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SA to witness first 3D virtual property auction

Read time 4min 10sec

South Africa’s property sector is transitioning from a traditionally interaction-heavy industry to online as the effects of COVID-19 are forcing businesses to reinvent the way they operate.

As the government-sanctioned COVID-19 lockdown continues, businesses are responding strategically, adapting operating models to digital innovations.

SA went into lockdown in March to stem the spread of the virus, consequently impacting most industries, especially those that were interaction-heavy.

According to consulting firm PwC, rapid innovation through digital is now more critical than before.

“Organisations that are designed for the digital era are able to rapidly develop or enhance offerings by adapting and reconfiguring digital services to meet changing customer needs,” it says.

Like other sectors, the property industry is navigating the effects of having to temporarily cease normal operations by conducting business online.

This week, SA will witness its first live virtual property auction in which all bids will be accepted through a variety of digital channels, including video apps and live streaming.

The new normal

High Street Auctions, which will conduct the sale, says this will be off the back of hi-tech, detailed 3D virtual property tours already taken by registered bidders from across the country.

Director and lead auctioneer Joff van Reenen says the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown has accelerated the general public’s acceptance of virtual auctions.

He notes the company had to reinvent and go the extra mile in the “new normal” to retain clients and extend its client base.

“At the beginning of the outbreak, High Street already possessed the most advanced digital auction platform in South Africa that streamed our live auctions and accepted both real-time and commission bids placed in advance.

“Since property investment invariably involves such big numbers, we had to ask ourselves whether we were doing enough to service both our sellers and instil confidence in buyers that they were getting the full picture – even under lockdown conditions – and the answer was ‘no’.”

As a result, Van Reenen says the firm then invested heavily in virtual technology that digitises the real estate sale process from beginning to end.

Virtual tours

The company says it has invested in technology that showcases every seller’s property – whether residential, commercial or industrial – in a full 3D, 360-degree virtual walkthrough format on its Web site, allowing potential buyers to examine walls, floors, ceilings and fixtures at their leisure from the comfort of their homes or offices.

High Street says it has also extended its bidding platforms to include telephonic, commission bids with the auctioneer and live bidding on the company’s app as well as via Zoom on sale days.

It has invested in secure digital signature technology for all sale contracts, which allows both sellers and buyers to remotely and legally sign all necessary documents and submit them digitally to the auctioneers to speedily secure the transaction.

Van Reenen says: “Bidders watching the virtual live stream of the sale through the High Street app on 14 May will not only hear me calling the bid amounts, but they’ll also see the bids appearing in embedded text on their screens. For those people, especially, who are new to auctions, it entirely removes the stress from the process.

“Our Web site traffic volumes this week ahead of the sale at noon on 14 May have been huge; even higher than we saw last year which was a record year for the company.

“Web site traffic numbers and the resultant volume of auction pre-registrations tell us the technology investment we’ve made to give our local and international clients 3D virtual access to our sellers’ properties has clearly paid off.”

The Rawson Property Group has also made a foray into the digital space.

“There’s no doubt that we have needed to act quickly to continue to serve our customers in these challenging times,” says Tony Clarke, MD of the Rawson Property Group.

“No matter what is happening in the world, people still need a roof over their heads, which will always mean they need to be able to keep buying, selling and renting property. We have also seen a rise in the urgency with which some of our clients are needing assistance.”

To enable the continuation of its services, Rawson says it has leveraged its technology to roll out new products for clients: virtual valuations, 3D virtual tours, virtual show houses, electronically-signed documentation and online meetings.

These, Clarke points out, will serve as important stopgaps during lockdown and social distancing, and ultimately form part of a much larger service strategy.

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