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Auctions to sell property is a model that tends to be resilient in the face of economic downturns due to its efficiency. The national lockdown, however, suddenly challenged this industry which is based on large-scale gatherings, jolting it into seeking alternative routes to market – like technology, says MC du Toit, CEO, BidX1 South Africa, a digital property auction company offering end-to-end online transactions.

“In some cases, auction houses have worked to preserve the essence of traditional auctions – live-streaming an auctioneer on the rostrum, with bids taken online, by phone and by proxy. Others have moved fully online for the first time. Many of these new online developments – adopted quickly to mitigate against business disruption during the pandemic – will undoubtedly become permanent features,” Du Toit says.

“Modernising our industry, increasing buyer and seller trust in the sale process, tackling the inefficiencies and lack of transparency in property transactions… this is where technology and innovation can bring real improvements for all stakeholders. Not just buyers and sellers, but also the professionals involved in property sales, from auctioneers and estate agents to attorneys,” he says.

Change is inevitable

According to Joff van Reenen, director and lead auctioneer, High Street Auctions, “Covid-19 has shredded a global industry’s operating guide” in just a matter of months. “If you’re not innovating on a gargantuan scale, you’re going to lose market share.”

Fortunately, auction technology has evolved rapidly in recent years, and Covid-19 is now forcing all traditional and non-traditional buyers online and there’s no going back for the industry, he says.

Yes, says Du Toit, these digital services improve customer experience.

“We use many of them at BidX1, from drone footage showcasing larger properties to online consultations with our property teams, all designed to maximise transparency, flexibility and access.”

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Auction studio

High Street Auctions started its technology investment prior to the Covid-19 outbreak with the launch of its app, which permits interested parties to view catalogue lots, virtually tour real estate in 3D, place bids ahead of an auction, or participate live on the day, bidding through the app.

The company has recently launched a full-size, live-stream auction studio, which integrates a variety of real-time bidding software options for clients including the mobile app and Zoom. This will henceforth be used to present every High Street virtual live-stream sale.

“In specialist real estate sales the various screens around the auctioneer’s podium also allow for High Street to showcase sellers’ assets – whether residential, commercial or industrial – in full 3D, 360-degree virtual walkthrough format – the same walkthrough that buyers can do at their leisure on the company website prior to a sale,” says Van Reenen.

There are buyers

Du Toit says evidence of a healthy investor appetite, is the fact that properties were brought to market the past two months fetching sound, market-related prices, despite the challenging circumstances. “Full service digital offerings, which allow for end-to-end online transactions – including contract exchange – mean that property sales can still take place despite the extended national lockdown.”

Human touch still crucial

Embracing technology in this industry is “an opportunity for agents to innovate to the benefit of buyers and sellers – not just by providing services like virtual tours or live-streamed auctions, but by transforming the fundamentals of the transaction process.”

It should be noted that none of this changes the fundamental role of the property professional, says Du Toit. “While online methods allow us to enhance the experience of buying and selling property, they should be backed by professional real estate expertise and detailed market knowledge. The ‘human element’ of our industry remains crucial.”