Tim Love, IT Systems Manager
PropTech – the use of technology in the property sector – is something you may not have considered for your business, but you will almost certainly have used in one form or another. You may have viewed your property details or account online, used property listing sites, such as Rightmove and Zoopla, or shared economy platforms such as AirBnB or booked an office at WeWork. You may live in a development where there is a residents’ portal to connect you to the wider community or be controlling your home via the latest smart hardware. All these things, and more, are PropTech.
The use of technology in the property industry is not new – specific systems for property have been available and used by us for many years. And it is not new to say that expectations of customer service have changed, in part driven by technology. Customers expect more of their interactions to be seamless online processes, driven from mobile devices and available immediately.
The core of modern PropTech development is based on this improved customer experience, both enhancing delivery of existing services and creating new services for residents, leaseholders, landlords, investors and ‘internal customers’, such as our staff.
This culture change and investment in technology isn’t unique to the property sector, and PropTech is viewed as being way behind its more established relation in the finance and banking sectors, FinTech. As both deal with financial transaction processing, there is however plenty of crossover.
PropTech is now making up for lost time, with a boom in investment and property companies waking up to the potential benefits. Around £10 billion was invested in 2018, with WeWork leading the way. Top investments for UK firms were focused on online property lettings, sales and lending. For us, delivering great customer service through technology is key to our business.
PropTech has the potential to transform the property industry, for those willing to take advantage of new ideas and systems. Here are some of the themes I believe we will see developing:
Internet of things (IoT)
As technology becomes more mainstream, PropTech will increasingly be built into the fabric of new developments, delivering smart buildings which can monitor themselves and proactively inform property managers of any fault or maintenance required.
This technology already exists in some areas. PropTech companies are investing in smaller and better sensor hardware that can be scattered around buildings to analyse heat, ventilation, light, water pressure and more – not only to report and alert, but also to automate and control.
We retrofit our homes with smart devices to control and automate our home comforts. We should expect new homes to be in-built with this technology – Alexa and Siri will eventually be somewhere in our walls.
There is a lot of interest in developing Blockchain (the underlying technology for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies) to provide a system for verification and trust in signing and exchanging contracts online between parties.
This has the potential to cut out legal middlemen and transform lengthy contract processes into a more immediate online system. Mortgages and sales of property and land are of interest, although this could also be applied to rental contracts and more.
Online estate agents and Lending
The sales and lettings sector is going through a particularly disruptive period at the moment, with online estate agents (estimated to have more than 7% of market share and climbing) and mortgage providers challenging established companies. I mentioned earlier that UK-based companies in this sector enjoyed significant investment in 2018.
It seems that half the adverts on the tube are for online sales or lettings services (the other half want you to buy a mattress to put in your new home).
I was also interested to see recent legal challenges to Right to Rent, that may remove the last barrier to a fully online letting and move-in process.
Data – big, real-time and collaborative
As more of our day-to-day lives involve online interactions, there is, consequently, more data stored about us personally and the assets, properties and locations we are involved with.
The trend is for data sharing and collaboration. Technology allows multiple data sources to be pulled together in something close to real-time.
This allows for analysis that would not have previously been possible – using large collections of non-traditional data to create new and better insights. A lot of the current use of this technology revolves around buying and selling property – analysing and predicting market trends in given areas to inform decision making.
Use of data is of course a tricky subject, and as with many areas of online services, legislation somewhat lags the technology. We will, undoubtedly, see another Cambridge Analytica along the line.
Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR)
AR and VR are emerging technologies in the sector, the most obvious application being online virtual building walkthroughs, not only for prospective leaseholders or tenants, but also for investors and architects in developments still under construction.
AR is the overlay of data onto whatever you are pointing your mobile device camera at – perhaps the square footage or Ordnance Survey information for a property.
A great example of VR is the ‘Virtual Singapore’ project, where the Singapore government are creating a 3D, virtual walkthrough of the city-state with various collaborative data overlays. The intent is to provide an open platform for city planning and development.
If you still think PropTech is just another buzzword, then, at least, it’s a good one. Whilst researching for this article, I came across a claim (from a respected source) that an alternative name was ‘Proptology’. I think we should stick with PropTech.