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PropTech Today: Stories from Australia - PropTech is like teenage sex

Last week, I wrote about the speed of innovation in the Far East. This week I’d like to do the same with a focus on Australia - a very similar market to our own both in attitudes as well as model.

I am over here as part of the PropTech Summit, chairing various elements of the conference. It all kicks off today. Or is it tomorrow? Maybe yesterday? I can’t get my head around these time-zones.  

I arrived yesterday morning, I think, first thing. Determined to defeat jet lag, I headed 
straight out to try and understand the local market, without doing so I couldn’t really give it my all tomorrow. 

It has been a fascinating journey thus far and, while it's clear that the fears of disruption are no different here than they are back in the UK, Australia remains a little bit further behind the curve than we are. 

On the way over, I stopped off in China for a few hours. I got speaking to an elderly gentleman in the lounge area of Guangzhou airport. A soft-eyed man, I first assigned an estimated age of 75, though I had to revise this later and place him closer to 80. 

He was talking to me about his life, the fact he lost his wife to cancer several years ago and how he was embarking on his second trip to the UK. 

I tell him how I work in property and he tells me about his investment strategies and how he invests only in shares. He doesn’t touch the property market because he doesn’t understand it, too expensive a risk for him to ‘screw it up’. 

I nod in agreement, stating that it is indeed an expensive mistake for those who don’t understand it, but suggest that-that’s why we need to depend on professionals, agents, to help inform people like him to make the best decisions. 

“I guess that’s where Purplebricks might change things,” he replies. “They will make it all cheaper...got to be good for the market”.

Here I am, talking to an elderly gentleman who knows nothing about property or PropTech, sat side-by-side in a Chinese departure lounge talking about Purplebricks. 

This would turn out to be the first of many exchanges on this trip already, where Purplebricks has been mentioned. All of those people have been intrigued to hear my stories from the UK.

Some have simply mentioned it in passing. Others, including a journalist who runs a very successful magazine for realtors, have pressed me for details. She is concerned for her domestic market. She feels the Purplebricks saga is a storm in a teacup, but doesn’t think it will last. 

It’s fascinating to have a business model so Marmite here in the UK being discussed in a country where, as yet, it remains a fairly unknown disrupter to the incumbent industry.

Australia is wary of a potential foreign invasion; wary of its presence, distrusting of its motivations and acutely aware of its firepower. 

“Will it work?”, I keep getting asked. 

“I don’t know,” I answer, “but what I do know is that it’s suggestive of a new way of working. The status quo is being tested.”

What would I do in this moment for Australian realtors? I would look at, and reflect on, your current business model and stress test it. 

I would ask, what are Purplebricks doing that might appeal to my existing and potential clients? 

Then I would work to understand what my strengths and weaknesses are and act on both to differentiate myself and my company from everyone else. 

Ultimately, business models are changing. If they’re not, they sure as sugar should be. In the face of companies like this (Purplebricks is just one example), businesses need to adapt. 

It is armed with this lecture that I will walk into today’s PropTech conference, the first of its kind in Australia. Who are the new stakeholders?, I will be asked. What are the new technologies? And then, inevitably, are we all going to lose our jobs? 

My response will appear on the first slide of tomorrow’s speech, and continue to tie the entire talk together: 

PropTech is similar to teenage sex; everyone is talking about it, everyone thinks that others are doing it and everyone is telling others that they are doing it, yet nobody knows what on earth they are doing. 

On that point, I will leave it here for a follow-up next week when I’ll be able to show you the final slide of presentation, containing the single piece of advice I would give anyone looking to understand the truth of PropTech.

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

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