There's an app for that: How new tech is changing the way we buy and sell homes
The internet has become the go-to tool for homebuyers. Searchable listings on websites like Redfin, Trulia and Zillow have helped to modernize the home-sales process by giving buyers a look at what properties are available in their community of choice from anywhere with internet access.
According to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors, 95% of homebuyers used the internet as part of their home search last year. When narrowed to just millennials, that figure jumps to 99%. Mobile is also catching on, with 58% of millennials and 46% of Gen-Xers using a device such as a smartphone or tablet to find their home.
The growing use of the internet, broadly, and mobile, specifically, is encouraging the development of new home-search tools and creative uses for existing platforms. The results are giving consumers more power than ever and builders new ways to move their products faster.
Simplifying the sales process
To reduce the hassle of selling a home, a growing group of companies is taking the process online. Startups like OfferPad and Opendoor will purchase a home outright and resell it themselves, taking a cut of the difference between the purchase and sales prices.
With OfferPad, users simply enter their physical address and are promised a competitive offer within a day via email based on similar properties nearby that have recently sold and other local market data. If the seller likes the offer, they can select their move date, from five to 90 days out. An inspection determines what repairs might be needed, the cost of which is taken out of the final sales price.
Like OfferPad, Opendoor makes a fair-market offer to sellers based on similar data in 24 hours and lets buyers move within three to 60 days. The company also sells homes. Through its companion mobile app, buyers can browse listings and get an access code to visit those properties on their own time for a self-guided tour.
“Our goal is to simplify life’s most important transaction, making it easier to buy and sell a home,” said Jacqueline Moore, Opendoor’s vice president of community development.
By letting the seller decide when their existing home will be purchased, companies like Opendoor and OfferPad aim to eliminate some of the uncertainty that comes with waiting for a house to sell — namely, not knowing when closing will occur. It also means not having to schedule home showings or undertake extensive renovations prior to closing.
Builders can look to such services to ensure their buyers aren’t tied up in their existing homes. OfferPad has teamed up with 20 builders so far, including K. Hovnanian Homes, Shea Homes, Ashton Woods and Landmark, stationing an OfferPad kiosk in some of their sales offices so buyers can readily get an offer on their current home. Opendoor is working with Lennar on a pilot partnership program.
“It gives these builders a whole new option,” said OfferPad President Marc Chesley. “It removes the contingency issue both for the new-home buyers and the builder.”
So far, Opendoor is active in Phoenix, Dallas–Fort Worth and Las Vegas. OfferPad operates in Phoenix; Las Vegas; Salt Lake City; Tampa, FL; Orlando, FL; and Los Angeles. It plans to add Boise, ID; Albuquerque, NM; Atlanta; Charlotte, NC; Indianapolis; Nashville, TN; and parts of Texas soon, according to the company’s website.
As new technology companies rethink the home-sales process altogether, existing digital platforms are using mobile to give buyers more information when and where they need it.
In January, home-listings website Realtor.com introduced an Android-based mobile app that leverages a smart phone's GPS locator and optical character recognition. Sign Snap allows users to take a picture of a for-sale sign and immediately pull up listing details from Realtor.com on their phone and share that information via text message and email.
“[H]ome buying is one of the biggest milestones people have, and it’s complicated,” said Genevieve Owyang, Realtor.com’s mobile marking director. “We want to distill [the process] down and make it more efficient and more enjoyable.”
Realtor.com will launch Street Peek later this spring. The app utilizes the mobile device’s camera function to display listing details for available houses when users pan the streetscape. The app can be used on multifamily mid-rise and high-rise housing, as well as single-family properties.
For iOS devices, Realtor.com recently launched an iMessage app extension that lets users share listings details and images with their contacts. Additionally, a pressure-sensitive, touch-based feature permits the viewing of expanded information without leaving the app window.
Zillow also recently upgraded its app for use with iMessage, allowing photo and information-sharing via text message, as well as the option to save recent searches within the app.
“Real estate is inherently mobile,” said Zillow Chief Marketing Officer Jeremy Wacksman. “When you are out looking at homes, you want information about those homes at your fingertips. Millennials are driving the real estate market and they have different expectations when it comes to the buying and selling process. They want an immediate, personalized experience.”
Virtual reality is another new technology changing how homes are sold. Its ability to let shoppers experience a home without being physically present could be particularly useful for out-of-town clients. One agent told Realtor.com that he has had buyers make an offer without stepping inside the house thanks to VR. PulteGroup has started using VR in select communities to allow prospective buyers to visualize home interiors.
Getting creative with social
Being present and active on image-driven social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat is another way builders can engage with tech-savvy homebuyers.
In New York City, a group of real estate agents is using Snapchat to showcase for-sale properties while providing real-time access to agents for showings.
Builders can use Facebook Live — an internet-based live-streaming tool from the ubiquitous social media website — to create videos from home sites. The tool’s interactive nature means sellers can answer questions in real time and shift their filming strategies on the fly. (Philadelphia-based Group Two Advertising recently shared a few best practices with Builder magazine about how to use Facebook Live for marketing.)
Facebook Groups created for communities and neighborhoods offer a hyper-local option for posting new-home listings and open-house details. They also afford the chance to observe what local buyers are talking about when it comes to what they want in their homes.
Instagram is another mobile platform pros use to showcase visually appealing for-sale homes. Smartly leveraging hashtags (such as #house or #realestate) and location tagging (the city or town in which the home is located) is key. Creativity is important, too. Pro accounts like those from Irvine, CA–based SDK Atelier (@sdkatelier); Beverly Hills, CA–based Joyce Rey (@joycereyrealestate) (shown above); and Miami Beach, FL–based The Carroll Group (@chadcaroll) offer examples of how the social media platform can be used to showcase a home’s features.
As for what the future of home-buying technology holds, Zillow’s Wacksman points to personalization. “We’ll be able to better predict what homes will be coming on the market that meet someone’s needs, or highlight homes that are similar to their search,” he said.
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