Technological innovations have already changed buyer behavior over the years. Carl Medford explores how driverless vehicles can (or can’t) continue the shift.
I recently came across an odd question: “How will self-driving cars affect real estate?” It seemed like a fair question at first, but after thinking for a minute, I realized the answer is simple: “Not at all .”
Had this question been asked years ago, the answer might have been different. Today, armed with current technology and post-pandemic, buyer behavior is dramatically different than it was 20 years ago and the notion that a driverless car could change things is debatable in my opinion.
I started in real estate in 2001: Internet Explorer was the dominant web browser, Facebook was just a wink in Mark Zuckerberg’s eyes, Nokia dominated the cell phone market because the iPhone was six years away and consumer GPS wasn’t cheap enough to it to be practical.
With the MLS we had the choice between a rudimentary Windows-based system or the old DOS version. Realtor.com was the only web-based real estate portal, and buyers still largely relied on Realtors for information.
We set up buyers to auto-feed straight from the MLS and then schedule appointments to see the homes they wanted to see. We printed MapQuest driving directions to each property, printed the property profiles for each home, picked up the buyers, and were on our way.
It was a little hectic at times, driving with one hand and holding MapQuest (or Thomas Guide) directions in the other while chatting to the buyers about the house we’d just seen. If the buyers wanted to drive their own cars, they had to follow them and stay close to make sure we all got there together.
About three years into my career, I was driving a Dodge Caravan minivan with a family in the back and a map in hand, navigating from lot to lot when my cell phone rang. When I heard an alarmed gasp from someone in the background who thought I might actually be able to answer the phone with my other hand, I decided it was time to spend $1,200 on a dashboard-mounted Magellan RoadMate 700 GPS .
Nowadays, due to COVID-19, nobody rides in the agent’s car. Thanks to the GPS technology on our phones, nobody has to follow the agent to make sure he gets to the house. Web portals with rich data mean buyers no longer rely on real estate agents to find potential homes, and GPS links on every profile mean buyers no longer need open house signs to direct them to open listings.
The days of driving around looking for open house signs are over: buyers now navigate from the sofa with their mobile phone and only visit properties that meet their criteria, suit their personal taste, are priced right, are well prepared and beautiful pictures are presented.
How could a driverless car fit into this scenario and even improve on it? In suburban or rural areas, consumers prefer the freedom that comes with driving themselves to an open house or a viewing with an agent. If you had access to a self-driving vehicle, that wouldn’t change.
In urban environments with no parking or shoppers who simply don’t own their own car, taxis and ridesharing are the way to go and work just like a self-driving car. The only difference might be that the self-driving car could be programmed to circle the block until you’ve toured all the lots.
However, there is one technology that could dramatically change shopper behavior in the future. We’re already getting a taste of it in 3D tours from companies like Matterport. It is currently possible to put on 3D glasses and “walk” through houses.
Current tours are limited to the most important areas in a home, and while some will venture outside for a few shots, the experience still doesn’t compare to actually being there. Imagine what would be possible if a more immersive 3D format were available – one that allows you to “open” doors and drawers and explore every square inch of the interior and outside and then allow you to tour the nearby streets and amenities. In this scenario, one wouldn’t even think of a self-driving vehicle — no visit would be required at all.
A few years ago, real-time video conferencing from a wristwatch was limited to comic strips. There’s no way of knowing what opportunities might be available in just 10 years, but it will be exciting to watch and see.
And as technology changes, so does the broker’s role. We have transitioned from the era of being primarily agents into the realm of transaction professionals. While there will certainly be a need for real estate agents in the future, the agents who thrive will be the ones who learn to adapt and change as the world around us literally changes.
Carl Medford is CEO of the Medford team.