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PropTech Today: Do we need to maintain professional relationships anymore?

Property has always been an industry built on a foundation of personal relationships. Deals made, promotions gained, clients won, portfolios grown; the route to all is strong, trusting relationships with mutually beneficial interests. 

So as technology continues its march on the industry and more and more aspects are digitised and automated, what role will the personal relationship play in tomorrow’s property industry?

I’m asking that question because I am genuinely in search of the answer. If we think about a few areas of property which once relied on relationships and now do not, the nagging of the question only grows... 

A decreasing need for professional help

Viewings is the obvious one, perhaps the one that’s been under tech’s influence for the longest. 

As virtual reality and augmented reality become ever more sophisticated, the need for homebuyers to attend a viewing with an agent is gone. The less face time an agent has with a client, the less they can learn about each other and the less time they have to build a relationship. 

Comparables data is another one. It used to be that, in order to gather data, agents relied largely on a contact book full of names, relationships that they’d built up over the years; people they know they can call for answers. 

Of course, that method of doing it is wildly inefficient and often costly, that’s why we’ve seen so many digital big data solutions coming to market. 

But in this pursuit of efficiency, how do we maintain personal relationships? Moreover, do we even need to?

And residential listings, even commercial to a certain extent; now that the majority of properties have been consolidated into a handful of universally accessible locations, there is less and less need for agents to spin their rolodex for the perfect contact who can help them find the ideal property for their client. More often than not, the client is now finding the property before the agent. 

Friends in the peripherals

The result of all of this is that property professionals are running out of reasons to talk to each other. Will the next generation of property professionals have the same interpersonal skills that have always been essential to success in this industry? And again, will they even need them anymore?

My natural argument is that, yes, relationships will always and forever be an essential part of property. No matter to what extent technology ends up disrupting how the industry works, there will always be a need for good relationships, always situations where a contact book proves more helpful than an algorithm. 

That would be my natural opinion, but I’ve been in the industry for years. Recently, I’ve been starting to wonder whether or not younger generations feel the same as I do.

If you enter an industry with no experience of how it was before digital transformation, who’s to say you’ll see things as the old guard do? 

If everything is automated, and that crucial need for personal relationships is negligible, what role do the people around you start playing? 

I don’t mean immediately around you, I mean those in your periphery, those whose name you remember and number you record because you know, one day, you’re going to be able to help each other out. What role will they start playing in the career of a young agent, for example? 

Because they won’t be needed for data sourcing, they won’t be needed during the search process, and they will be far less essential in completing the sale. 

So, who am I to you?

I would hope that, as technology allows agents to become more self sufficient, they will start to build relationships with peers in the same way that musicians do. 

If you know any musicians, or have ever heard them talking to each other, you’ll know that they don’t talk about ways in which each other's business interests cross over, they don’t talk about how each can help the other, instead they talk about music. They talk about what they like about it, what it means to them, funny stories from the road, new techniques learnt and new ideas that are informing the evolution of the craft. 

Essentially, their relationships are built on a shared passion for a subject, not on a ‘this guy might be able to scratch my back one day’ basis. I like to think that’s where property relationships are heading. We might not need each other’s help as much as we used to, but that doesn’t mean that personal relationships aren’t enriching and an important part of the industry’s evolution. 

As I say; I really don’t know the answer,  but I am increasingly aware that by just saying and assuming that property’s personal relationships will always be the same, always play the same role, I might be starting to sound a little ill-informed. 

I would love to know what you lot think, especially the younger agents among you who aren’t nostalgic for the bar or the golf course in quite the same way as us my generation. 

As we rely on each other less, what will keep you searching for and maintaining strong professional relationships? I mean it, let me know! 

*James Dearsley is a partner in PropTech Consult, digital transformation specialists for the real estate sector. To sign up to James’ Sunday PropTech Review, click here.

  • Kristjan Byfield

    Actually believe that full service agents with a string digital strategy will actually develop stronger relationships with clients and consumers than they did in the past as this will be an agents main purpose- delivering the human face & service people still crave underpinned by tech taking care of the mundane, repetitive and data driven tasks. As for relationships between organisations- business are still manned, run and owned by people and, as such, relationships will still play a part but probably more with a view to future M&A rather than securing/creating a deal.

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