How will technology reshape the real estate sector in the new normal?

If there is one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it is that technology can truly reshape the way we work, live and play. With workers and families forced to make the best out of the situation while hunkering down in their respective homes, technology has allowed for the continuation of life amidst a worldwide crisis like never before in history. In this article, we will be scoping how technology could potentially disrupt and reshape the way the Real Estate market functions, behaves and operates in the years to come.

One key aspect of the Real Estate market comprises of the sale and transaction of real estate itself. This entails viewings, signing of contractual agreements and every nitty-gritty in between. Pre-COVID 19 days, the process of real estate changing hands is often done via physical meetings over a cup of coffee. However, during COVID-19, homeowners, buyers and agents had to adapt and adopt new strategies in order to continue to survive. In the past weeks during the Circuit Breaker period, Straits Times reported housing transactions being made virtually, with some of the homeowners never having seen the property in person.

Property listing platforms have initiated strategies such as 360 panoramic views for prospective buyers to simulate a physical visit to the property without ever leaving their front doors. On the other hand, real estate agents have taken to online video calls to facilitate contractual signings. While it is definitely a risky venture that is not for everyone, it can certainly be a major game-changer for the real estate market in Singapore. With viewings and contractual agreements shifted online, it opens up the real estate market to a wider audience beyond our physical borders. This means that overseas investors may capitalise on this opportunity to purchase properties here in the local scene without ever having to book a plane ticket. Singapore could then see a greater surge in demand over time, with a greater inflow of demand arriving from foreign investment.

Being forced to adapt, countries around the world have made changes to their legal systems to allow for a new normal until a vaccine is found. Singapore receives the English Law, which mandates that all transactions relating to Real Estate and land have to be documented in writing, to ensure validity against all other evidence. However, with law firms like all other businesses having been left with no choice but to adapt to technological alternatives, the way in which housing transactions are endorsed may see a change. Instead of having to be physically present to endorse a legal document for a transaction, laws may change to allow for e-signing or other forms of approved endorsement that facilitates the transaction without parties having to meet.

Just 30 years ago, real estate was marketed via your old-school newspaper in the classifieds section. One could see all the listings that were on the market and call the respective agents for viewing should one be interested. Today, this method has been rendered obsolete with the disruption of technology. With a simple phone in your hand, you could scrape the entire web for properties based on your preference, budget and even location without ever having to leave your home.

This has allowed for the real estate market to resemble a shopper’s experience, with interested buyers presented with an array of options to choose from without breaking a sweat. In fact, agents these days have put on creative caps in finding ways to draw attention, such as real estate agents who have taken to video content generation as a means to reach out to a wider audience in a more engaging way. Technology will indeed revamp the way Real Estate marketing is conducted, and for those who want to stay on top, it’s time to embrace and ride the wave of change.

Lastly, the perception of the utility of Real Estate and land may change in times to come. With firms realising the benefits of its workers working from home remotely, commercial spaces may see a gradual decline in demand. In land-scarce Singapore, the decentralisation from the CBD may affect the entire real estate market. Currently, housing prices in areas closer to the CBD such as Bishan and Tiong Bahru are known for above market-average prices, as individuals seek to minimise travel into the core central region. However, with technology and remote working, the number of people travelling into the CBD would reduce, and individuals may be more willing to live in areas further away, resulting in a possibly more even distribution in the demand for housing and in turn, rebalancing prices across housing estates.

As Singapore has just embraced Phase 2, the future remains largely uncertain. But one thing is for sure, technology has come and is here to stay for as long as one can imagine. For some, this may be a scary thought to entertain, with some jobs in the market already in the midst of being completely eradicated. But as long as one is willing to learn and fight, regardless of the situation, one can always survive.

Clive Chng
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