3D scans of homes us­ing the same tech­nol­ogy that steers self-driv­ing cars. It is cur­rently used by more than 500 es­tate agent branches in the cap­i­tal, and pro­vides ac­cu­rate, in­sured and cer­ti­fied floor plans, which can be used for val­u­a­tions. As a by-prod­uct, the scans come with a 3D vir­tual tour.

In the fu­ture, the prop­erty sec­tor could also in­creas­ingly in­ter­sect with the gig econ­omy. In 2016, Ed Mead set up View­ber, a sys­tem which is some­thing of an ‘Uber for house view­ings’. Prospec­tive ten­ants and buy­ers nor­mally need to view properties in the evenings and at week­ends, and View­ber gives es­tate agen­cies con­stant ac­cess to a pool of free­lance staff to host home hunters look­ing at properties.

“Our big­gest growth area is pri­vate own­ers em­ploy­ing peo­ple to look on their be­half,” says Mead. A View­ber agent can do an ini­tial view­ing (“no con­tact” op­tions are avail­able) and conduct video tours be­fore the buyer does the fi­nal view­ing them­selves. The video tours are “our fastest-grow­ing ser­vice by miles”, he adds.

Once the coro­n­avirus out­break is un­der con­trol, it is likely to have a lon­glast­ing be­havioural im­pact. Peo­ple will still need to buy homes, but sell­ers will be more wary of invit­ing strangers into their houses, and buy­ers will be less keen to travel to view­ings. These changes will be here to stay.

It is a dig­i­tal dolls’ house ver­sion of a home which is sus­pended in your screen

VIR­TU­ALLY SOLD Knight Frank is mar­ket­ing Bur­ley House for £4.95m, main and right, us­ing 3D scans

CY­BER SELL­ING Aedas mar­kets a villa us­ing Live, top; a “dolls’ house” view of Bur­ley House, above

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