Elite AgentFeature Interviews

Supporting Australia’s growing rental marketplace with Val Brown

While Australia has traditionally been considered a nation of home owners, the share of people renting property continues to increase each year.

We talk to REA Group’s Chief Consumer Product Officer, Val Brown who is responsible for the Group’s rent strategy and learn more about ongoing plans to support Australia’s growing rental marketplace.

Can you describe the focus of REA Group’s rent strategy?
Core to our rent strategy is the creation of a rental eco-system where we can seamlessly connect property managers, tenants and landlords and help foster strong relationships between all three. 

REA has access to the largest consumer audience for rent in Australia, with an average of over 19.7 million visits to our realestate.com.au rent experience each month.

Continuing to grow this audience position, combined with our focus on delivering innovative products and experiences, allows us to provide more value and great leads to our agency customers and helps win tenants. It’s critical we demonstrate clear value to our customers and support their ongoing growth.

What are some of the key issues you’ve seen impacting the rent market during COVID-19?
The rental market was immediately hit by the onset of COVID-19. There was a big spike in rental listings back in March, particularly for fully furnished properties.

The closure of international borders meant a key source of rental demand, people arriving into Australia, became absent. Restrictions on tourism and student accommodation saw many landlords move their investment properties away from the short-term rental market to a traditional lease. 

COVID-19 social distancing measures saw digital inspections become a pivotal tool to support both agents and property managers to continue to connect prospects to properties.

The REA team rallied to deliver rapid changes to our property experience and our digital rental application tool, 1form, to support digital inspections. We’ve seen double-digit growth in property managers and agencies using 1form since the onset of COVID-19. 

You’ve mentioned that PMs are relying more heavily on 1form than ever before. What are your future plans for your digital rental application tool? 
As a business we consistently look to increase operating efficiencies and streamline key processes, all with the knowledge that the adoption of digital applications will continue to rise.

Our strategic focus on creating a strong rental eco-system is centred on efficiency in the marketplace, enabled by digital. Ultimately, we want to help facilitate ‘one-click applications’ and instant approvals which will benefit tenants, property managers and landlords alike.

In the more immediate term, we’ve kicked off a trial of processing rental applications in Ignite, REA’s customer self-service platform.

Responding to customer feedback, we’ve rebuilt the entire 1form platform from the ground-up. Integrating rental applications into Ignite will unlock exciting customer benefits that deliver vastly improved efficiencies, including a much more simplified tenant selection experience.

At the same time, we’re also building a brand-new tenant application experience. We plan to bring these initiatives to market before the end of 2020.

What other new initiatives can we expect to see from REA in the rent space?
As I touched on earlier, realestate.com.au has the largest consumer audience for rent in Australia.

Not only does this mean there are more consumers viewing and applying for our listings; this reach also provides us with unparalleled data and insights into the Australian property market which helps us deliver significant value to our customers.

We’re focused on connecting consumers with our customers to drive quality leads and to deliver trusted tenants.

With over two million landlords in Australia, our research highlights that 33 per cent are now self-managing their investment properties.

This has become a significant segment presenting a tangible opportunity to tap into and capture value for our customers and consumers. 

We’ve been speaking with our agency customers about how we best support the industry to do this.

As a result, we’ve developed an offering to attract and engage self-managed landlords; providing them with the choice to either connect with an agency on our site, or list directly.

Our research also shows that 24 per cent of self-managed landlords are considering switching to a Property Manager in the next 12 months. There’s a great opportunity for REA to continually promote the value of agency property management services in our experience.

We see this as a win-win for our agency customers and consumers.

We can help unlock new opportunities for property managers to engage with this significant audience of owners and ultimately grow their business, while providing our consumers with access to the most comprehensive view of Australian rental properties. We are looking at launching this offering before the end of this quarter.

In terms of the overall rental marketplace reforms, do you feel the balance is right between tenants and landlords?
It’s a complex question. Recent ABS data shows more people rent in Australia than own their home outright.

With more people renting than ever before, tenants need to feel comfortable and secure in their home. At the same time the landlord takes on risk by trusting someone else with their asset.

Property managers are then potentially caught in the middle when challenges may arise.

We’re focused on growing and supporting a rental marketplace that successfully caters for the unique requirements of landlords, tenants and property managers, with strong trust at the heart of the experience. 

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