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Big Data and its importance to the property industry

In an era where the cost of storing data fell below the cost of deleting it, consumers have become an “incessant generator of both structured, transactional data as well as contemporary unstructured behavioural data” (Erevelles et al., 2015).

The British Standards Institute (BSI) notes that more data was produced in the last two years than in the entire history of humankind (Smart cities. Guide to the role of the planning and development process, 2014).

Big Data is frequently defined by looking at its three main characteristics (the three Vs): volume, velocity and variety (Meta Group, 2001). Volume refers to a large bulk of data, measured in terabytes, petabytes or even exabytes.  Velocity indicates the rate at which the digital processes make Big Data even bigger.  Variety refers to different types of data captured from different sources, including structured and unstructured data.

In property, Big Data is easily available due to a large number of interactions with buyers and vendors taking place in social media, online and on mobile devices.  All actions can be tracked and visualised by making use of smart technology applications.

The ability to better understand, and later predict, consumer behaviour with reference to buying and selling decisions is every estate agent’s holy grail. Identifying the exact triggers that generate a particular action at each stage in the consumer decision-making process is a science in itself and it is imperative that agents learn how to tap into Big Data sources and leverage that information to gain critical insight.

In 2004, Google Maps did not exist. By 2018, it is has become the main tool used by consumers searching for local information on a global scale. This was made possible by the rapid development of the supporting infrastructures backing big data. While the disruption caused by new entrants in the geospatial market seemed like a threat to the traditional agents, the ones that have fully adapted to the digital trend developed new, improved and more user-friendly services responding to customer requirements in formats previously unimaginable.

Owning location desirability

Analysing the desirability of certain properties and areas to live is essential for any estate agency. This can now be established through surveys, common search terms, website traffic volumes or by capturing data using various software tools. Estate agents can tap into this data to have an in-depth understanding of what their customers are looking for and how long they browse before they perform an action (book a viewing, adding a property to favourites, shortlisting a particular area, etc.). They can establish what the top areas are and can segment their audiences based on their criteria for selection.

At OneDome, we made use of Big Data to identify the key considerations people take into account when looking for a new place to buy. Our research showed that when moving to a new location, the most important criteria people look at are: safety, transport links, education, quiet, green space, proximity of groceries, and availability of other leisure activities, such as restaurants and gyms. As a result, we developed Locality Reality – a tool that enables users to type any postcode in England & Wales into its search bar and receive an individual out-of-ten score for each criterion. We calculate these scores using a number of complex algorithms to crunch the most up-to-date data from trusted and publicly available sources, like the Metropolitan Police, TfL and the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The local area-mapping tool brings data and science to the home research process, allowing users to objectively compare unlimited postcodes in England and Wales based on area-specific information. By tracking such behaviours online, agents can work out why they are ‘losing’ customers as well as what exactly is winning them over. The data gained through this analysis not only enhances their understanding of the target audience, but it improves the way they go about closing a particular deal.

Owning lead generation

The new ways of advertising do not eliminate traditional efforts but accessing Big Data can completely change the way estate agents create, distribute and target their ads to specific audiences.

Instead of blindly posting ads on various platforms and portals – targeting everyone – agents that use Big Data crunching tools can choose to only display their ads to their most relevant buyers. They can choose to show individual properties to certain very specific audiences.

With the right tools in place, agents could show ads exclusively to people who they know are already in the market to move – email subscribers, people who have previously visited the agent’s website and interacted with data-capture tools (booked viewings, enquired about particular properties, etc.), those who engaged with particular types of content on their social media accounts by liking or commenting.

Use predictive analytics to identify local sellers

Predictive analytics tools can evaluate big data to find local seller signals and produce listing predictions for a particular area. Each area is run separately, as selling triggers vary from region to region. This allows agents to identify the area that offers the highest turnover and commission potential, so that they can narrow their focus and win more listings.

There are a number of variables each set of data can be run against in order to identify seller or buyer signals in any given area, including:

–       listing price trends,

–       time in the property,

–       mortgage status,

–       number of residents,

–       owner savings,

–       home equity,

–       relocation trends,

–       number of children,

–       last selling date,

–       safety ratio,

–       consumer habits,

–       year built,

–       price appreciation,

–       credit status,

–       hobbies and interests,

–       net worth,

–       life stage,

–       occupation and industry,

–       income,

–       move up/move down

The ability to capture and analyse Big Data can help agents reduce the costs of marketing for the masses. Instead, they can focus exclusively on selected pre-qualified leads. They can target the most valuable potential customers by knowing their age, gender, interests, life events and interactions with their brand. Using insights from pools of Big Data, agents can produce highly targeted lead generation campaigns where the audience is already pre-qualified. For instance, if the agency has a property situated in a catchment area for a popular school, the ads will focus on targeting parents, etc.

Get targeted online exposure

Accessing and interpreting Big Data can also help agents track and nurture those leads who expressed an interest but didn’t convert. All those potential buyers who have lingered at the agency’s window display but went on to look somewhere else. Using the right tools, agents can reinforce their brand to potential leads through automated online advertising. Cookie-matching technologies can locate buyers/sellers who are more likely to convert based on their IP addresses, so the right people can access the agency’s digital marketing content when they browse online. From targeted online banner and display ads on popular sites, to social media newsfeed and sidebar ads, branded online ads include the ability to retarget buyers and sellers who’ve visited agents’ websites but did not convert initially.

Hyper-personalised house searches

At the moment, property portals allow users to search by filtering particular property features (area, number of bedrooms, price, time on market, etc.). What users cannot do, however, is filter their searches based on their own personal needs and/or preferences.

Big Data, covering all behavioural interactions gathered from all channels (social media, browsing history, etc.) has the ability to create ‘psychographic’ profiles of property viewers and pair them with the house that matches their mind-set.

As Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis rightfully concludes: “Whereas today an online property system might filter by budget and number of bedrooms, consumers in the 2020s will expect it to plug in to their personal data and know that they want a house with a south-facing garden, close to a railway station that serves their office, a school specialising in music for their daughter, and a jazz bar that serves great craft beer.”

If this idea sounds too futuristic, the next decade is only a few years away, so estate agents must be aware of the trends and be prepared for the changes ahead. Understanding what Big Data can offer is the first step in ensuring the agency business is future-proof.

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