Turning to the virtual world

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The Covid-19 pandemic is fueling demand for online solutions

By Joseph Wong josephwong@thestar.com.my

The pandemic  has helped to  speed up the  adoption of  virtual initiatives  for the property  sector.

The pandemic has helped to speed up the adoption of virtual initiatives for the property sector.

Once upon a time, there were numerous physical real estate conferences, exhibitions and events held every year. But like the fairy tale of Snow White, a poison apple in the form of the Covid-19 virus had literally ground such events to a halt. In the past year, there were many attempts to incorporate augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) into property projects to entice the general public and potential home buyers in particular to drive the industry forward.

Virtual tours for new projects became a huge part of the primary market, and later the secondary market also joined the bandwagon. Developers invested significant capital into creating attractive videos and clips, which were uploaded to their respective websites. Enquiries were followed up via virtual calls through communication applications like Zoom or Google Meet to give a semblance of a physical meeting.

Prior to the pandemic, it is important to note that virtual property tours were not uncommon, but most individuals still preferred to see the properties in person. Today, that mindset has shifted, with countless buyers turning to virtual property tours first before committing to see a home in person. The pandemic may be the major influencing factor that has enabled this change in buyer behaviour, but it is, in a way, timely as the Millennials or GenYs have become a larger percentage of home buyers and this segment of the population have a preference for virtual and mobile real estate services.

Changing phases of virtual tours

In the beginning, virtual tours were restricted to impersonal but glamorous presentations of the properties in the market. Of late, guided virtual tours have come to the fore. Unlike traditional virtual tours that require users to click through to different points, guided virtual tours make it a point to sell the property as an agent would. Viewers would follow a virtual agent like a normal walk-through of the property.

It is a step up from the point-to-point clicking or dragging to see different perspectives. In addition, the agent will be able to provide a better perception of the property as they can provide an insight otherwise unavailable from just looking at the property by themselves. This platform is also a proactive touring solution for the industry because such tours can easily be posted on social media or video sharing platforms and generate leads 24 hours a day until they are removed.

“There is a huge advantage in shifting to this form of promoting properties. It allows for a greater reach as hundreds, if not thousands, of prospective buyers can tour numerous properties in a single day. And this is changing the industry,” said a property investor. This scenario is not just happening in Malaysia but one that is occurring globally. According to the National Association of Realtors in the USA, 35% of real estate realtors see sellers rely on virtual tours. While there are no statistics as yet on Malaysia’s realtors using virtual tours, the figures might not be too far off as more consumers are demanding a contact-free experience.

Virtual tours proving effective

It is either to innovate or die, said Tan.

It is either to innovate or die, said Tan.

 

For property agency IQI Realty Sdn Bhd’s Swiss Tan, this form of selling properties is proving to be effective. “Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and limitations on physical viewings, it was either innovate or die. For my team, we chose the former. So, in mid-2020, my team launched a YouTube channel called Tan Estate Group. In our initial videos, we engaged with a professional videographer.

“However, in subsequent videos, we produced, reviewed and edited our videos in-house to keep costs low. Instead of buying thousands of likes for our YouTube channel, we decided to work on the quality of our video production, continuously striving to improve on our videography, editing and presentation skills. “We were determined to translate our effort into sales figures rather than amass a large number of followers for popularity’s sake. To differentiate our videos, we titled our videos as the unscripted series. In each video, you would be able to watch me sharing candidly on the property,” said Tan.

In one of the videos, she recalled presenting a residential bungalow land, which faced a mosque, next to the monsoon drain and petrol station by the side. All these factors would likely be a turn-off to a typical prospective buyer, she said.

“Had we chosen to hard-sell this property with a cheesy cliché marketing punchline, we would have immediately lost credibility in the eyes of our viewers and prospective buyers. So, we made the video stating the obvious with a touch of lightheartedness and optimism, fully aware that to the right buyer, this property would be a right fit for them,” said Tan.

