REA Group’s chief information officer, Nigel Dalton, said he is very nervous about the potential for Google and Facebook to disrupt the real estate industry.
Mr Dalton said agents shouldn’t ignore technologies or businesses that seem to occupy harmless niches, because where these things start is not where they finish.
One example he gave is Google, which he said had a serious interest in the real estate industry, and which last year bought a US$50 million stake in property platform auction.com.
Mr Dalton said although auction.com is currently focusing on “rubbish property” such as repossessions, it has given Google a potentially dangerous foothold in the industry.
Another reason Google poses a threat is because it can create sophisticated profiles of potential buyers and sellers by monitoring their online searches, ad clicks, map views and YouTube use, he said.
Facebook should also be feared, given its wealth, digital expertise and growth ambitions, according to Mr Dalton.
He pointed to Facebook’s acquisition last month of 3D scene reconstruction firm Surreal Vision, which followed its acquisition last year of virtual reality company Oculus VR.
“What is Facebook doing buying the world’s leading R&D group around 3D modelling of property?” Mr Dalton asked.
“It could be because they’re genius developers and they just want to create the world’s most amazing environment. Or it could be that Facebook is preparing to go into the real estate business. At their valuation, they need to find a lot of things that make a lot of money.”
Mr Dalton said his hope for the industry is that it heeds the example of Flight Centre, which has remained relevant and profitable despite the rise of online rivals such as TripAdvisor.
He said Flight Centre’s strategy has been to emphasise the “human touch and authenticity” it brings to organising travel which, like transacting property, can be confusing and stressful.
Mr Dalton said that while simple trips can be easily managed online, people often want human help with complicated itineraries that may involve multiple flights and hiring cars.
“So where it’s complicated, this is where the genius of people comes back. That’s my hope for tomorrow.”