Go back a few decades ago – say to the 1990s – and no one would ever have considered that one day so many products and services would have been bought almost exclusively online, sight unseen.
Back then, no one would have considered booking a holiday without running their fingers over the glossy brochures first. And then taking face-to-face advice from a travel agent on the best places to stay. No one would have considered buying car or home insurance without talking personally to an insurance agent or broker.
Now the opposite is true. Very few people would actually not book a holiday or not buy insurance online.
So that begs the question for all of us in property .... will property sales ever go mostly online? Some day soon will most buyers find, choose, view, buy and even pay for their house online, in just a few clicks?
It’s an important question. The answer to which will have important implications for everyone in property.
Is it already possible to sell a house online ?
The answer is almost certainly yes. The tech. to enable it is already available more or less. The question is if and when it will actually take off.
In recent years it has become pretty much normal practice to search for and find houses to buy mainly online. Covid has certainly accelerated the trend towards putting more of the property sales process online by increasing the use of online viewings – if only as a kind of pre-screening process.
It’s probably true to say that the online portals and online agents would certainly like it if buying a house online became commonplace.
So could every stage of the property buying process soon be completed entirely online?
The evidence for and against
Let’s look at a few positive things that might support a trend towards selling online. Online selling saves time for vendors, buyers and agents. And it saves money too. (Although that might have a negative impact on estate agency fee income.) Online selling could also widen the market for a property to those who cannot easily travel to view it or do not wish to, including perhaps to buyers from abroad.
But what about possible reasons that mean fully online house sales could never really take off?
First and foremost, a house is a big and expensive purchase. It’s not in the same league as buying a book on Amazon. It’s a long term commitment. If you accidentally buy a holiday you don’t like online you’ll only have to live with your bad decision for two weeks. Not potentially a lifetime as with a home.
Also when you buy a house you’re not just buying a house you’re buying into an area – and a lifestyle. It’s difficult if not impossible to get a feel for what an area is like online. Buying a house also involves something of an emotional attachment that online house hunting can’t really replicate.
Thinking about it from an agency point of view, online marketing is already something of a challenge for many agents. Actually getting a buyer to not only find and view a house online but creating a listing that will also lead to a sale online would call for a massive effort in marketing terms. It could also be expensive too.
There are also probably some legal issues that would need to be addressed before a house could be legally bought and sold online.
Buy now .... clicks for bricks
So will there really come a point where most people buy their house online? Will there ever be a situation where there are no estate agency branches, and very few hands-on estate agents? Will we ever have a situation where buyers simply search for a house online, click ‘buy now’, pay a deposit by credit card and the property is sold subject to contract?
Some agents will probably tell you that it is already happening right now. High end agents will tell you that some affluent, normally overseas, buyers do buy solely from online listings and video viewings. It’s also not unusual for investment buyers to buy new build flats, especially off plan developments for example, from online listings.
But these buyers represent only a small part of the property market. It’s really hard to imagine that many ordinary, day to day owner-occupiers will ever buy a property 100% online when they can view it in person.
A more likely scenario ?
A more likely scenario is that more aspects of the property buying process will move online as a matter of course. Searching for and finding a property online will become smarter. There will be more online viewings by way of video tours and live online viewings, perhaps right up until a very final viewing of a property.
There will most certainly be even more use of online estate agency software, like that developed by Apex27, to create listings and manage the sales process better. Most likely conveyancing will make more use of online processes too.
As for buying a house 100% online to become anything more than an exception to the rule .... that seems very unlikely right now. But who knows? Most people would have said the same thing about buying holidays, insurance, home appliances or clothes online back in the 1990s.
So while it seems unlikely it is not entirely unlikely. The possibility of house sales being largely online at some point in the future is a possibility that no one in property should entirely discount.