Off-the-plan sales move online as the industry adapts with guided virtual tours and e-contracts

Coronavirus restrictions are transforming Australia’s property industry and the way buyers purchase real estate.

Bans on open for inspections have propelled developers and real estate agents into a digital future where buyers can easily purchase property they have only ever seen online.

It’s a giant leap for many Australians, whose appetite for real estate has long relied on physically attending a property or, in the case of off-the-plan apartments, visiting a display suite. But thanks to virtual innovations in the industry, home buyers can now purchase site virtually seen.

Developers including OSK Property, who are behind the $2.8 billion Melbourne Square project in Southbank, have gone beyond virtual inspections to offer one-on-one guided virtual tours where potential buyers can inspect every room of a property.

Agents join the buyers live online to answer questions and point out features.

$6.5 million in sales were finalised at Melbourne Square in March. Render: Melbourne Square

“We’re seeing high numbers of people on our websites and inquiries are still reasonably strong to be honest, so I think people are craving information,” said Scott Jessop, OSK Property sales and marketing director.

“For people to be able to go and look through an apartment from their mobile phone or computer in a guided way, gives them more content. People love the property subject in Australia, so people will still be looking.”

Despite the curveball COVID-19 has thrown at the property industry, more than $6.5 million in sales were finalised at Melbourne Square in March, with online tools like e-contracts assisting with the shift to online.

“So many of the agents we work with, whether it’s in Australia, Malaysia or Singapore, up until recently didn’t want to use e-contracts because people still liked to be able to have a physical contract,” Jessop said.

“Now that we’re starting to do these e-contracts, people are thinking ‘Why didn’t I do this earlier?’”

West End Glebe balcony view

The view from a balcony at West End in Glebe. Photo: Colliers International

Agents took deposits for five apartments this week at West End, a development in the Sydney suburb of Glebe, based on virtual tours. The project was completed last November, with filmed tours of the remaining apartments launched last week.

The success of online tools was giving buyers renewed confidence in the property market, said Blake Schulze, director at Colliers International.

“It’s amazing once you step into this virtual tour online how real it can feel,” he said.

“You’re walking through the space guided by the sales agents at the time who can talk through all the fixtures, fittings and finishings, you’re not just working off a computer-generated image.”

Minnippi Quarter sales and display centre in Brisbane. Photo: Frasers Property

The impacts of coronavirus on the property industry will ultimately change the way property is marketed and sold in the future, said John Paige, co-founder of DisplaySweet, which offers tools for developers to showcase and sell off-the-plan projects digitally.

“When things go back to the new normal, of course people are going to use all these new online ways of doing things because the world will have changed,” he said.

“People will realise this is better than sending an email and a PDF. We’re going to adapt very fast.”

Guided virtual tours have been complemented by video construction updates and virtual sales appointments at the Minnippi Quarter development by Frasers Property in Brisbane.

The virtual experience was created to be as similar as possible to a real life experience, said Scott Ullman, Frasers general manager residential Queensland.

“It is important that everyone who visits our sales and display centre at Minnippi Quarter, whether it be for a one-on-one appointment or virtual tour, shares the same experience and service,” he said.

“We want them to feel as excited about the project as they might have done after leaving a one-on-one appointment at the sales office.”