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REITM Focus: Technological trends abroad (II)

Portals such as Access2View help property agents to save time and costs by arranging for and conducting property viewings for their clients. (Image: Access2View)

In the previous issue of CEAnergy, we looked at how online property portals overseas have made it easier for consumers to transact properties in a hassle-free manner. That was the first of a three-part series featuring the different types of technological innovations that have taken off abroad.

In the second part of the series, we look at how some online portals in the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) provide property viewing services, freeing up property agents and landlords’ time to coordinate and facilitate viewings.

Making the viewing process a breeze

Do you find it difficult to coordinate property viewings on weekends or during busy periods? Do you lament missed opportunities when you have two different customers who want to view different properties at the same time and you aren’t able to deconflict the viewings?

If you were a property agent in the UK or US, large countries where it would take a much longer time to travel from one location to another, you can expect that facilitating property viewings would be even harder. Also, property owners could own properties in different cities or states, making it difficult for them to be present at viewings by prospective buyers or tenants.

This is probably why property portals in the UK and US have developed different business models and tapped technology to overcome this issue to serve their clients better.

In the UK, portals such as Access2View and Viewber help property agents arrange for and conduct property viewings for their clients. These companies send viewing representatives to conduct property viewings, enabling agents to save time and costs involved in such activities.

Established in 2012, Access2View is one of the forerunners in UK offering property viewing support. The portal has a team of trained and experienced professionals who conduct viewings for their clients.

Clients of Access2View can schedule a viewing appointment in the company’s live calendar. Before the scheduled viewing, the client drops off a set of duplicate keys to the property at a designated drop-off point for the company’s representative to retrieve them. On the actual day, the company’s viewing representative conducts the viewing at the agreed time. After that, the representative will provide the client with feedback gathered during the viewing.

Access2View offers various viewing services that cater to different clients’ needs. If it is an open house, a representative can conduct six viewings in an hour; if it is a viewing tour, a representative can bring one to six visitors to view up to five properties within the same building in an hour.

Over the past five years, Access2View’s viewing representatives have conducted 50,000 viewings. The company expects the figure to double to 100,000 viewings by the end of this year.

Tapping freelancers to be viewing representatives

Another UK-based portal Viewber, founded in 2016, works in a similar way as Access2View - providing a 24/7 viewing service to clients.

A prospective client can use Viewber’s dashboard system to book an appointment. After that, he submits details about the property and specific information about the prospective buyer or tenant. The company then sends a representative to conduct the viewing for the buyer or tenant at the scheduled timing. After the viewing is completed, the viewing representative provides immediate feedback to the client through the dashboard.

For both Viewber and Access2View, the viewing representatives do not carry out other aspects of estate agency work other than conducting property viewings, which is permitted under UK laws. The property agent follows up with the client after the viewing. If the client is keen in buying or renting the property, the agent negotiates the price with the seller or landlord on his client’s behalf and helps to facilitate the transaction.

As at February 2018, Viewber’s viewing representatives have conducted close to 14,500 viewings.

Both Viewber and Access2View operate on a client Application Programming Interface (API). This technology enables their clients to transfer appointment bookings directly from their own in-house booking system to the companies’ operating system, allowing the clients to schedule the viewings easily.

I, robot, am here to help

Property management startup Zenplace uses robots controlled remotely by property agents or landlords to conduct viewings of rental properties for their clients. (Image: Zenplace)

In the US, a San Francisco-based property management startup Zenplace Property Management uses 0.9-metre-tall robots to conduct viewings of rental properties for their clients. The robots are essentially video monitors on wheels that can be controlled remotely.

Once a prospective tenant enters the property for a viewing, he is greeted by the robot. The property agent or landlord who is in another location talks to the tenant through the robot’s monitor screen. The property agent or landlord controls the robot’s movements to show the tenant around the property.

The robot can provide real-time data on the amenities in the neighbourhood as well as market trends such as rental prices. If the tenant is keen to rent the property, the robot has a lease application form that the tenant can fill in on the spot. The downside of the robot is its inability to climb stairs but Zenplace is looking at improving the robot to do just that.

With the help of a viewing robot, a landlord can arrange up to 18 viewings a day compared to three or four viewings if he handles them on his own. This frees up time that landlords and property agents spend coordinating and scheduling viewings with prospective tenants.

Tenants benefit too with the flexibility that comes in arranging viewings. They can view the property they are interested in even if the property owner or agent is not available to meet in person.

But first, tenants have to undergo a background check before Zenplace sets up a viewing appointment. The tenant has to send a photo of his identification card for verification. Once the prospective tenant passes the check, he will be sent a unique code that allows him to enter the property he wants to view via a smart lock.

Since Zenplace started operations last year, it has invested in a few hundred robots to conduct viewings for its clients. Zenplace has plans to introduce the viewing robots to the UK in the near future.