IT helps estate agents talk the talk

I moved flats last week. The dear old landlord is selling the block of terraces I was living in, so we all had to be out by last weekend.

I moved to a new flat last week. The dear old landlord is selling the block of terraces I was living in, so we all had to be out by last weekend.

Now, I was going to moan about the high cost of living in central Auckland and question whether you might be better off with another job in the cheaper provinces, but I think those arguments were pretty much covered in last week’s column. Instead, let’s look at how IT has changed the real estate industry.

Looking for somewhere to live has become a whole lot easier, even if it may not actually create extra properties where you want them at a price you can afford. A raft of websites now list properties, from newspapers like the New Zealand Herald to agents like Bayleys, Barfoot & Thompson and NZ Realties. They are joined by internet specialists such as NZ Flatmates at nznow.net.nz and flatline.co.nz, which offers an email alert service to tell you when a suitable property has turned up.

Ringing a range of places listed on the websites suggests many are snapped up quickly, but the same is true of newspaper ads. Sites may have to be visited daily or even more often. However, one agency appears only to update its website just once a week.

When making arrangements to see a place, email is useful, but the good old mobile works wonders. Agents are a busy lot, always popping in and out of the office. The mobile has made the biggest impact in the industry, one told me, and though it means you are always available even when out of the office, she cannot imagine working without one now.

While flat-hunting I spoke by mobile to many agents, who could tell you if a place had gone on the spot. Standing outside a place, what could be easier than ringing the agent to say “I like the look of it. How soon can you show me inside?”

Eventually I found a place — though unless I get someone to share I will find the bulk of my wages going on rent. I’ve just signed the tenancy agreement, but that was received and returned by “old-fashioned” fax, rather than online. All I need now is to pick up the keys (in person) and book the removals (by phone).

But what about the agents?

Darcy Snowden of NZ Realties says mobile phones are to real estate agents what hammers are to carpenters. Customers want to be able to contact agents any time. “They want answers, not answer phones,” he says.

Emails are “hit-and-miss” because the “idiots” sending them cannot always spell and do not give sufficient details on what they are looking for, he says. You also have to filter through the “timewasters”. However, he says, the internet is becoming increasingly useful for people looking at properties, with clients being able to view photos online. It helps them narrow down choices and makes for faster service. Snowden’s site even includes a loan calculator to help clients assess what they can afford.

People overseas increasingly use the web to view Kiwi properties but the web “is just an introduction”, Snowden says.

“It won’t surpass the face-to-face meeting. People still have to look at things — the agent and the property,” he says.

Roger Bransgrove of Apartment Rentals in Auckland agrees mobile phones save legwork and email is faster and often “more professional” than sending letters and faxes. Email also is easier for notes and records. Together, the technologies mean you can do more business faster, he says.

He is setting up a website for foreign buyers. “It will be pulling in overseas clients wanting long term and short term properties, with the facility of showing them external and internal shots before they get on the plane,” Bransgrove says.

Back to me. I now have to find someone short term for the spare room until the end of May, when my parents arrive from England.

Yes, I’ll stick a card on the gym and supermarket noticeboards and maybe place an ad in the Herald. Perhaps I should also try NZ Flatmates.

Well, I could certainly relate to Kevin, a 24-year-old Pom coming to New Zealand on a working holiday visa, having been in his shoes six years ago. Or maybe I should just email 22-year-olds Julianne and Belinda from Brisbane.

Greenwood is Computerworld’s human resources reporter. Send email to Darren Greenwood.

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