This is the first article in CoreLogic’s new Valuer Insights series. Over the coming months, we’ll be sharing the latest in innovation and best practice from leaders and experts across Australia’s property valuation industry.

The impacts of COVID-19 have caused shockwaves throughout the world’s economies, and real estate markets are no exception. But even in this uncertain environment, Australian valuation firms are finding new ways to strengthen their businesses for the future. 

While Australian property sales have declined in 2020, the market is already showing signs of recovery. And the worst seems to be over for the property valuation industry, with activity indicating we are now approaching pre-pandemic levels in many parts of the country. 

We spoke to some of the industry’s leading valuation suppliers about how they’re working to overcome the challenges of 2020 and take advantage of emerging opportunities. Here’s what they had to say.

JLL: delivering flexible solutions

For global property services firm JLL, the coronavirus has provided an opportunity to rethink their business approach and add further value for their clients. 

“There’s no better time than a crisis for people to accept change, and COVID-19 has opened up people’s minds because we have to work differently,” said Bart Mead, Executive Director of Valuations at JLL Australia. “Firms are now looking at how they can do things better to future-proof their businesses, and banks are more open towards engaging with us in different ways.” 

Before the coronavirus, JLL had developed a virtual valuation model, although its uptake among clients was slow. But when the Australian Property Institute declared a state of emergency due to social distancing restrictions, JLL had its virtual solution ready to go. 

Bart commented: “We’d previously showed it to some banks, who liked the concept but thought it would be too hard for their organisations to adopt. When COVID came along, we offered it as an additional option our valuers could provide. Even though we’ve mostly continued with physical inspections, we’ve done virtual inspections for at least 16 bank lenders.”

Beyond the residential consumer market, JLL has used its virtual solution to value properties for government clients in Australia. With its global reach, JLL has also navigated varying COVID-19 restrictions around the world by conducting virtual inspections for commercial clients in Asia, Europe and North America.

According to Bart, the current environment presents opportunities for valuation firms to offer flexible solutions that can also improve their bottom line. 

“Clients will always want services to be faster, cheaper and of a higher quality,” he said. “So if valuers are spending most of their time driving from one property to the next, it can limit their productivity and put extra pressure on them because of fee compression. But with virtual valuations, we can provide high-quality reports because valuers have more time to work on their valuations rather than sitting in traffic.” 

Another of JLL’s recent innovations has been the development of its Property Intelligence Risk Reports. These draw on a variety of data sources to show projections around a property’s future value, based on current market drivers. Bart believes that delivering these kinds of insights to clients will be essential for valuation firms to maintain their relevance into the future. 

“As a profession, we need to embrace data and analytics to give clients a better idea of what’s happening in the market, rather than just producing valuation reports containing static numbers,” he said. “We believe that by being proactive in the services we provide, we can demonstrate our value – and if clients see value in what we do, they’ll be willing to pay for it.”

The WBP Group: improving the customer experience

The WBP Group is another firm that has had to rapidly adapt to current conditions. But despite being headquartered in Victoria, the state’s tight lockdown restrictions have had minimal impact on the firm’s internal operations. This is because the business had already embraced flexible working arrangements, so operational staff were used to regularly working from home. 

But with around 170 valuers located across Australia, providing accurate and timely internal communications has been a key focus of the firm’s COVID-19 response. 

“We’re definitely communicating more effectively now, even compared to before the lockdowns,” said Brendan Smith, CEO of the WBP Group. “The challenge has been to ensure our communications are relevant to all staff because, for instance, what we’re going through in Melbourne is completely different to the environment in Perth. We’ve also made sure our communications have been clear and transparent, so we could mobilise our staff in different scenarios when we couldn’t physically inspect properties.” 

Like JLL, the WBP Group also benefited from enhancing its digital capabilities prior to the pandemic. The business spent 18 months transforming its digital infrastructure and developed a virtual inspection model that put them in good stead when the coronavirus hit. 

“At the time, we didn’t expect that we’d have to transition our business almost overnight,” Brendan said. “But our virtual solution was fully operational within a week and a half, which was only possible because of the work we’d done in advance. It enabled us to continue operating – and operating at scale.” 

As the WBP Group uses Salesforce as its CRM, the team chose to develop a virtual solution that could be plugged directly into the Salesforce platform. This has helped the firm achieve valuable process efficiencies. 

“As a transaction-based business, our processes are very important,” Brendan said. “Because we conduct 80% of our business through Salesforce, it made sense to use technology that was fully integrated and fit for purpose.” 

While the firm’s virtual inspection model has been well-received by clients, Brendan and his team have been pleasantly surprised at how many homeowners are still opting for physical inspections. The WBP Group have therefore prioritised giving their clients all the information they need for a COVID-safe valuation. 

“We’ve adapted our text message and email communications to provide automated messages to clients around what’s involved,” said Brendan. “We explain how the no-touch inspection works and how long it will take, which gives clients a level of comfort because they know what to expect. Our clients can also now book appointments online rather than over the phone, which gives them more choice around finding a time to suit them.” 

For the WBP Group, the pandemic experience has offered ‘test and learn’ opportunities as they explore new ways of working. They’ve also introduced a feedback mechanism into their workflow system to ensure that any new initiatives they trial are hitting the mark for their clients.

“Every time we implement a change, we ask ourselves if it will address at least one of three core principles: to enhance our processes, to add value or to improve the customer experience,” Brendan said. “Even with the challenges of COVID-19, we’ve learned to keep focusing on those principles in everything we do. As a result, we’ve made improvements that are definitely here to stay and will continue to benefit our business in a post-pandemic world.”

CoreLogic: a new era of innovation 

For many organisations, 2020 has been a time to regroup and prepare for the future. Meanwhile, CoreLogic has focused on exploring new ways that we can help valuation firms boost efficiency and profitability.

For instance, our new RP Data platform can help valuers get a competitive edge by tapping into streamlined search functionality and market-leading data. Valuers can now view previously undisclosed sale prices, which is very helpful in markets with lower transaction volumes, as seen during the COVID-19 era. By accessing the most recent sales evidence, valuers can achieve greater accuracy in their assessments. 

Innovation continues at CoreLogic, with new data assets coming online to provide the key information valuers need to make their assessments. Rather than having to access data from multiple sources, valuers can enjoy efficiency gains by getting all the information they need in real time, all in one place.

What’s more, virtual solutions like CoreLogic’s ValConnect Upload Portal have helped the industry persevere through the pandemic and come out relatively unscathed, unlike many other sectors. The portal has been widely used by many valuation firms during the COVID-19 lockdowns, and has also been embraced by numerous lenders, as some of the smaller firms didn’t have their own solutions in place. This tool has also been particularly helpful during the second-wave lockdown in Victoria, as it has supported valuer health and safety while maintaining continuity of supply.  

If you’d like to stay up to date on the latest industry insights, data and solutions from CoreLogic, you can find more information here