Stamp duty extension and increased customer needs mean the real estate sector needs to get its digital house in order
Many home buyers will be relieved that the stamp duty holiday on house purchases has been extended for a further three months. It has already led to house sales increasing to their highest level since before the 2007 financial crisis, according to the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS). Rightmove estimates an additional 300,000 property transactions in England could benefit from the three-month extension, meaning buyers could save £1.75 billion on the tax.
For those just climbing onto the property ladder, however, finding a new home quickly enough to see a deal through won’t be easy. To help them hit the deadline, it’s crucial that estate agents provide a swift and seamless digital search–to–convert experience. With the painful legal process to completion taking 60 days on average, time in this first phase is of the essence.
The pandemic has changed consumer behaviour. During the first lockdown the government banned physical viewings and buyers flocked online for virtual views – Savills recorded a doubling of online views within a week of lockdown and an increasing demand for live tours using WhatsApp, Facetime and Zoom by viewers keen to explore properties in greater virtual detail. This trend has only continued, with Purple Bricks commenting to econsultancy * in January that their customers are now filtering first views through virtual tours and then placing offers after a single physical viewing.
Digital agency Delete / Kagool has been tracking the changes in customers’ online needs in the real estate sector and working with the likes of Winkworth, Barratt Homes and Carter Jonas to help them reduce online friction and satisfy these increased online customer demands.
First and foremost, running their service on the right digital experience platform (DXP) significantly impacts a property company’s ability to compete at speed. Last year, Winkworth migrated its website from an old bespoke platform to Kentico Xperience and took hold of its digital delivery from a more centralised base. Pain points had included limited content editing capabilities resulting in slow, costly and inconsistent property updates across their 100 offices, and shared platform updates with competitors, neutralising stand out features, as well as annually increasing license costs. The migration has reduced time to market for properties added into CMS from several hours to less than 10 minutes. They have also updated their CRM, accelerating response time to enquiries. As a result, page speed and site performance metrics have almost doubled and page load time reduced by from 6-3.5 seconds. Server response time has been reduced by more than 80% and they have managed to update URLs to a more user and SEO friendly format. Tracking and personalisation capabilities also improved to give the brand a step ahead from its competitors. All of which deliver a sleeker and swifter service for customers.
Delete / Kagool worked with Carter Jonas to redefine their digital strategy, reflecting their leading market position and converting more sales leads. We also implemented an upgrade of their Sitecore platform to create a more streamlined and personalised user journey. This has resulted in an improved site search, significant increases in website traffic, customer preferences and onsite engagement.
“This approach has helped us develop a platform which clearly addressed and solves the needs of the end user and, working in partnership, we will continue to evolve our customers’ online experience and offer a market-leading service”, says Daniel Fulbrook, Head of Digital Marketing.
Upgrades do not have to be interruptions of course.
When taking on work for Barratt Homes, Delete / Kagool was able to work in sprints to improve the digital experience while not interrupting day to day operations. As Shane Lightowler, project manager at Barratt Homes explains, “Delete / Kagool were quickly able to put in place both lights-on application support, as well as an agile sprint process for continuous improvement. Both showed strong results early on and we have continued to evolve our processes over time.”
It’s no surprise that customers are looking for better online experiences. For many people, living under lockdowns and isolation while trying to navigate a big life change like a home move, digital is the only possibility for getting to a shortlist of options swiftly, before entering the physical space to reach a final decision fast. The estate agents who deliver most quickly and follow up with a personalised engagement strategy will be the ones to seal the most deals. In short, they need to be on point when it comes to a smooth service.
Delete / Kagool has seen the habits of people change and demands updated and while we all hope that restrictions will be finite, some habits are likely to stick around. Add to this the lift on stamp duty and the housing market heats up to the point where to be a part of the game means making sure your offering does very little to get in the way of customer needs for speed and accessibility.