Cover A residential complex within London's The Whiteley, currently undergoing renovations to be transformed into a mixed-use development (Image: Knight Frank)

The current property landscape offers more opportunities than ever when it comes to tech—we explore the latest digital property trends that have been accelerated by the pandemic

Technology has been playing an increasingly important role in real estate. This is especially evident in recent years, where the Covid-19 pandemic further propelled the use of digital tools within the property industry, which includes the rise of virtual property viewings as well as the rush for virtual land in the metaverse

With the rapid evolution of smart home technology and other digital features in the property market, the real estate industry will continue to adapt in order to cater to evolving preferences and lifestyles. Here, we highlight some of the most impactful trends that will continue to shape the real estate sector. 

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1. The rise and rise of home automation

The pandemic has created a certain lifestyle trend—we are spending more time than ever at home. Although more employees are returning to the office, the hybrid working concept looks set to stay thanks to the flexibility and convenience it affords. As such, a house equipped with smart home technologies enabled by artificial intelligence (AI)—with features that include automated lighting and sound systems, and energy-saving systems—is becoming a necessity, as home buyers seek to marry convenience with enhanced security and sustainable solutions.

“An ongoing trend that actually started before the pandemic, smart technologies will become even more universal in the interior design space, changing the way we conceive design by providing a higher degree of customisation,” says Steve Leung, founder of Hong Kong and Shanghai-based firm Steve Leung Design Group.

Johannes Weissenbaeck, founder and CEO of OXO Living, agrees; his firm is an Indonesia-headquartered property and design company that develops and manages estates, villas, and other luxurious homes around the world. “AI will be a major driver in the real world and the metaverse,” says Weissenbaeck. “We are already using [AI] without thinking about it. Just ask Siri, say ‘Hey Google’, or drive a modern car that gently brings you back to the middle of the road.” 

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2. AI-supported property investment

As much as digital tools are part of the market's reaction to the pandemic, these are timely interventions for the buyers of the moment—millennials who are approaching the average age to become first-time homeowners. That said, it is still important to take the needs of all generations when designing homes, says Weissenbaeck of OXO Living.

“We are seeing a generational divide between Gen Z, millennials, Gen X and the generations after that, but this gap is closing. While the younger generations are digitally native, more open, and much more active in the digital home space, the curiosity and spending power of Gen X is equally important,” he says, adding that this makes it imperative to maintain access to such digital tools. “We find that for all buyers, the bridge between the physical home and any digital technology is essential—to be able to ensure simplicity in the customer experience and maintenance, which particularly in Asia can be a huge challenge.”

Ken Yim of property and technology company CM Square concurs. His firm’s strength lies in combining artificial intelligence (AI) and RPA technology to provide real estate solutions such as property evaluations for investors, brokers and financial institutions.

Says Yim: “With the aids of AI, investors can source under-valued deals every minute of every day. AI robots can search the internet every second to identify new listings, updates to current listings, and understand the details of properties on a large scale. AI and machine learning engines are able to analyze a large number of property listings, compare them with similar listings and their transaction histories and accurately estimate the market price. By using AI technology, real estate investors can search for properties that are under market price 24 hours a day.”

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Singapore-based real estate digital platform Mogul.sg is another notable player in the local market. The firm recently launched an interactive 3D tool, which replicated the entire real estate map of Singapore using geospatial technology. The firm also uses AI elements to make the house-hunting process easier for buyers.

“Over the past two years, our AI has made recommendations to home seekers and we currently have a record of an estate agent having her listing recommended and responded to within 17 seconds of listing,” says Gerald Sim, CEO and founder of Mogul.sg. “Recently, we have also used AI to help a home seller transact her listing within five days. We hope to develop this further and help more in the near future.” 

3. NFTs and virtual real estate

As much as Indonesia-headquartered firm OXO Living is driven by the generational balance, the firm was also one of the first to adapt to another digital development: NFTs (non-fungible tokens). The property and design company develops and manages estates, villas and other luxurious homes around the world and has been incorporating NFTs for its private members’ club (OXO Collective) and art collection (OXO Artwall). 

“The rise of NFTs is changing the way we own and exchange digital content, and the metaverse is changing our physical space and social experiences,” says Weissenbaeck. 

Victoria Garrett, head of residential at Knight Frank Asia Pacific, attributes part of the rise of the metaverse to the gaming industry, which she feels was indirectly fuelled by the pandemic. “With the lockdowns, people were looking to escape the confines of their homes, and the virtual world provided them with a welcome escape. With gaming coming to the fore, virtual worlds and virtual real estate agents are also on the rise,” she says.

4. More digital transactions

The use of blockchain to facilitate digital transactions via smart contracts is another area with potential for further innovation in Asia. “In our new normal, with reduced travel and interpersonal interactions, the real estate transaction volume is driven down,” says Yim. “Therefore, developers, brokers, agencies, banks and mortgage lenders should be keen to push as many digital transactions as possible.”

He adds: “Looking to the future, with the latest NFT trends, blockchain technologies and AI helping to make property transactions more efficient, buying and selling property will soon be as simple as online shopping.”

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