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PropTech Today: three holiday books and why you might want to ignore them

This week, you find me in Italy. Now that we’ve entered that languid month of August, where all of real estate enters its four-week siesta, it’s the ideal time for me to grab a week away with the family.

However, it also means that the flow of industry news is not quite as generous as it usually is, with the commercial market more or less at a standstill and residential slowing significantly.

Combining these two facts - me on the beach (not in red trousers) and the industry in slumber - has inspired what’s going to be a bit of a PropTech melting pot of an article this week.

First, I want to look at some of the PropTech books that you could pack in your suitcase if you’re taking a break.

And then, with the lessons of these titles still in mind, glance at a couple of smaller stories from in and around PropTech this week.

The three best PropTech books

My interest in PropTech books, a niche which is increasingly rich in non-fiction, yet sadly void of any titles in the fiction section (isn’t it time for a PropTech thriller in which the protagonist, a sleep-deprived startup CEO, is pulled into the clandestine activity of shady venture capitalist? Forced to choose between securing money for their startup or revealing the VC’s dark, twisted secret?), has been boosted recently with the publication of PropTech 101, as well as a recent request we at Unissu have received to write a book of our own.

These books, therefore, are research for me, but I think a lot of you might also enjoy reading them with an ice cold beer on the veranda?

1. PropTech 101: Turning Chaos Into Cash Through Real Estate Innovation

Recently published to great industry fanfare, PropTech 101 comes from the great minds who bought you MetaProp: Aaron Block and Zach Aarons.

It is, as the title suggests, an overview of the PropTech industry so far; the journey of the past two decades, bringing fascinating historical context to the subject. The book focuses largely on the investment side of things and is, as such, gaining popularity among VCs.

For anyone else, this broad and accessible industry book is a great introduction, certainly for those who know either real estate or technology pretty well, but need educating on how the two intersect.

2. #PropTech: A guide to how property technology is changing how we live, work and invest

The author of this book, Richard W J Brown, is a real estate investor often referred to as The Property Voice (apparently).

This title is, again, fairly broad in its scope, leaning much more heavily on graphics and charts than PropTech 101 does. It also speaks closely about specific examples of PropTech companies and brands.

What I like most about this book is the optimism with which Brown approaches the subject.

Books about future technology too often focus on the dystopian aspects of the whole thing, but this one is all about grasping the plentiful low-hanging opportunities found in digital transformation. Accessible and untechnical.

3. The PropTech Guide: Everything you need to know about the future of real estate

This book has been written specifically to help real estate professionals understand and take advantage of technology, a ‘hands-on and applicable solution in the form of information about 222 companies providing PropTech to solve the everyday problems of market players’.

If you understand things best when explained in the form of real-life case studies, this is the book for you. Rather than speaking in jargonistic or abstract terms, this is all about real world application. 

A couple of PropTech news stories

These books are all attempts at examining the fundamental asset class and the changes going on around it. They describe a move away from the status quo.

This segways me perfectly into one of the news stories I want to mention, one which really represents the industry mentality change that all of these books are so keen to express: WeWork, not technically PropTech but still tech-enabled, is, according to Bloomberg, “planning to make public its prospectus for its initial public offering as early as next week...unveiling the full financial picture of the office sharing startup for the first time”.

WeWork has raised $12 billion to date, yet remains unprofitable. And still it brings forward its IPO and does so with great optimism.

If this doesn’t demonstrate how the real estate ecosystem is changing in the age of digital transformation, nothing does.

Flexible, short-term office space provider goes public less than 10 years after being founded. Did you see that coming?

Quick point of interest: I have suggested in the past that agents can really take advantage of the rise of flexible coworking. What better alternative to the expensive high street branch? 

The second story I want to look at concerns something which is rarely discussed in our industry, and certainly not in the books mentioned above:

At the end of the day, technology is often a friction between intention and action and we have to remember that an agent’s job is, ultimately, to communicate with a potential buyer, seller, tenant or landlord.

This means that marketing and sales are really the only concerns. Any technology which arrives to help in this area is certainly worth our attention, even if it seems so small as to be insignificant - trust me, it’s not.

A free pilot for a new project from response technology firm, Olivia, promises to “enable estate and letting agents...to use WhatsApp to respond to leads on a 24/7 basis”.

Digital transformation need not be complicated. Tech can just be a different way of doing something.

In this case, simply using WhatsApp as a means of communication may not fill a chapter in a book, and may not be lauded as revolutionary, but it is going to decrease the friction between intention and action.

It is an example of an easy way to speak to people all the way through the sales process in a relatively non-invasive manner.

Now, I can’t speak for specifically working with Olivia, but I certainly can for the immense ease and power of WhatsApp - this is just as good an example of effective digital transformation as coworking is.

Agents should realise that communication comes in all manner of forms today, and you must always be willing to bend to your client’s favourite medium: for many nowadays, this is WhatsApp.

I have chosen to blend these three books with these two stories for a reason, believe it or not. And I want to conclude by saying, yes, you can learn a lot from reading PropTech books, I encourage you to do so.

But I would also warn you that they all take a very broad, expansive view of the industry, talking about big, game-changing ideas, theories, and philosophies.

This is great, but means that they often fail to mention that, sometimes, small changes are the best and most effective changes. Small and often.

Change can be comfortable and easy to implement this way and can be started, literally, with immediate effect - no long-winded onboarding processes like we used to find with legacy solutions.

And hey, if all this tech malarkey really is a load of codswallop, we could always just sort the industry out by persuading the UK government to take a leaf out of the Danish government’s book and offer 20-year mortgages with 0% interest...

*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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    "we’ve entered that languid month of August, where all of real estate enters its four-week siesta"

    Nonsense.

    The lettings industry is incredibly busy in August. Huge numbers of tenants are moving home which places a significant strain on service providers and agents/property managers. If you look at the P&L of most major agencies the bulk of their income is generated from lettings business at the moment.

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    Thanks for this article James.

    Are there any "business-books" you (or others in the comments section) can recommend to someone who has an idea for new PropTech but needs guidance on where to start with developing that idea?

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