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Digital tools revolutionizing French real estate industry during lockdown
Henry Buzy-Cazaux, President of the Institute of Real Estate Services Management, comments on the large-scale adoption of digital tools by real estate professionals in France, especially considering how reluctant many were to make the leap just a couple of months ago…
Covid-19, by forcing us into lockdown, has deprived us of social interaction. It has led us to either digitize all personal and professional relationships, or cut them off completely. What we are witnessing in the world of real estate services deserves attention in this respect: in this industry more than in any other, an almost miraculous evolution is taking place, after many signs led us to believe that that a rapid conversion to digital technology might never happen.
Admittedly, real estate has been technologically advancing since the end of the 1990s, with one first major progression: an increase in the number of websites advertising properties for sale or rent. For the pioneers, it was a shift in technology and business models from early dial-up services to the Internet. A second major step forward has been for IT companies, involved in the transaction side of the industry but also in rental and co-ownership management activities, to use digital technology to modernize their solutions. And then, of course, real estate has inspired the world of start-ups: it is estimated today that four hundred start-ups have been brought into being in this sector. They have created applications aimed at individuals, real estate professionals, in order to enhance their added value and become part of the service chain, or a combination of the two.
In short, real estate has very quickly synched with digital. However, some resistance has prevented this convergence from gaining full steam. First of all, the speed at which real estate professionals, developers, home builders, agents, and property administrators made the switch to digital left something to be desired. And secondly, behind it all, a lot of skepticism and uncertainty lingered: in an industry as “in-person” as real estate, how far can digital technology truly go?
There were of course other constraints, like generational and locational differences. How useful could the technology be with older clients, for example, who might not have computers or cell phones, especially those living outside of large cities?
You also have to think about employees who, being of mature age if not close to the end of their careers, might be resistant to new technologies. Not to mention security problems, which are of the utmost concern in this industry totally bound by the law.
As for software and computing service companies, we have often seen a closed-off attitude towards start-ups, seen as having complicated the lives of professionals, who want a more comprehensive and fluid solution.
The urgency of our situation, however, led real estate professionals to suddenly sweep away their many objections, because it was either that or nothing, and nothing would have sent the industry over the edge. Business, at its core, is about exchange and everyone, all professions combined, realized that, now more than ever, it was necessary to keep this going with continued communication with former, current, and prospective clients. Never before have messages been sent or phone calls been made at such great scale. This is proof that digital technology, although theoretically virtual, is a tool for deepening, if not creating, very real client relationships.
All of a sudden, we are also witnessing lawmakers react at an unprecedented pace: notaries can actually go through with a sale, right up to the authentication of deeds, from a distance all while maintaining the highest degree of legal security. Even the Ministry of Housing, which was in a slow hurry to produce legislation for the ELAN law, is picking up the pace. It’s astonishing to think how things are coming together to keep the wheels turning.
Nothing will ever be the same again between digital and real estate. Post-lockdown, it will be interesting to see where this shift will further lead the sector. If in only two months, we have gone from skepticism and resistance to forced digitalization, imagine where we might possibly go after.