The coronavirus pandemic has allowed us to conduct the largest housing experiment in history. We’ve spent days, weeks and months confined to our apartments, our houses and our homes. Suddenly, these spaces are no longer simply the place where we unwind after a long day in the office and where we spend our time when we’re not eating out with friends or going to watch the football. They have become places where we have no choice but to spend all of our time day in day out. But that’s not what they were designed for. No – they were designed as products to be sold.
Housing post COVID-19
One of my favourite moments of participating in the first edition of CBRE’s PropTech Challenge was sitting down and having an informal chat with Carlos Casado about his overarching vision for our sector. I will never forget him telling me what he believed digitalisation could bring to the real estate sector.
- Firstly, speeding up processes to reduce uncertainty. Going from a process that currently takes anywhere from 36 to 48 months (assuming the land is ready for construction) to one that takes no more than 24 months. The market is crying out for a breakthrough of this kind.
- Secondly – a point where I couldn’t agree more – helping to improve the user experience. Not only throughout the buying process, but by actually understanding the buyer and making them part of the whole process, accompanying them right from the very start of their journey.
Changing the way in which we develop and build new homes requires a major commitment, from both real estate agents and homebuyers. Not to mention a great deal of time and a slow and costly adaptation process. Well, that was the case until 2020 arrived, and suddenly with a pandemic on our hands, we have been forced to conduct the largest housing experiment in history.
And just like that, we’ve realised that our homes aren’t big enough, don’t have enough natural light or ventilation, and we miss seeing the sky. We generate more waste, yet we don’t have anywhere to put it, the washing machine is working harder than ever, but don’t have anywhere to hang our laundry, and we thank our lucky stars for that spare room which can serve as our home office or a playroom for the kids.
We never really appreciated our homes before, but that’s because we didn’t have enough time to think about them and because we just bought what other people bought, or we believed that Big Data knew what was best for us, and we didn’t think we had any other option.
A people-centred approach. Or even better, a people-first approach
Digitalisation, particularly PropTech, will help set the economy on the road to recovery, especially the real estate sector. What once before proved difficult to implement, will now offer a solution to the problem. Insofar as new-build developments are concerned, this now presents the perfect opportunity to implement processes that will finally help the sector move forward.
Let’s look at a few examples. We shouldn’t focus decision-making solely on Big Data. Although it has shone a much-needed light on what was a fairly opaque sector, on its own it cannot create a fully data-driven housing project. Demand does not always match up with the data, and the length of time that it takes to sell a home causes the original data generated to lose its value.
One better option is using Small Data – a smaller set of more precise and accurate data that offers greater value.
We need to improve the user experience, not only in terms of the sales and aftersales processes, but also in terms of how we plan real estate projects from the very outset. From impersonal data to personal, user-focused data. The best way to adapt supply to demand is not to take a completed project and customise it as best we can, but to plan the original project around the needs of the end-buyer. To achieve this, the buyer must be involved from an early stage, laying all their cards on the table, and thereby generating new, in-demand values such as empathy and transparency.
And just to be clear… accurate and highly effective data is possible.
COVID-19 will change both the housing market and buyers forever. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Will we let it pass us by and simply continue with business as usual? Should we just pray for the sector to magically recover? Let’s take control and get on board with genuine digitalisation in the sector. By changing our model, we can finally create a sustainable, honest and transparent client-centred market.