There is no doubt that the ravaging COVID-19 has significantly changed the way people live, work and play in a way that could never have been imagined. The bottom line is health and safety. Any real estate practitioner—real estate developer, real estate facilities manager or real estate broker— that is not digital-compliant in this era of the digital revolution will find himself to blame. Technology adoption in the real estate business has shown that COVID-19 is not a deterrent to doing real estate business and that where there is a will, there is a way. In fact, the real estate market outlook for 2021 predicted it would grow by 1.5% but it actually achieved 2.3% growth compared, year over year, with 2020!
Real estate buyers are now conscious of the way they interact with each other, including the way they do business in cognisance of the safety issues occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. Real estate can be defined as landed property: land, buildings, air rights above the land and underground rights below the land. The term real estate means real or physical property. Some land economists claim that ‘real’ came from the Latin word ‘res’, meaning ‘actual’, ‘things’ or ‘genuine’. Others claim it was from the Latin word ‘rex’, meaning ‘royal’ since Kings owned all lands in the past in England where real estate as a business originated.
Estate is the English translation of the French word, “estat,” meaning status. Estate may have been derived from “estat” since property ownership bestows statuses on its owners. Real estate sector is the sector of the economy that caters for the physical infrastructure development and management of buildings, bridges, dams, roads, railways, and waste management. These basic infrastructures, on which life depends, are inevitable for our existence. Pandemic or no pandemic, people will buy real estate products in a way that supports their health and safety needs. Well-to-do people do not take chances with their well-being and safety issues.
The fact that a man is a property owner improves his self-esteem in Nigeria. Real estate is a good hedge against inflation as it appreciates over years. Like precious stones, it is a store of value; a basic need and contingent of living in that it produces and or provides all the needs of human beings. The real estate process involves the transactions that take place between when a property is advertised for sale or lease ,when it is offered for sale and the time it exchanges hands. These transactions include, but are not limited to, offer, inspection, title search, negotiation, counteroffer, deed of sale/deed of lease, transfer of property by payment for the property and signing of the deed. It used to involve physical meetings of parties to the transactions, at times involving long-distance travelling.
All these transactions can be done with digital aid to save time and money. Advertisement of properties can be done through websites and offers for sale or lease can be done by email, WhatsApp or SMS. Virtual inspection and remote, new alternatives to on-site inspection of properties, can be done through videoing, WhatsApp and virtual inspection software like VuSpex, 3600, Camino and CloudVisit. Virtual inspection of properties cannot take place without the use of a virtual meeting website and they also require software for communication and documentation. Many real estate brokers are using meeting websites like Zoom, Skype, Webex Meetings, Cisco Jabber, DialPad Meetings, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Team, Blue Jeans Meeting, Join me and GoogleMeet (Google Workplace).
According to the New York Times of February 17, 2021, 63 per cent of property buyers in America made offers on houses they had not seen in person in November and December 2020. There was also a 41 per cent increase in traffic on Zillow searching sale listings, year over year, as of fall 2020. Properties listed on websites sell 20 per cent faster than on conventional bulletins. Property portfolios on the internet are easier to document and view than property portfolios in physical media. Through search engine optimisation, online property brokers are able to identify prospective property buyers, who searched for properties using search engines like Google, Yahoo, Yandex, Baidu and MSN Search, and are able to reach them in real-time.
Digital tools usage in real estate businesses, that is programs, websites, social media and online resources including software that can make real estate tasks easier, are still poor in Nigeria. Property technologies, especially property Apps, are still not widely adopted by property investors but there are signs that things are getting better. Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa, reported that about 50 per cent of Nigeria’s population is using the internet and around 90 per cent of the total population has mobile phones. The number of internet users who use the internet to search for property is still poor. The percentage of property marketing companies using digital tools in Nigeria is very low. Awareness, especially through training is required.