In being open with buyers, Tan hoped to connect and build trust with them on a deeper level. Incidentally, Tan sold the abovesaid property. It is obvious that real estate negotiators (RENs) cannot conduct physical appointments during the full movement control order (FMCO) period as the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Miti) would not give them the approval to do so.

A lesson learnt

RENs should by now have their property listings made into  videos, said Chan.

RENs should by now have their property listings made into
videos, said Chan.

 

Initially, this caught many in the industry unaware and many struggled to survive. But when another lockdown came about, many did not panic as before as they were more prepared. “MCO 1.0 taught us what needs to be done during the restriction, and we have adapted to the changes in the market. Online marketing and social media presence have to be intensified as most of us spend more time at home watching our phones and computers.

“Even though we may not be able to go out for appointments, it is very important for RENs to keep their presence active in the market as many owners and buyers are still actively looking to sell and buy,” said real estate agency Kith and Kin Realty Sdn Bhd co-founder Joseph Chan.

“In fact, we have seen an increase in owner’s enquiries as they are concerned about the property market situation,” he said. The lockdown is the best time to learn how to be active on social media. By learning how to create educational content related to properties and creating viral videos in Tik Tok and Reels on Instagram, RENs can increase their exposure. Now is an excellent time to increase your followers and leads, said Chan.

“I instructed my team that the MCO period is all about getting themselves ready because when the lockdown is lifted, they will not have the time to learn as they will be busy with appointments. After the lockdown, there will be a surge of enquiries as many people cannot wait to shift to another property or revenge spend,” he said. It is good to learn how to record and edit the videos during this respite as this communication format is the new trend these days, advised Chan.

“So real estate listings have to evolve with the market trend. After MCO 1.0, we realised the importance of video marketing, and since then, we have ensured that most of our property listings are video recorded to give more clarity and convenience to our clients who are unable to view properties during the lockdown. The video listings have even helped us to close several deals virtually without physical viewings.

“As everyone is at home during the lockdown, it is also the best time to reconnect with our existing clients and provide any assistance related to real estate matters to them. In fact, many are looking for suitable property opportunities as they know that the current mortgage rates are low and properties are below market value,” he said. This is also the time to motivate clients so that when the restrictions are lifted, RENs would already have ready buyers.

“RENs are used to outdoor activities and long periods of lockdowns are never easy as they could affect their self-motivation. As RENs, we are used to receiving rejections on sales, but we must remain resilient and mentally strong with the long noncommunicative periods with clients,” said Chan.

“At Kith and Kin, we encourage communicating with the team members and leaders to ensure that problems are shared and resolved together,” he added. During the MCO, RENs are advised to attend as many training sessions as possible to sharpen their skills and improve on what they could not do before.

“The pandemic has already shifted the market and we have to adapt to the new changes to stay relevant. Otherwise, we will be left behind,” said Chan. RENs should by now have their property listings made into videos so they can present potential homes to buyers upfront before they physically view the property. These video listings will help give better clarity to the buyers and help them in making better decisions, he said. “The pandemic has shifted the real estate market paradigm, and as RENs, we should constantly adapt to the new changes and apply new techniques in line with the market practices,” he said.

Webinars, launches and expos

Guided tours are becoming increasingly popular.

Guided tours are becoming increasingly popular.

The usage of virtual gatherings for webinars, streaming launches and online exhibitions are on the rise. Initially, these digitised versions were a hard sell, but with the Covid-19 pandemic still looming, they are fast becoming mainstream for the general public. And there are obvious advantages as well since webinar proceedings can be recorded for later viewings or played back in case listeners missed out on points or misheard statements. Are they proving to be effective?

Rehda Institute believes that it does since it regularly holds webinars, sometimes twice a month for property stakeholders. Numerous property developers have been tackling their property launches and even signing their memorandum of understanding via social media and video streaming platforms. Even international conferences are taking on the physical distancing limitations by going virtual. And virtual exhibitions are making a second coming. StarProperty, for example, will be holding its virtual property fair soon. Interested parties can keep track of the latest announcements via its portal or click on https://bit.ly/virfair to stay abreast of the event.


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