BETTER BUSINESS - The smartphone revolution

Listing and displaying homes has never been simpler. Real Estate Business’ Rachael Micallef reveals why smartphones are quickly becoming an agent’s best friend

Formally the domain of professionals or tech-heads, the humble smartphone has now become an everyday item for 46 per cent of all Australians, according to research from Telstra.

And it’s growing, with this figure expected to rise to 60 per cent within the next 12 months.

Not only are they becoming more popular, they’re getting smarter: clever agents are utilising the booming smartphone industry to get their business out there and give themselves the upper hand.

Smartphones differ by make and model, but as a whole they’re converged devices, combining the functionality of a PDA and a cell phone. The core of their trending status however, is their ability to be enhanced or made ‘smart’ through add on applications or ‘apps’ which can be downloaded to the operating system.

This feature is what businesses and companies are using to make their products easier for consumers to access, and real estate is no exception.

The mobile connectivity of the smartphones is increasing consumer choice like never before, with just under half of smartphone consumers having used their phones to research a product or service before making a purchase, Telstra said.

This data suggests that consumers are using the technology to be informed, and they’re doing this while they’re on the go.

ON THE GO LISTINGS

Almost all available apps allow users to sort through properties by area, price range and features, and provide information and photographs of properties in the search results.

Many of these apps, such as Harcourt’s ‘Mobile Agent’, Starr Partners, Laing+Simmons, First National Real Estate and Century 21 all use the map and GPS features of smartphones to track nearby properties and give directions to specific dwellings.

LJ Hooker’s “Go LJ Hooker” app also has the additional function of turning on a ‘surrounding area’ search, which allows search results to be expanded to find properties in nearby locations.

Other apps include interactive abilities adjoined to searches, such as saving individual properties to ‘favourite’ lists which can be retrieved by the user at anytime.

Even more interactive are the apps from Century 21 and Laing+Simmons where consumers can save property ‘star ratings’ and make notes about properties within the app.

Giving power to the consumer is why such technology is so important, according the Laing+Simmons general manager Leanne Pilkington. “It places the search for properties, be they for sale or lease, in the palm of the customer’s hand,” she said.

The real estate apps from First National Real Estate, Century 21 and Laing+Simmons also display house inspections and auction times.

Moreover, First National Real Estate and Century 21 give their customers the added advantage of saving these times in the calendar of the smartphones, so customers can be alerted prior to an inspection time.

SHARING AND CONNECTING

The more sophisticated property apps combine real estate knowledge with the core function of smart phones: connectivity.

Most property apps involve some level of connectivity with agents, whether it is simply providing contact numbers for specific offices or a customer service line. Others take this further, providing email or telephone information for specific agents, so users can connect more easily.

For instance, the apps from LJ Hooker and Century 21 give users the ability to contact their nearest agent or enquire about a home loan.

Laing+Simmons and Harcourts ‘MobileAgent’ include a ‘click to call’ function, allowing their customers to contact their agents directly through their app. Some make sharing with friends easier, too.

Century 21 allows users to share information by emailing specific listing to their friends through the app itself. Beyond the modest email, First National Real Estate provides a quick tap option which allows sharing to Facebook and Twitter.

ADDED EXTRAS

With so many apps out there vying for the same market, every little bit extra counts in enticing savvy consumers to their product.

And some real estate agencies have become quite creative.

For instance, LJ Hooker’s SunLocator function allows consumers to track the sun’s path to see which rooms will get the most sunlight at different times of the day.

Similarly, other apps seek to provide their customers with an interactive way to find their perfect properties. The app from Century 21 uses a combination of GPS map functions and phone cameras to provide an augmented reality. By holding a smartphone up to a property, it gives users immediate information such as pricing, median house prices in the suburb and nearby dwellings.

This app also uses information from RP data to give consumers a more in-depth look at the properties and areas they are interested in.

Being able to provide consumers with relevant information is what Century 21 chairman Charles Tarbey sees as a worthwhile investment “While the Century 21 iPhone App cannot replace...the property’s agent,” he said, “it does provide users with enough information at their fingertips to make a fairly quick judgement as to whether they are serious about a property.”

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