Transforming the home-buying customer journey during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

Chris Sheldon, Client Solutions Director in London, UK
04 June 2020

Without question, the UK housing market has been under pressure for a number of years, be that from demand for house building, lack of affordable housing or the increasing rate of house prices outstripping the average salary increases across the UK. Despite these challenges, the market has proven itself to be robust and has been able to successfully navigate these pressures, with over 1.18m houses sold in 2019.

However, in 2020, the biggest risk to the housing market is that of coronavirus. It’s estimated that sales of almost 400,000 homes totalling £82bn have been stalled during the lockdown, with a good proportion estimated to simply not go ahead – even when lockdown ends. Despite the UK housing market now getting the greenlight to restart, which is excellent news for both those directly and indirectly linked to the industry, the way that processes will need to be conducted in the coming months – and perhaps even years – will need to fundamentally change. That’s even when considering the low property prices that we’re now seeing post-lockdown, and the effect on the market this will have.

The ease with which both people working in the housing market and customers selling or buying houses can safely, efficiently and effectively go about their business will be key to how quickly the housing market can recover, and the actual direction it takes as we look beyond the coronavirus crisis. 

Think about the number of purchasing journeys we take as a customer today that are fundamentally different to the way they were just 10 years ago. Whilst the housing market has switched to online in some aspects, there is still a big chunk of the customer journey that remains face-to-face and highly manual.

With the aftermath of coronavirus, the face-to-face time between the estate agent and the buyer/seller is going to be limited, if even non-existent until things fully go back to normal. This poses a great challenge: how can the industry continue to sell houses with limited physical interaction with the customer?

Those selling houses are going to have to look to digital to deliver a more seamless, engaging journey that doesn’t rely on the charisma and selling skills of a salesperson. It’s an opportunity to offer a more personalised service, using digital to refine customers’ house searches and give them tailored results that showcase houses specific to their individual requirements such as decor, garden type, property-specific amenities, and other.

Making the viewing of homes online more compelling and engaging is also key, ensuring that the USPs of houses are really clear to see and that all the information that customers want is delivered with clarity and ease. Additionally, the ability to view a house in detail using only virtual means, for example in a full 360O view that places the customer inside the house without having to leave their current environment, will become more important as people mitigate the risk of going out whilst the coronavirus is so prevalent. This is being done in some form, but often using tech not specifically made for that use. It’s also an opportunity to offer more and showcase the property with the level of detail that’s simply unachievable with the majority of current solutions, unless the house is inspected in person. One area that could be surfaced more with digital means is the local spirit. During coronavirus, we’ve seen the increased importance of community. So, how could estate agents visualise and represent the local community to people who may not be able to physically visit the area? 

Equally, it’s still often the case that buying and selling houses is a very manual process, requiring the physical signature on the paperwork, delivered to the relevant party. In order to avoid face-to-face interaction when completing this, it would be feasible to introduce an e-signing process that has been adopted across multiple industries, but only a few estate agents currently utilise. Not only is this safer in the current circumstances, but it also has a positive effect on sustainability.

It’s clear that increased levels of digital solutions and experiences in the housing market can have a positive impact on the way houses are being bought and sold, both for the customers and estate agents. Whilst the coronavirus pandemic is having a wholeheartedly negative effect on the market in general, it should be hoped that it does in fact prove to be the catalyst for the housing market to leap into the digital era.

Somo is a digital product agency highly experienced in designing and developing market-leading digital strategies, products and experiences, and delivering digital ambitions at pace and scale. 

Over the past 10 years, we’ve worked with a host of global brands and innovative start-ups, including the likes of JLL and Knight Frank, helping them create digital solutions for both their customers and employees to drive greater efficiency and revenue.

If you’d like to set up a Zoom call to talk through the best options for your organisation in greater detail and see how Somo can help you, please contact Rebecca Crook, our Chief Growth Officer.