If a year ago someone told me I would still be writing an opinion piece contextualising the pandemic, I would have called them pessimistic. But the truth is here we are still very much in the midst of the crisis and companies across industries are still trying to take stock of their businesses, and reinventing strategies to keep pace with the dynamism of the situation. Through all this the only certainty is the way we live, work and even play has changed forever there’s no stopping the accelerated pace of digitalisation taking place across all frontiers.
It was Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, who said that we are witnessing two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months. Far from exaggeration, the rhetoric holds true across sectors, including real estate. We noted how fast-paced changes brought about a host of operational adaptations — a contactless customer model, digitisation of functions, augmented reality, and a technology-driven homebuying process. These adaptations were unthinkable, and in many cases unnecessary in the real estate sector just a few months before that.
Today our industry offers a suite of digitally enabled services from automated apartment matching, virtual home tours, renter portals, and contactless solutions across home loans, payments, and escrow services that are reshaping how real estate is bought, sold, leased, and managed. We are also seeing similar trends taking place in commercial real estate, where measuring air quality and other health variables are doubly important.
The human component
But digitalisation is by no means dehumanisation. On the contrary, without strong involvement and without taking the human element into account at all levels, digital projects are doomed to fail. Buying a home, for many, is potentially the biggest investment anyone makes, and often the culmination of one’s life savings and aspirations. While the reviews and ratings of the projects, contemporary technologies, and virtual tours provide a seamless virtual experience, and to some extent successfully, the human interface, touch and feel of the real estate space cannot be replaced by an automated, digital process.
Time to up the game
With businesses on the upswing and an optimistic first half, backed by rising vaccinations in the UAE and a drop in Covid cases, it is time to redefine the standard once again. And the need of the hour is to align with the ‘Next New Normal’.
While a digitally powered real estate ecosystem offers a more personalised customer experience, the human engagement cannot be ignored, just yet. The ‘next new normal’ will call for digital-first, hybrid workplaces that allow for both in-person and remote collaboration.
Translating this model for our sector would be one in which real estate companies can thrive by building on smart technology and enabling customers to visit sales centres, view project models, and experience real touch-and-feel to their investments to heighten the customer experience. Businesses must reset their learning goals and to close the skill gap that may hinder post-Covid strategic priorities. This is where Dubai Holding Real Estate has stood out with its proactive moves. As the demands of the situation evolved, we coupled customer-centric policies with our digital transformation to preserve a legacy of customer care that acknowledges the importance of the human touch.
With over 335 units launched by the last quarter of 2020 and another 450 unveiled in the first four months of 2021, the overwhelming response to the socially distanced customer events in Dubai is testimony to the need for the human interaction in buying decisions.
Predicting the health of the real estate sector and building long-term strategies is a premature exercise. The journey to normalcy is choppy — it’s time for leading real estate players like DHRE to push the pedal with digitalisation, without overseeing the irreplaceable impact a human connection has in the customer experience.
The writer is a chief commercial officer of Dubai Holding Real Estate. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the publication’s policy.