By Akhil Gupta
The Indian real estate sector – in both commercial and residential segments – has been increasingly adopting technology to deliver superior customer experiences for some time now. Even before the viral outbreak disrupted the global business ecosystem, the proptech market had already forayed beyond enabling online property discovery to provide end-to-end solutions to consumers. Besides matching customers with the right property deals, new-age real estate platforms had begun offering a range of services including apartment management solutions, digital payments integration, etc.
In the wake of the COVID-19, this digital transition has only accelerated. More importantly, 2020 might have laid the foundations of a more tech-driven real estate model that focuses on leveraging digital solutions to deliver superior, end-to-end customer experiences.
We have seen several glimpses of this digital evolution over the last 12 months. As social distancing and complete lockdowns become a national imperative, leading real estate players quickly launched solutions that addressed their customers’ pandemic-led concerns involving health, hygiene, and social distancing, among others. Here’s looking at some of these trends, and the role they are likely to play in shaping the industry’s future in 2021 and beyond:
Touchless Entry via facial recognition to replace biometric
As concerns about the viral outbreak grew in 2020, people – especially those living in large residential societies – began to evaluate their physical contact environment and their exposure to the risk of accidental transmission. Fingerprint-based biometric entry systems used to permit guests and society/domestic staff into residential complexes were quickly identified as potential red flags.
With the need for a contactless solution having become critical, NoBrokerHood introduced touchless entry via facial recognition as a substitute to biometric entry. This development allowed for the movement of essential domestic help and society staff in and out of residential societies while mitigating the risk of infection through contact.
As the psychological impact of the COVID-19 outbreak continues to lead marked shifts in everyday behaviours, the apps ‘Touchless Entry’ has been widely appreciated.
Society management applications offered COVID-friendly features
The sheer suddenness of the initial wave of lockdowns gave rise to concerns around the sourcing of daily essentials, such as groceries. Hoarding became prevalent as people worried about how they were going to survive if they weren’t allowed to step out of the home. Leading society management apps expanded their services to ease these concerns. For instance, some apps partnered with popular online grocery stores to help users access daily essentials from the safe confines of their home.
Health Tracker to Help Contain Infection and Paranoia
Society management apps such as NoBrokerHood also provided a health tracker feature integrated with Aarogya Setu to update users about COVID-19 cases around them, while also enabling them to track visitors, support staff, neighbours, etc. who may have crossed or were visiting from COVID-contaminated areas.
Digital Payment Options
Another major tech trend introduced this year was the integration of a digital payments feature in proptech and society management apps. The feature came in handy amidst the pandemic for users to securely conduct their transactions – be it paying rent, parking fees, society maintenance bills, deposits, etc. – with just the touch of a button on their smartphones. NoBroker’s latest report reveals that 51% tenants paid rents and maintenance payments online. The ease and convenience of making digital transactions online might see this trend become more mainstream in 2021.
Packers and movers services saw a boom amid the lockdowns
Many leading real estate platforms had begun connecting their users with the right packers & movers service providers way before the pandemic hit the world. However, the demand for these services truly boomed during and after the initial lockdowns when many migrant individuals such as students, young working professionals, etc. permanently moved back to their hometowns. Amid pandemic-led restrictions, they turned to packers & movers services offered by new-age real estate platforms to reunite with their belongings safely and at affordable prices.
What set these services apart from the more conventional options were the affordability, pricing transparency, and seamlessness that they offered. Searching for a packers & movers services on a real estate platform significantly streamlined the discovery and booking process for the end-user as they could resort to video inspections and ensure that they get the right size of vehicle. They also benefitted from the more transparent pricing and guaranteed delivery that these platforms offered.
These advantages – while coming to light during the pandemic – address a major, pandemic-agnostic pain point for the Indian end-consumer. As a result, they are likely to find greater traction after the pandemic subsides and the migrant population moves back to larger urban centres.
Using bots with language support to convert online visits into bookings
Customers today are browsing through properties – either to buy or to rent – digitally. New-age real estate players capitalised on this consumer interest with NLP-driven voice/text bots. Trained in English and vernacular Indian languages, these bots helped real estate brands run crucial CRM operations such as welcome process, service requests, payments, etc., enabling them to reach out to and engage with more interested home buyers and potential tenants.
The online medium is set to feature more prominently in the purchase behaviour of the end consumer as they have eased into the process of shortlisting properties online. This will make it crucial for players in this space to utilise proven digital assets such as bots to engage prospective customers. Given the role that they have already played in helping the industry tide through a difficult 2020, it is quite likely that their adoption will only increase in the coming year.
Augmented reality (AR) to redefine the way customers engage with real estate
AR/VR-led property tours have been around for a while but have gained much greater traction in 2020 on the back of social distancing and lockdown. Top real estate brands enabled virtual tours of property and sites for prospective buyers, enabling virtually simulated “site-seeing” to provide a life-like experience. With this tech-led intervention also saving time and effort owners and tenants and buyers and e sellers, and with massive strides being made in the AR/VR field, this trend is definitely here to stay for long.
Big data and analysis
Big data and analysis have been helping real estate platforms by providing real-time price analysis and forecasting future price fluctuations. New-age brands have been leveraging the combination of machine learning and analytics to drive risk mitigation and explore business opportunities. Real estate brands rely on data-driven insights to inform their strategies for marketing and selling a property, besides helping them streamline workflows and enhance efficiencies. Precisely because of these benefits, the pandemic drove the real estate industry to work with real-time data with renewed vigour. In 2020, CRE firms turned to big data to make better decisions and gain a competitive advantage in a highly unpredictable market landscape.
Futurescoping: AI and ML for property/site management
The number of use-cases of cutting-edge tech in the commercial and residential real estate sector has only increased with time.
The 2020 pandemic has undeniably catalysed the tech-led development of India’s real estate sector. Discerning players in this space, with one eye on the future, started enriching their service portfolio from early on. As a result, they were able to rise to the occasion to take care of the post-pandemic needs of their customers. The tech-readiness of modern real estate brands is one of the key reasons why the real estate sector continues to grow in – and despite of – the pandemic.
(The author is Co-Founder and CTO, NoBroker)