Can buying a home ever be a true end-to-end online service?

Written by Geri McGaan – Principal Client Advisor

Today we don’t give a second thought to buying online. From products like groceries, clothes, and books, to services like TV subscription, flights, and insurance. For most of us, it’s an everyday occurrence. But what about bigger, more significant purchases, where we are parting with large sums of money? Will there come a time when, for example, buying a house online is common place? Is it even realistic to expect someone to make an expensive purchase without talking to someone or at least having some human interaction? Is there even an appetite there from consumers to be able to do it?

Depending on the product or service, the complexity of consumer concerns differ, for example, when buying car insurance, our studies show that the top drivers for choosing a provider at final preference are price and (provider) familiarity (1). However, buying a home is one of the biggest purchases we will make during our life so, more complex questions need addressing such as:

  • How do I get a mortgage and how do I know if I qualify?
  • What type of mortgage is best for me?
  • Which product offers the best interest rate?
  • What do my monthly repayments look like?
  • How much deposit do I have to put down?
  • How long will the application take?

Making buying a home a truly end-to-end process brings with it a wide variety of challenges for providers. In 1981, 22% of home buyers read newspaper ads to find a home and eight percent used friends as an information source. In 2016, 44% looked for properties online first (2). So what about the mortgage application process itself?

A Global Reviews study undertaken in Q3 2016 identified that 26% of participants (N=250) want an end-to-end online mortgage application form service (figure 1), however completing one feels more appropriate at certain stages in their purchase journey and varies depending on their status e.g. a first-time buyer vs a second-time buyer (figure 2).

Figure 1: Please rate how important the following elements would be on a website when deciding on selecting a home loan

Figure 2: When would consumers interact with a home loan provider’s website?

When reviewing the mindset of consumers around online mortgage applications a further study (3) revealed:

  • Most consumers believe that completing an application form online will give conditional approval (with full approval pending confirmation of details of sale and financial details), not full approval. With most expecting to receive an email more so than any other form of communication
  • First home buyers are more likely to use the website to understand their borrowing power rather and seek conditional approval, pending financial and purchase details, however human interaction at some point remains important
  • Having an online application form is not enough of an incentive to encourage consumers to choose a provider, offering discounts on fees and charges makes applying online more appealing for first and second home buyers

So while the home loan providers website has a place, there are still many who want to speak to someone at some stage, regardless of age.

When testing the online application form itself, the highest drop-off for completing an online mortgage application, happens at product selection section, where participants are asked to choose their mortgage. Other issues reported were around duration, terminology, security, and support. With providers looking to cut costs and increase market-share at every stage, if they want to move more complex transaction online, like buying a house, key concerns need to be addressed, such as:

  • Reassuring prospects that the product they have picked is right for them – our study showed that the key moment within the application journey where participants drop-off was at the product selection stage, where participants are asked to choose their product
  • Setting expectations upfront:
    – what are the qualification criteria for applying online – only existing customers?
    – how long can they expect the application to take?
    – what information do they need to have to complete it?
    – how will they be informed of application approval and how long will this take?
  • Providing the appropriate level of help and support at the different stages of the process bearing in mind that first-time buyers may need more hand-holding
  • Being transparent and providing information such as the cool-off period
  • Making them feel their information is safe and secure

But having an online application form is not enough of an incentive for consumers to choose a home loan with that bank – monetary incentives, such as discounts and special rates are more likely to motivate consumers.

What’s likely to influence customers to use an online application form?

So, while some financial institutions are already enabling customers to buy their house online consumers current (and correct) perception (and their expectation) is that most application forms are conditional approval rather than full approval. With many challenges that still need to be overcome providers have some way to go before consumers embrace a fully online end-to-end service from mortgage research, to application, to approval. Totally ‘replacing’ human interaction is not currently realistic. New design patterns are emerging that look at supporting the decision-making process and providing that human-interaction in an online context, but more on that in my next blog…

(1) Global Reviews Fruition Motor Insurance IE October 2017 N=201
(2) Nar Real estate in a Digital Age 2017 Report
(3) Global Reviews Home Loans Application Form AUS March 2017 N=103

Download our free report and view our recent mortgages webinar for more insights into industry trends and how consumers are interacting with provider websites.

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