Changing places: Disruption in the housing market

There are few major industries that don’t wear the scars of recent years’ battles against a climate of disruption and change.

Driven by technological innovation and a new wave of consumer demands, traditional business models are being thrown out the window with a speed that belies a fear of commercial obsolescence in a disruption of the markets.

disruption in the housing marketThis fear isn’t unfounded. Banks; travel agents; brick-and-mortar shops: in the last decade we have seen the high street turned on end with a click here and a swipe there. Could this lead to a disruption in the housing market?

Maintaining solid foundations

Until recently, one of the only areas demonstrating any kind of resilience to the grasps of the online revolution was the housing market. This is, inevitably, beginning to change. There are a few key areas in which we are seeing variations implanting themselves: the listing of properties, the viewing of properties, and the procurement of a mortgage.

When online listing sites such as Rightmove and Zillow came to the fore almost a decade ago, it shifted the balance of power to the consumer. Now, a new crop of businesses are once again changing the field. Property agents charging fixed-rate fees are quickly winning customers away from those expecting a percentage of the property value. Indeed, cutting costs is the name of the game with some agents committing to a wholly online model, enabling them to perform the same professional service but with a fraction of the running costs.

Similarly, the act of viewing a house is being adjusted for a virtual audience. Foxtons were one of the first to capitalise on the idea of a VR tour, when they installed headsets in their Islington offices back in March 2016. Yet what seemed to be a sales gimmick has quickly gained pace as an innovative way to speed up the sales process and once again drive down operational costs.

A new financial landscape

Within a digital economy, it seems somewhat inevitable that mortgage lenders will have to follow the example of other risk management entities and adapt to the changing times. Just look at the insurance industry: long regarded as one of the great monoliths of financial services, its own scuffle with tech disruption has left us with the snappy ‘InsurTech’ portmanteau and some of its biggest players pouring into Silicon Valley amidst a sea of new, successful, digitally-driven companies. Take simplesurance, for instance, a point-of-sale mobile phone insurance provider who do away with the lengthy paperwork and forensic examination its industry is renowned for, and instead offer instant one-click cover via an online portal.

It is this very same premise that banks’ mortgage departments are being encouraged to follow. Consumer-friendly websites that enable documents to be uploaded instantly and credit checks that can be run while you wait have enabled loan applications to be assessed at unprecedented speeds. Coupled with greater transparency and improved trust rates, we are beginning to see mortgage lenders offering vendors the kind of convenience and ease of service that has long been expected from other industries.

Ultimately, the threat of disruption to the housing market may in fact be a kiss of life. At a time where home-buyers are understandably wary of the economic forecast, removing the outdated processes associated with the property market might just be a welcoming sign for the digital generation.