We are a society of ultra-convenience. We use our smartphones for instant information from giant search engines like Google and Bing, we stay connected to friends and strangers all over the world on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter and we can get a ride with push of a button from apps comparable to Uber and Lyft. We live an on-demand lifestyle with the ability to order almost anything online from websites similar to Amazon and Zappos and have it delivered within a few days to a few hours. We watch our favorite movies and televisions shows on streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu. It’s even possible to purchase a used-car online from private sellers on eBay or auto dealers such as CarMax.
How far away is a reality where we make much larger, life-event purchases online – like buying a home? How will the home buying process evolve in this convenience economy? While there’s still a long way to go, the uberfication of real estate has begun.
Mobile App Home Search
The National Association of Realtors® suggests that 89% of home buyers used the internet to search for homes. Shoppers are using sites like New Home Source, Zillow and Realtor.com to search properties with all the features on their wish list that are available in the zip codes they desire. They can view floor plans, photos, videos and virtual tours from their mobile phone to explore a home before ever visiting the actual location. They can also find and hire a realtor with plenty of experience in home sales and knowledge of the community to guide them through the process of purchasing a new or resale home.
Many home buyers are out and about doing their own home search in the neighborhood they want to live in. According to the National Association of Realtors latest data, 38% of home buyers drive by properties they found online. For this type of home shopper, mobile apps like HomeSnap let the user snap a photo of a home and pull up all the pertinent sales info from its estimated value to what schools are in the area. I’ll show you how it works in the video below.
Virtual Reality in Home Buying
Real Estate is slowly moving from the virtual tour, where users can see a 360-degree view of each room inside a home with the click of a mouse, to a virtual reality tour where buyers wear goggle-like headsets and walk around the property from anywhere in the world.
— Microsoft New York (@MicrosoftNY) February 15, 2016
In the tweet above, Microsoft shared a New York Times article where real estate buyers in New York City sported Samsung Gear headsets to experience a property that was not built yet. Developers are hiring designers to create virtual renderings of their buildings based off architectural plans. Their hope is to be able to sell the homes before they ever begin construction.
An online marketing firm out of Texas, BDX or Builders Digital Experience, is beginning to demo a virtual reality tour for national home builders to use on a larger scale.
A “fully immersive interactive tour of a model home” could be very useful for home builders as well as relocation services and realtors. This “self-navigation through the home gives a more realistic sense of flow and layout” than the current virtual tours offered online. With this technology a home shopper can do more than get 360-degree view of a property. They can virtually walk through a new home step by step.
For homebuilders, this wouldn’t negate the need to build a model home. Many home buyers enjoy the experience of touring a fully-merchandised model to see built out options and upgrades or simply to gather décor inspiration. But a virtual reality walk-through would be a welcome tool for buyers purchasing a home from another state or country.
There are several different virtual reality headsets on the market that can be used with a smartphone, computer or gaming system to view virtual or augmented reality content. Samsung Gear VR was mentioned in the New York Times article and currently sells for $99. To name some others, there’s Oculus Rift, which is owned by Facebook, and will cost around $599. The PlayStation VR Headset will be released this fall and is expected to run you $399. The Microsoft HoloLens, which will have a full Windows 10 platform integrated into the wearable device, has a whopping price tag of $3,000.
For now the most cost-effective option I could find is Google Cardboard. I bought one online for about $10 and you can check out my quick demo below.
Push Button, Get Mortgage
Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans debuted during Superbowl 50 in February 2016. Their slogan is “Push Button Get Mortgage”. A very simple and direct message implying home buyers can apply for and get a decision on a home mortgage from their mobile phone.
However, their commercial caused quite a controversy on twitter. Many people implied that a mortgage is just one of those things that shouldn’t be easy or convenient.
Quicken's Rocket Mortgage app must set a new definition for: "this app contains in-app purchases" #SB50
— Moblord (@moblordTV) February 8, 2016
— JR Schueller (@schuellerj) February 8, 2016
Rocket Mortgage's slogan is probably "You bought into Uber's hitchhiking app, so anything seems possible" #SB50
— Dan Speerin (@danspeerin) February 8, 2016
— Berrak Sarikaya (@BerrakBiz) February 8, 2016
There definitely seems to be concern and possibly confusion among these social media users that offering a convenience product somehow relates to less- stringent loan decisioning models. Quicken Loans was quick to respond the following day that it was not changing its guidelines, but Rocket Mortgage makes the process of applying for a mortgage less intimidating and easier to understand.
— Quicken Loans (@QuickenLoans) February 8, 2016
And to be fair, there were also many users in the Twitter-verse that thought the Rocket Mortgage Superbowl commercial was very well done and some who seemed excited to simplify the dreaded process of securing a home mortgage or refinancing their current loan.
Overall, the smartphone has dramatically changed our way of life and will continue to do so with emerging technology and applications that focus on convenience and user experience. It will be up to each individual to weigh the pros and cons of these new processes to determine if they are helpful and effective in their personal life. It’s definitely exciting to see what products will become mainstream and which will fade out into obscurity.