The Rise of the Online Property Broker (and the Decline of the ‘On-Field’ Middle Man)
From the global standpoint, modernisation arrived late to the real estate sector. Historically speaking, the amount of capital that has always been typically involved in the property market, and the limitations of online access to relevant property listings, has meant that one had to be extensively engaged in property transactions at the field level. Real estate, after all, is the penultimate immovable property category – with land being an integral part of it.
In the past, the agents on the field had better access, and better connections. They assisted buyers & investors with property sales and purchases, and they served not only as valuators and brokers, but also (here in Pakistan) as real estate experts and law consultants. Everything depended on them. You just couldn’t do anything without the involvement of these middlemen.
And if you tried, you could seriously run the risk of underselling your property, or finding yourself unable to barter it at all. Conversely, if you were interested in buying property, you couldn’t hope to have all your options listed without their support.
Moreover, you may also have ended up botching your transfer or lease agreements – and having to pay extra for a lawyer to resolve the mess that ensued.
So in the light of all these considerations, your best option would have been to consult a real estate agent. Simple as that!
The Internet brought along the ‘Winds of Change’
All of that, however, changed significantly as the working dynamics of real estate itself shifted.
The rise of online property portals (globally) was initially slow because of the stakeholders’ need to cater to the above-mentioned factors, but they finally reached the right levels of critical social influence in the last ten years – five to seven years in case of Pakistan.
Sometimes, the said South Asian country does lag behind in accepting new trends and technologies into its cultural makeup; one of the characteristic downsides of being a developing country. In the case of the local property market, however, their ready incorporation facilitated by the early appearance of real estate portals like Prop.pk and others (which were ready, when the time came, to provide people just what they were looking for).
The significant influence of Pakistani expatriates – particularly in the United States and Britain – who already possessed an advanced state of familiarity with the World Wide Web (a sizeable group that heavily started investing in Pakistani real estate) also contributed to this speedy technological adoption.
Here’s a brief outline of how this shift came about (and is still taking place):
Taking over the search for property – one land holding at a time
When considered in retrospect, becoming the primary sources for publicising property listings in the country was probably the easiest card that the initial crop of real estate websites could have played (which they did very well). This strategy involved no smart tactics – it was simple to execute, and it added to the convenience of everyone engaged in the real estate transactions workflow; including the buyers, sellers, and the property agents. These agents were quicker in adopting the online medium than the other two parties, because they certainly had an interest in expanding their customer base. They reckoned that these property websites were comprised just another way for them to attract more customers.
For a one-time seller in these heady days of the property market’s virtual adolescence, getting a listing carried on any given web portal may have been too complicated. It may also have been inefficient; what with the small number of people looking for property online. However, for professional realtors, sticking to this new-age publicity route was sufficient – since getting a listing was relatively cheap. Moreover, a little effort vested into getting your listings online was no ‘effort’ at all if you happened to be a real estate agent looking to sell properties to dozens – and in many cases, even hundreds – of customers.
The state for customers changed soon, however. Only three year ago, 95% of buyers in the US used the internet to look for homes, while 51% actually went ahead to pursue the transaction. The search war, in this respect, was won early by online brokers in the US.
It may take a little longer for the same to happen in Pakistan – the buying power and family dynamics differ – but as more and more of the nation’s millennials begin looking for their homes, a complete shift to the online sphere will happen here as well.
Real estate websites, in the meantime, have already become one of the primary source of advertising property in the country – in large part because of their ease of listing and cheap pricing tariffs.
Bringing the market – and property valuations – to the virtual world
The most important step towards eliminating the middle-man manifested itself when the market itself was brought to the real estate sector. And in all actuality, this was bound to happen sooner or later – considering the progression of both technology and the property market.
In principle, if there are several properties situated in the same location, and they come with common construction conditions and prices – you can easily use them as a reference for gauging the value of your own property. You don’t need to depend on realtors for carrying out property valuations anymore (thanks to the online revolution). Once a significant number of properties were available in the market – with corresponding listings on real estate portals – the online realm was bound to establish itself anyway.
The methods of conducting market research, which previously involved gathering data from a variety of sources, and may have included an agent’s personal data, have now changed. All of this information, including general property pricing trends, is now easily attainable from a variety of real estate website.
Even in Pakistan, where the real estate had always been notoriously perplexing for new comers, things started to become exceedingly clear with only a little online research.
Involvement of VR and online transactions: Heralds of a Developing Future?
The involvement of VR (virtual reality) and online transactions facilities is probably going to be the next big step towards the technological advancement of the real estate sector. In Pakistan’s web-scape, the arrival of the former convenience is not too far away – indeed, it has already found its utility in the monetary real estate engagements conducted within the country.
From the advertising angle, properties with pictures and videos generally fare better in the online realm. They aid the buyer in contemplating whether his (or her) desired real estate is actually worth the consideration. A similar thought-process works behind the demand for incorporating VR tech into the venture as well.
Moreover, while people today waste no opportunity for only taking a better look at the property they are considering, in the future it will not be beyond the realm of imagination if the final decision of buying a property is made on the internet.
Transfers of property, too, will likely be processed in this way.
Should this trend continue, we may reach a point when the on-field property middleman will truly disappear – with the virtual world fully accomplished what it set out to do!