If you don’t know much about the Apple iPad, you’ve been living under that proverbial technology rock. The world of mobile technology is evolving before our eyes, and its effects will change the entire personal computing industry. Over the next decade, our laptops, desktops, smartphones, tablets and netbooks will change drastically to incorporate iPad features that are barely in their infancy. The lines between “desktop” and “mobile” computers will blur, and you will eventually end up with one personal device that does it all.
I could talk with you all day about how tablet computers, particularly the iPad, are changing the world (read the prophetic, but already outdated, year-old Wired article Rise of the Machines for more) but we’re here to talk about real estate. In particular, we’ll examine what the iPad has uncovered that will change the way consumers locate, buy and sell homes, and how the business of being a real estate agent will evolve.
Everyone Wants Mobility
Before we relate all of this to the real estate market, we’ll need to accept some truths.
First: everyone wants mobility. If you had a choice between a laptop and a desktop for your home computer, and there was no cost or feature difference, which would you choose? (Note that a keyboard, monitor, and mouse can be connected to a laptop just as easily.) Which would you choose for your work computer?
Given equal price, desktops provide almost no advantages over a laptop, except demanding more square footage for your cubicle.
Second: the consumer is more likely to use a mobile device to work with their real estate agent and search for properties, or they will be soon. The growth of tablet computers is staggering and smartphones with real internet browsers are now the standard, not the exception.
Internet access through a wireless provider is already available on smartphones and will be a standard feature on tablets before long. While wireless internet speeds cannot rival home networks yet, the providers are dumping serious resources into increasing their capacities. In the next five years, I expect that every tablet computer will have always-on internet access.
All the experts agree that mobile computer sales will eclipse traditional computers at some point over the next four years1. Given that everyone wants mobility and the increased supply will drive down prices, we can expect that corporations will follow suit, although more slowly. This technologist would not be surprised to witness the death of desktops in the next decade.
This all implies that the real estate consumer will be using these mobile computing platforms as their primary communication and internet device.
Point and Touch Killed Point and Click
I’ve done a study. I asked some people if it was easier to use your finger to point at something or a computer accessory that powers an icon. They all chose the finger. Of course, there was only one person in the study and he is 8 months old, but I’m pretty sure most people would agree point-and-touch is easier for the vast majority of applications.
A consumer performing a real estate search will choose the same. Online searches will become more touch-aware, and begin supporting swipes, pinches and other gestures. If your property search works best with the device the consumer is using, you will get most of the device’s real estate consumers.
“What are the three most important features of a real estate property? Location, location, location.”
That quote is more appropriate than ever. The consumer now has a device with an internal GPS constantly aware of its exact location. There are already real estate apps taking advantage of this. One of my favorites is the ZipRealty app that leverages augmented reality to show prices of the homes seen in your mobile device’s camera. Smarter Agent also has an app that shows you properties for sale near your current location.
There are thousands of ways for real estate practitioners to provide services to GPS-enabled consumers. We’re barely scratching the surface here. In a future post, I will list my favorite iPad real estate apps, and you can see some for yourself.
Paper and Ink is So 2nd Century AD
Papyrus was cutting-edge technology in China in the year 180. Ink was invented to draw on cave walls.
We create nearly every document electronically today through online forms or a word processor. Then we print it for a signature or to (gasp!) fax it. Then we scan it for archival. Wouldn’t this be a whole lot simpler if we just skipped the printing and scanning steps?
With NAR’s blessing of DocuSign as its exclusive eSignature service in late 2009, real estate agents should now be sending listing agreements, offer letters, and contracts (at the least) through DocuSign. Electronic documents are passed around (via email invitations) to the contract parties so they can digitally sign online. The original document quality and integrity are maintained and the entire process can be completed in minutes rather than hours or days.
Any computer can be used to electronically sign a document, but tablets are particularly suited. Via in-person signing, an agent can create a contract online and hand over the tablet to their customer so they can sign it immediately. You can do this today; what are you waiting for? Fax is dead, long live e-signatures.
The Evolution of the Real Estate Consumer and Agent
The real estate agents that embrace these changes will be the only ones to survive. In some parts of the country, consumers are already balking at agents who require hand signatures and faxed copies. I would too, if I had a choice. I don’t own a fax machine, nor will I.
Consumers are savvy and value their privacy. They prefer to find answers to most of their real estate questions on their own. However, they will still require an agent to lead them through the process of purchasing or selling their home. Agents who can respect the consumer’s need for anonymity in the beginning will sow trust that will reap a healthy relationship later. Real estate companies that can provide mobile-friendly tools to answer consumer questions will earn the business when that consumer is ready to buy or sell.
Consumers and their mobile devices are evolving faster than the real estate industry. They are settling for the current agent and their old-school practices, but they are not happy. When that agent comes along with their shiny new touch screen, video conferencing, electronic forms and virtual ink pen, the wooing begins.