I want to take the time this week to look at an area of PropTech and real estate which is seeing a lot of coverage and interest of late.
In fact, it’s an area of real estate which has long been the focus of many innovation conversations, largely because it continues to be an inefficient and long-winded sector - property management.
Property management is not inefficient and long-winded as a result of the people who work in this profession, but simply because the very nature of the task is labour intensive and time-consuming. At the same time, however, many of the tasks involved are straight-forward and repetitive.
These two opposing forces make the sector ripe for disruption and many companies are rising up around the globe looking to increase efficiency with innovations such as centralised due diligence and automation. Today, however, let’s focus on what’s happening here in the UK.
Throughout my own career and personal real estate ventures, I have worked with and around many property managers.
I remember how, in my Foxtons days, there was a landlord charge of 11% for the introduction of a tenant and then a further 6% on top of that to offer property management services.
At that time, there were two types of response to this. First, mild distress at being asked to pay the additional price - these people would have even baulked at a 3% charge, they just don’t like spending money.
Then there was also the reaction of acceptance. This came from those who instinctively understood that property management was an essential part of being a landlord and therefore the additional cost was part and parcel of the gig.
Without being biased, 6% was nothing. All it took was one problem tenant, or one serious maintenance issue that couldn’t be fixed quickly enough and the expense was already worth it.
Equally, the money needed to make property management profitable was immense given antiquated systems and services.
Even today, I’m having issues with the flat that I let in London, all revolving around that one word that any landlord fears hearing - damp. The issue just isn’t being resolved quickly enough for me or my tenant. Human error and lethargy are large reasons for this.
Basically, I know how much of a pain property management can be. That’s why I’ve been doing a bit of research recently into the various solutions that PropTech has been coming up with to help.
I thought it useful to share with you some of the things I’ve found out.
So, here’s six interesting PropTech offerings for property management, all of which are really pushing efficiency and driving down price.
Whether that latter fact is for the benefit of detriment of the industry, I will leave for you to decide.
I should also point out, these are by no means my recommendations, they are just those who have caught my eye by offering something either beautifully simple, or a little left field.
You can see a full list of global property management solutions, here.
I would love to know what, if any, tech solutions you have tried in the past, or continue to have success with today. Please drop me a note.
AskPorter has been on the scene for a while, and it has enjoyed a fair bit of media coverage, I have even written about it in this column before.
The company offers an ‘all-in-one, AI-powered property management platform, guided by a powerful digital assistant’.
To the apparent delight of tenants and landlords alike, AskPorter handles everything from arranging viewings and inspections, to resolving tenant issues and chasing down rent (this part of the job can often be the most uncomfortable and difficult - I would be delighted to let a robot handle it for me).
What makes it really interesting, though, is that digital assistant. Porter, as he is called, is there to help tenants and managers. He has been specially trained to handle all aspects of management through voice commands.
You can ask him to arrange cleaners to visit particular properties, to update you on a scheduled boiler repair, count how many new enquirers have come in this week, and so on. Tenants can ask him to pay their bills and register maintenance issues, etc.
Each assistant and accompanying platform is tailored to the environment and team it will be working within.
A slightly different angle but interesting all the same, Stashbee is all about storage. This is a big pain point for many tenants and managers and offerings like this (there are others on the market) are well worth exploring.
Imagine that horrible situation where a tenant has asked for something to be removed from the flat, an old bed frame or battered tumble dryer. They turn up on move-in day and it’s all still sitting there. Instantly they’re frustrated, the only way to regain some favour is to get it moved immediately. That’s when Stashbee becomes a lifesaver.
Stashbee makes this possible by bringing together people with spare space - a garage, lockup, second bedroom, loft, etc - with those who need flexible and secure storage solutions.
It’s radically cheaper than your usual storage warehouses, it’s all fully insured, and it can be used on a very short-term basis.
I often find that simply executed ideas like this appear whimsical to start with, but when you think closer, real value starts to shine through.
Sorbet is a Welsh software provider for property managers offering a really good-looking and clean interface from which contractors can be connected with tenants and managers.
“Say goodbye to endless phone calls, emails, messages and paperwork and hello to an automated system that books appointments, chases reports and handles property maintenance...all audited and in one place.”
This one is all about simple and efficient communication and that’s why I like it. It carries out many of the same jobs as AskPorter, but does so with pleasing ease.
I would recommend it for any management or agency teams who don’t have the scale to justify in-house contractors.
I personally know what a pain it is when that one reliable contractor you really trust is too busy for an emergency job. Who do you go to next? How do you know who to trust with getting it done? Sorbet comes to the rescue.
VTUK is an award-winning property software provider, offering automation tools to landlords, agents, managers, and even local councils.
Founded in 1989, VTUK is well-established in the game and brings all that experience into its tech evolution. Built around the smartphone, products vary depending on use case and are tailored to suit each individual client.
What separates VTUK from the rest is the comprehensive approach of its offering - it does everything under the sun, including sales.
If you’re looking to bring tech into your company, but aren’t confident that the tech guys will understand your needs thoroughly enough, VTUK’s industry heritage make it a great first step towards broader digital transformation.
Ah, inventories, probably the area of most conflict for any landlord or agent. That carpet burn was already there! No way, wasn’t me who smashed the shower door. And so on...
There are a number of companies out there offering inventory solutions, but I have actually used InventoryBase in the past so am more qualified to comment on it than the alternatives.
All of those involved use some sort of cloud storage to ensure everything is secure, easy, and efficient – i.e. everyone knows where everything is all the time.
InventoryBase offers a series of distinct products: one offers the ability to upload and store previous industries; another takes care of inspections; and another is able to transcribe dictated reports.
The company can also offer services for commercial spaces such as hotels and resorts.
No list of property management solutions should be without this team. Known as one of the most collaborative companies in the sector, Fixflo should be one you review for all your property management needs.
Controlling more than 1.2 million residential property units, it should be considered as essential for any review.
Equally, the statistic from the company itself that two property management firms took on a Fixflow system every day in the last year is startling.
Lastly, and perhaps what I like most about Fixflo, the breadth of its support is key. From traditional lettings to Build to Rent to co-op homes. One to watch for sure.
I’m going to put a final statement here in that, when putting it out to my network there were a couple of other recommendations which are worth a review - AskWinston, an early stage management system without the need of an app, and Classic Folios, which has been around for years but provides a solid all-in-one solution for agents.
Once again, these aren’t my recommendations any more than I think their offerings sound interesting and are worthy of a closer look.
Find a full list of UK property management solutions here, and please do let me know what solutions you’ve been trying out.
A lot of people are trying to bring transparency to the market, and understanding what solutions are and aren’t actually being used is a really big part of this. Thank you in advance.