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PropTech Today: What can the UK market learn from Eastern wisdom?

A few stories caught my eye this week from China, all of which announce the arrival of cutting-edge technological innovation in and around the property industry.

From these stories, two important things stand out to me: the speed of Chinese innovation is astonishing, and its influence on the Western markets is set to dramatically increase over the next few years. 

The first story tells us how China’s biggest property website, 58 Group, announced a large investment in 123KanFang, a Chinese producer of low-cost 3D modelling technology. 

While the ability to view full 3D renderings of property in virtual reality has long been promised and more recently fulfilled, the technology required to produce optimum results is very expensive. 

123KanFang’s technology, however, requires an agent to have just a mobile app and a 3D camera. Cameras are getting cheaper by the week, today you can get one on Amazon for as little as £70, though you’re looking at more like £150 for one that can really handle the work required. 

Still, that’s nothing, and the speed of the process is such that an agent can be in and out of a property in less than an hour having captured a full 3D rendering of the entire place. 

When competing with portals, ‘onbrids’, and even external forces such as Facebook, agents could use such affordable technology to offer something which companies like Purplebricks and Zoopla seem strangely reluctant to embrace. 

What makes 123KanFang really fascinating is what I would call its ‘Plus One’. Once the dimensions of the property have been captured, the app then offers possible renovation suggestions, based on the measurements just taken, which the agent can recommend to the landlord or owner in order to add value to the property. 

As featured in last week’s article, some UK companies are providing free-to-use VR photo capture technology, and while, as I say, the large companies are sluggish to embrace it, agents can embed 3D tours directly onto their website. Users at home, or in the office, need nothing more than a Google Cardboard to enter the 3D experience.

5G adding value to city real estate

5G is arriving and China the country is likely to enjoy an inevitable boom in city real estate values

This is because of two things: firstly, web traffic from mobile devices is higher in China than anywhere else in the world. The demand for good quality connections is constant and only growing. When 5G finally arrives, the Chinese public will be clamouring for it. 

And this leads us on to reason two, which is that 5G, although fast, has critical limitations which real estate can profit from.

Unlike 4G, which can travel over long distances, 5G signals are much more susceptible to interruption and interference and therefore require many transmitters to be installed close together in order for signals to be successfully bounced to devices.

It can’t travel far and it can’t break through obstacles and this is great news for city real estate because 5G transmitters and receivers need somewhere to stand - that somewhere is on top of buildings.

Because the network needs to be so dense, only in large global cities will 5G thrive. The larger the city, the more buildings there are, the better the signal. China, with super-cities like Shanghai and Beijing, will enjoy a better 5G experience than anywhere. 

Not only will 5G increase the value of property in large cities because businesses and organisations will pay more for access to increasingly vital 5G signals, but it’s also going to open up an entirely new market of rooftop real estate.

Building owners and investors will be able to demand handsome sums of money from network providers for permission to install transmitters and receivers on their rooftops. And because there is a need for incredibly dense networks, the providers will be somewhat at the mercy of the owners when it comes to rental agreements. 

This is great news for agents, too, as an entirely new market of excited customers is revealed. To any agent whose business has the potential to pivot in this direction, I strongly recommend taking a look at doing so before being beaten to the punch. 

Fully automated blockchain supply chains

Finally, it has been announced this week that China’s insurance mammoth, Ping An Group, has entered a partnership with car manufacturer, Foton Auto, to ‘implement the country’s first fully integrated, blockchain-enabled, automotive supply chain’. 

Making a car requires potentially hundreds of different suppliers, each providing a specific part of the automobile. The efficiency of this supply chain is central to the profitable running of a car plant.

Today, it is slow, cumbersome, and expensive to manage this chain. Soon, however, Ping An Group and Foton Auto hope they will be able to deliver a platform on which manufacturers can manage their entire supply chain, with every single supplier, automatically from start to finish. 

As reported in Forbes, the hope is that they’ll be able to build a “blockchain auto supply chain where contracts are automatically opened, cash is transferred and contracts are closed and passed to the next step in the process”. Vitally, the platform will not be susceptible to time zones unlike current supply chains.

Imagine such technology being applied to property, more specifically construction. Building would be faster, costs would be lower and risks dramatically reduced. All of these positives are then passed on to the general public who benefit from a better supply of high quality yet affordable homes to rent or buy. 

This automotive automation blockchain platform is yet to be built, progress is only just underway, but such an endeavour demonstrates perfectly the Chinese attitude towards innovation - be brave, be bold, and lead the way for the world to follow. 

When was the last time those things were said about the UK? A few brief weeks early this summer, perhaps, with our boys in Russia, but aside from that, it was an awfully long time ago.  We will be forced to catch up, though, and it will have to be sooner rather than later. 

It’s important, finally, to notice one common thread between these stories - they’re all about collaboration and strategic partnerships. As an agent, you may wonder how some of this relates to you; well, this is how. 

If you want to take your business into the next era of property, if you want to thrive during the next phase of real estate innovation, you need to be talking about collaboration. There are technology companies out there who would kill to enter a strategic partnership with an agency. There is no better way for them to unleash the power of their innovation than to work closely with the people who have boots on the ground. Go and find them, quickly before somebody else does.

Much like China, it’s time now to be brave and be bold, and look to join forces with those who are best suited to help drive your business onwards through the 21st Century.

*James Dearsley is a leading PropTech influencer and commentator. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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