Back in the mid 1980’s, I became an estate agent (broker) and was at that time an avid reader of science fiction. My favourite book was Machines that Think, a compendium of short sci-fi stories about future worlds, with a forward by the famous author Isaac Asimov.
Though it was published in 1984, many of the stories had been written in the 1940s and 50s. They described future utopian or dystopian worlds full of new technology and the role of artificial intelligence, robots and data.
Fast forward to nearly 2020 and I am still in the property industry. Many of the advances that the sci-fi writers had imagined over 70 years ago are now part of our reality. And, within the property sector, there is now proptech, or as I call it: science fiction for agents.
Proptech is a vast sprawling vista of different new technologies operating within the sphere of property. It is not just digitization, it is reimagining and interconnecting all the strands within the sector.
It covers property design, planning, building, sales, renting, asset management, and the way in which humans interact with property, where the customer or end user’s experience can be analyzed, distilled and digitized into a solution which enhances service levels and the experience of the consumer, hopefully driving a profitable outcome for the owner of the technology.
It could be a property with sensors, a talking house, or providing seamless systems to replace archaic systems within estate agency. In fact, a big problem in proptech is seeing the wood for the trees and knowing which technology will succeed and which will not.
Proptech is many things, including deep learning, artificial intelligence, big data, intelligence augmentation, IoT, machine learning and blockchain. Many of these terms would not look out of place in one of Isaac Asimov’s books, I Robot. The driver is to use data to streamline processes and deliver maximum revenues.
Online agents are proptech, so too is Fixflo in the rental sector, or Offr, a new way to buy and sell property quickly and transparently in the residential property sector. The arena is vast, but it is not too important to try to define proptech, better to see the financial advantages that it is bringing.
A salesperson using [1990s proptech] was worth two pen and paper salespeople
Just as fintech exploded onto the scene in the past 15 years, where massive amounts of money was invested into financial technology, proptech is now starting to have the same levels of investment in both the UK and the rest of the world.
The big problem is that many UK estate agents see proptech, or the sub-division of proptech that applies to them, as science fiction.
Agents are very conservative and slow moving when making changes to their businesses. Some fear change.
Some feel bamboozled by the terminology and the complexities of proptech, with many agents saying it all sounds a bit costly. Perhaps they are uncertain which bit of proptech works and produces a profit.
This is a shame. Many property agents, in residential and lettings, would benefit from automating the dull, boring administrative type parts of their businesses; property management systems.
In the mid-1990s, I was an advocate of early proptech using Estate Craft, a bespoke software package which was the forerunner of many operating systems now. I realised that a salesperson using the system was worth two pen and paper salespeople, because a lot of the repetitive work was taken out and databases allowed quick matching of buyers to properties. Speed in commerce is always vital.
Proptech is not just digitisation, it is reimagining and interconnecting all the strands within the sector.
For me, the proptech revolution, which spans much more than the annual £6.5 billion residential sales market in the UK, is on the move, offering its hand in partnership to forward thinking estate agencies and creating a way of trading akin to Amazon, where the customer experience is put front and centre.
Some companies have fully grasped that outstretched hand. Others sit and wait.
I wonder why. Now estate agencies can be based on captured data and analytics that provide a clear narrative of what the customer wants. So, a personalised service, with connection across digital platforms and smart phones, plus the important face to face engagement with salespeople can be provided.
Another good reason to investigate and adopt proptech is the rise of the Millennials and the rise of Gen-Z.
These will soon be the volume property industry clients, and they form the digital technology generation which Wikipedia states are “comfortable” with internet and social media.
That I feel is an understatement. While Gen-Z may seem like a great name for a sci-fi novel, it might be prudent to start connecting with industry giants like James Dearsley or Eddie Holmes to get ahead of the proptech game.
Andrew Stanton is the founder and CEO of Proptech-PR, a consultancy for Founders of Proptechs looking to grow and exit, using his influence from decades of industry experience. Separately he is a consultant to some of the biggest names in global real estate, advising on sales and acquisitions, market positioning, and operations. He is also the founder and editor of Proptech-X Proptech & Property News, where his insights, connections and detailed analysis and commentary on proptech and real estate are second to none.