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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

PropTech Today: UK government is beginning to take PropTech seriously

I feel I am in a fortunate position. I have been central to the PropTech movement for a number of years, passionate about instigating change at the heart of our sector.

Part of this involvement has been through government-led initiatives.

One example is my position on the British Property Federation Technology and Working Group, which was launched to help understand the productivity gap we currently have in the real estate sector.

Its first success of productivity improvement was to abridge its own name to ‘TIWG’, which was obviously a stroke of genius such that I have to remind myself every so often what it actually stood for originally.

However, these are all good intentions (the objectives that you can read in the above link as a starting point) as long as there is action.

Therefore, I wanted to look at three initiatives that are coming along, two of which have been announced by the UK government, or initiatives within it, in the last week.

Combined, they show an evolving sense of urgency and increasing faith in technology’s ability to help secure the UK real estate market for the long-term future.

Let’s have a look at all three announcements and what they might mean for industry professionals...

1. Digital Street

Digital Street is a government-backed research and development project focused on UK real estate. Now well into its second year of work, the initiative was originally kicked off with a call to arms for people to tell the government exactly what areas of the industry needed improvement, and exactly what solutions there currently are and could be in the future.

Through a series of workshops and ‘research sessions’, Digital Street reached out to agents, mortgage brokers, homebuyers, sellers, conveyancers and more, and started by asking each of them one simple(ish) question:

“How do you see technology changing your role, or your organisation, over the next 10 years?”

Over the course of Digital Street’s inaugural year, it has created a series of ‘digital mock-ups that show what could be possible’.

One way in which this was achieved was through organising a hackathon, a word which I imagine many government insiders were unfamiliar with, probably assuming it to be some violent new form of youth pastime.

When celebrating its first anniversary, Digital Street was keen to showcase three proofs of concept that came from this endeavour.

First, a property chat assistant, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) messaging interface which allows people to ask questions and receive vital information about a property they are considering purchasing.

This, it hopes, will make ‘things easier to understand upfront [which] means users can make more informed decisions earlier in the process’.

Second, instant mortgages via an app which would ‘look for relevant information about the homebuyer and the property they were interested in buying’ in order to deliver an accurate and instant mortgage quote.

And third, a property exchange assistant to help streamline the often ‘painful’ processes of exchanging and completing on a house purchase.

As you can see, these early efforts were all around increasing efficiency and speed. The government clearly considers these to be substantial barriers to the property market, processes which, if improved, could drive a more sustainable real estate ecosystem.

2. EPC data

Last week, another announcement revealed that the government would once again make EPC data public, having previously labelled it as ‘private’ under the EU’s new GDPR.

For some, this may not appear to be a major step forward but the willingness is there as a first step to open up…

By restricting, in many cases completely removing, public access to energy efficiency ratings, the government was doing great harm to the industry, not to mention making it very difficult to work towards climate objectives which are increasingly driving political policy and investment.

The industry was quick to cry out about this and, thankfully, the governing bodies listened. EPC data will once again be public.

It was a bizarre and probably accidental oversight of the government’s to remove this data from the public domain in the first place.

We live in a time when data transparency is of the utmost importance. So, while this may not be great, innovative news, rather an error being corrected, it does demonstrate that the government is listening and taking our concerns seriously.

Personally, it gives me great confidence that the government knows how important it is to back UK real estate, especially in the context of great socio-political uncertainty.

3. Built Environment Sector Deal

Finally, this week the government has announced that it will commence negotiations with the real estate industry in the hope of progressing the much-anticipated Built Environment Sector Deal.

Of the four key points of interest outlined in this announcement, PropTech plays a central role in two; ‘delivering more homes and improving housing quality for example through initiatives that support offsite construction’; and ‘improving the sector’s productivity through improved access to data and the promotion of PropTech’.

While this is only a promise to engage in negotiations, it is incredibly promising. It could result in a series of direct partnerships between central government, local government, real estate, and PropTech.

If successful, it would essentially close the loop; finally, all the necessary bodies are in the same journey, engaged in the same conversations, and working towards mutually designed objectives.

All with the view of improving industry best practice to the extent where the UK can continue in its position of European real estate powerhouse. And, of course, make it more realistic that our country can build enough quality, secure homes for those who need them.

The realisation that the UK government is beginning to move on PropTech is another indicator that traditional agents should look at a raft of solutions available to you today.

*James Dearsley is a leading PropTech influencer and commentator, and is co-founder of PropTech platform Unissu. You can follow James on Twitter here.

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