what3words: The app changing real estate and construction forever

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Find out where you are, or where you need to be, in just three words. Picture: what3words

The three most important words in real estate have long been “location, location, location” or maybe “going, going, gone”. But all that could be about to change with one savvy app that’s putting itself on the map.

What3words is a geocoding system that has converted every 3m square spot on the globe into three simple words, allowing people a more precise way of finding an address than ever before.

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“We’ve been used in the US and the UK by individuals and businesses listing property, building sites or plots of land,” said Giles Rhys Jones, chief marketing officer with what3words.

what3words could change the way we look at property. Picture: Supplied

“We’re also used quite a lot in construction. Not only for residential homes, but large complexes as well, because a street address is just not accurate enough to specify the entrance to a building site or where to drop off equipment or concrete, or whatever,” he added.

The trio of words mapping out the world totals 64 trillion combinations in 37 languages.

Australians have survived until now with the straight forward format of “13 Smith St, Pleasantville” to locate a home or business. But anyone who has tried to pinpoint a meeting place at an inner city hi-rise block, struggled to find an off-the-grid holiday rental, or just had blind faith in their GPS, knows that street addresses can send you astray. Then, there is the annoying reality that Australia has umpteen Elizabeth or George Sts from one suburb to the next.

The app could dramatically change the way we look at property and location. Picture: Supplied

With what3words, house hunters could simply punch in the words elite.trying.petty into their GPS to arrive precisely on the doorstep of Sydney’s exclusive Bennelong Apartments (rather than the courier’s entrance, the hotel lobby or fancy restaurant that share the same street number).

Or they could instruct their Uber driver to go to tube.slimy.rails — and voila — they will be delivered to The Oslo in St Kilda, the hotel-turned-construction-site of The Block 2019.

In fact, this year’s contestants Tess and Luke could have used the simple app when they mistook High St, Glen Waverley for High St, Epping and ended up an hour off course.

Mr Rhys Jones said the software has now been built into some vehicles and is being embraced by the tourism industry.

Every 3 sq m block on the planet now has three words attached to it. Picture: Supplied

“Mercedes-Benz has launched its new A-Class in Australia so you can jump into it and say, ‘Hey Mercedes, take me to what3words: apple. banana. spoon’ and it knows exactly where you want to go. Lonely Planet is also publishing guide books with what3words addresses for bars, restaurants and tourist attractions,” he said.

Ben Olofsen, real estate agent and property partner at The Agency in the NSW Southern Highlands, said he saw great potential for such technology in his region.

“It’s an exciting concept. I can see it working in a few instances,” he said.

“Our agents in regional areas might have listed a property an hour out of the main centre and to try and give directions can be difficult. These potential buyers may just want to check out the area, or do a drive-by to see the land, but we find at times our guys have to escort people out to show them the exact location. So to have a set of coordinates, or words, would help because in a lot of cases Google Maps just doesn’t work.”

‘Smack bang in the middle’

Mr Olofsen said large properties or exclusive listings can also be tricky due to their size and secrecy.

“We’ve got a property for sale at the moment and it’s actually got a number of entry points, so if you were to use Google, the pin would drop right bang smack in the middle — that doesn’t help you if you’re trying to find the entry,” he said.

“Very high-end rural properties don’t necessarily have a street number attached to them and one unique problem in rural areas is that even if properties do have a street numbers, they’re not necessarily in order because there are a lot of in-fill blocks. Homes just don’t go from 120 to 122 to 124, and it can be quite confusing.”

what3words also has implications for emergency services. Picture: Supplied

Mr Rhys Jones added that the app is also proving popular in high density neighbourhoods.

“Where new properties are going up quickly addresses often aren’t updated on database systems for a while,” he said.

“So you’ve got people who have rented or bought new builds and they can’t get a bank account, or even a pizza delivered because their place doesn’t show up.”

As with large rural properties, confusion around entry points can still happen in the cities.

“The problem so far with existing maps is that in big cities if I type in a business name a ‘pin’ will often drop in the centre of the building. But that building actually has four sides with multiple entrances and exits. I don’t know where to park my car, where to enter, it’s frustrating,” he said.

Find a regional location more easily. Picture: Supplied

what3words’ simplified localising technology is also helping emergency services save lives. Mr Rhys Jones said the construction and entertainment industries are also poised to benefit.

“It could be quite interesting for a real estate company to say ‘We’re building a new block of apartments at: word.word.word, or even use the three-word address as the title of a project, why not?” he said.

“We’ve already seen a few interesting examples pop up like people placing big neon signs in their bars and businesses with their three words. Although the sequences are random, people are having fun with them, and even like to push meaning into their three words.”

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