Technology in the times of Covid

Excerpts from an interaction with Amit Kumar Agarwal, Founder & CEO, NoBroker.com

Technology in times of CovidIn a recent interaction with Emmanuel Christi Das, Editor, CIOReviewIndia, Amit Kumar Agarwal, Founder & CEO, NoBroker.com, discusses the technologies in the times of Covid, how various industries have adapted to new technologies and specific technologies that can bring about a positive impact with a focus on the real estate sector.

What are some of the changes that can be seen with the COVID lockdowns? How has it affected social gathering, and what are the industry's most severely affected by the ongoing crisis?

The impact of Covid-19 can be seen across industries and changed consumer behavior. Paranoia entered in the consumer mindset regarding every small decision, from planning to buying groceries to ordering food. Social gatherings were out of the question. Even now, they are practiced with limitations. With the closure of malls, restaurants, amusement parks, theatres, and gyms, not just the consumers but also service providers can be seen coming to terms with the new normal. Many businesses have repackaged their offerings to suit new requirements as buyers could not step out. Therefore, products had to be delivered to consumers' doorstep. A lot of companies, regardless of the sector they belonged to, turned delivery aggregators overnight. They had to keep the consumer engaged, and they had to evolve consistently, and at a much faster rate due to the unprecedented crisis.

In what ways has the COVID-19 lockdown changed the norms of some industry? Brief us about the technologies that have overturned key processes that traditionally require physical inputs and visits.

 The SOPs of most industries have changed and are nothing similar to what they were only a few months ago. However, the real estate sector has seen an opportunity in adversity. The sector has been largely an offline play for decades. Even with property inventory being made available online along with home services, physical property visits were a must. But the Covid-19 Pandemic allowed the online real estate players to explore video walkthroughs as an alternative to physical site visits. They give a good estimation of size, area, locality, and what the property looks like for real. Many customers today are comfortable shortlisting their homes via video tours of the property. Millennials have been doing online home searches for about a decade now. But finalizing a home without paying a physical visit is a gigantic leap, a good one, even though ironically propelled by the current crisis.

Also, as tenants prefer not to step out, the Pandemic has boosted online rent and maintenance payments.

People can even manage properties in other cities without physically visiting there. This can be done remotely through property management services offered by credible players. Technology has made it possible to make this gigantic sector an online play.

The Real Estate sector is a labor-intensive sector, and with the onset of the Pandemic, the Real Estate industry in India is going through an unprecedented moment of inflection. What are the significant challenges confronting the real estate sector? And also brief us about the possible solutions to navigate through the emergency.

 For real estate, which is one of the most labor-intensive industries, India is going through a very defining moment or, as we may say, an inflection point.

The major problem that has emerged is that of stalled construction. That is necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus. However, if we look at the larger picture, this problem is time-bound. In fact, many builders and developers, with the help of the government, are helping labor get back to work in the sector with all necessary precautions. The government and industry bodies have been mindful of the stress that the sector is combatting and have therefore unleashed a lot of reforms that will be helpful in the short term such as the RBI moratorium, the reduction in repo rate, the reduction of the stamp duty in Maharashtra, etc.

Other challenges, such as property visits, rent payment, maintenance payment, availing groceries, newspapers, even food with safety, have been addressed by online real estate players by tying up with various partners in the mentioned domains and through technology.

When the lockdown was just announced, there was a lot of uncertainty in the sector, in fact, across sectors. But with time, both customers and industry players have understood that they will have to adjust to the "new normal" and life can't forever be at a standstill.

Enlighten us about the latest technological trends disrupting the Real Estate sector. In what ways has the Pandemic catapulted the adoption of technological innovations in the industry?

The Pandemic has disrupted our lives and the way we conduct everyday business on a scale. The way to do simple chores such as buying groceries and paying rent has completely changed. The entire journey has been both shocking and overwhelming. Shocking because until only five months ago, nobody knew what's going to hit them, and overwhelming because while there have been challenges, technology has really ironed a lot of creases and made tasks simpler.

-First and foremost, the trend is the video walkthroughs that have taken the industry by a storm. Even after the Pandemic fizzles, this method of viewing properties is going to stay because it saves massively on time, money, and effort.

-The second very noticeable trend is the digital payment for everything from rent to maintenance to groceries to most things imaginable. Again, this trend is also here to stay.

-Packaging and moving, which hitherto required a physical inspection to assess the size of moving vehicles needed is now being inspected online through a video call.

-Interior design services where designers sat down with their clients to explain their vision are now working towards a model where the post-renovation look and feel can be shown online by using technology prior to beginning the renovation.

-Society apps such as NoBrokerHood have even launched a feature called touchless entry by facial recognition whereby people who enter the society regularly do not even have to use biometric. The entry approval is completely contactless, and the visitor has to register their details in the guard's app just once post in which their entry is smooth and secure.

-The app is also integrated with Aarogya Setu and offers containment zone information at a micro-level.

All these efforts are already getting people habituated to a convenient and easy way of conducting everyday business. They would have taken time to sync, but the Covid-19 crisis has left people with little other choices. There is no definitive timeline to when this crisis will end, which has catapulted people to faster adoption of technological solutions. 

The younger Millennial generation had been searching for houses online since the last decade onwards. What are the advantages that an online house search brings to the table to its users?   Why should people of all ages adopt online house search practices?

There are numerous advantages to an online home search. The most important one is that it is an independent process, free from the biases of brokers or middlemen. Brokers have information on only a few houses that they try hard to sell to prospective buyers or tenants. Online inventory has a much larger database.

Brokers charge an absurd amount of brokerage, which cannot be justified given the quality of service. Online platforms give an option of brokerage free transactions where owners and seekers can interact without a middleman.

Once a property is finalized, there is very little value that a broker adds. Most of the post finalizing drill, which includes verification, legal assistance, rent agreements, registrations, etc. can be done online.

Also, brokers can suggest a handful of properties that may or may not suit your needs. But online platforms have a mechanism to recommend the best areas to stay based on the buyer/tenant's criteria and preferences with respect to their workplace, spouse's workplace, children's school, and other details. Technology can really help a lot in zeroing in on best localities.

Online platforms can show real-time how much the property is in demand. Whereas if the same property is viewed through a broker, the broker gives false information regarding the availability of the property and creates undue pressure.

Online platforms also have very simplified mechanisms of listing a property, which is suitable to owners who are mostly in the 45+ age bracket.

Due to its hassle-free and brokerage-free advantage, there is no reason why one should search property through a traditional offline method.

What can we further expect from the Real Estate Industry in the upcoming future? What message would you like to impart across our readers and real estate players?

There are two key takeaways here. The real estate industry will emerge stronger from this Pandemic. Given the number of buyers on tech platforms, it shows that the real estate prices have bottomed out. It is a perfect time for genuine end-users to get a good deal and buy at the bottom of the cycle. This, coupled with the government and the industry bodies' schemes, make buying an attractive option to the consumer.

Secondly, technology usage will become more and more prevalent. This is an irreversible change. The Pandemic has fast-forwarded the usage of tech by consumers and industry-players, by 3 to 5 years. As can be seen from the current scenario, customers appreciate this new way of searching houses and transacting with minimal effort. Even offline players are consolidating their offerings with online ones.  Online platforms will observe greater traction as they continue to simplify the transactions.

Don't Miss ( 1-5 of 25 )