Dubai: The human touch has gone out of real estate transactions in the UAE since the coronavirus put the scare in everyone. But online property platforms and smartphone apps are trying to fill the gap created by social distancing.
“In some ways COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for a digital-first approach,” said Rashid Al Ghurair, CEO of Urban, an app that takes the entire rental journey online. “Human interaction is making way for digital interaction between people.”
Prospective renters are able to take virtual tours of each listing, “visit” homes using their smartphone to open digital locks, submit paperwork and pay rent online. Property apps are providing renters with a compelling - and safe - way to find a new home during these challenging times.
In the first 21 days of this month, Urban experienced a 60 per cent surge in active daily users. There was a 92 per cent rise in the number of offers submitted for listed properties via the app in the week of March 19.
Al Ghurair agreed that landlords and renters are now being forced to adapt to this new reality. “People are looking to rent, but are rightly concerned that viewing properties will mean contravening social distancing guidelines,” he said. “Landlords are worried that the virus will dampen rental demand.”
Online platforms such as Urban and Hi Sandy are now connecting landlords to tenants easily, ensuring renters can view quality homes through virtual tours and independently conduct viewings. Even for property management, the Smart Landlord free app launched by fam Properties enables small investors to manage their properties on their own, whereby it calculates the RoI (return on investment), send reminders for cheques and due contracts.
According to Mahmoud Al Burai, Vice-President at International Real Estate Federation, technology will definitely disrupt the UAE real estate industry where brokers are concerned. “We have started seeing these platforms in the US and the UK that have replaced the traditional functions of a brokerage to a certain degree,” he said.
But considering real estate is about understanding the space where humans live, would digital tools be able to understand consumer’s needs and wants? They can successfully show a would-be buyer what is available, but they cannot gauge the emotional desires or reactions to a specific property like a real estate agent can.
Firas Al Msaddi, CEO of fäm Properties, said: “Technology will massively disrupt the general broker’s role - but I don’t see it disrupting tier-one real estate experts, at least not on the short term. I have no doubt tech is threatening the agent’s role when it evolves in the future.
“Only property consultants who understand numbers, data, and market fundamentals to drive their advice will survive.”
Al Burai says with the help of virtual reality and 3D modeling, investors can have a 360-degree view on the property they want to buy to rent. “Successful brokers need to adopt technology to move ahead or else they will be out of the game,” he said. “In times of crisis, opportunities arise.
“Rental markets will be stable as we may see a slowdown of new projects coming to the market, which will mean less supply. But it will also hinge on the ability of the economy to retain jobs keep the rental market healthy.”