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PropTech Today: why are the wrong people driving our innovation agenda?

I wrote last week about Keller Williams and how their leader, Gary Keller, is doing an admirable job of driving innovation through the company by leading from the top; setting an example for the rest of his expansive team to follow with confidence. 

In response to that article, perhaps unsurprisingly, I received a number of very kind emails from the team at the UK branch of Keller Williams!

They wanted to show their appreciation for my ‘kind words’, as well as to reiterate how wonderful their leader is. In some ways, their enthusiasm for their boss is a little unfamiliar - you don’t often hear people waxing lyrical about their superiors. But maybe that’s the American ingredient of Keller Williams coming out?


To an Englishman, all of this gushing praise is unique enough for it to stay somewhere in the back of my mind, periodically popping to the front during the course of the week. That might be why, yesterday, an article which wouldn’t normally catch my attention did so. 

The story is about RE/MAX, a leading global real estate franchisor based in America with over 125,000 agents spread across more than 110 countries and territories. More specifically, the story talks about RE/MAX’s deployment of booj,an end-to-end productivity solution for real estate brokerages, across their entire team. It’s all an effort to make working processes and environments as welcoming, efficient, and enjoyable as possible for RE/MAX staff, increasing efficiency and reducing stress. Booj’s “Sphere Interaction tool”, for example, shows the latest communications an agent has had with the customer and “gives a visual indicator as to whether or not the agent needs to reconnect with them or not”. 

It got me thinking; both of these companies are going to great lengths to ensure their staff have a desirable working environment. Both of these companies are American.

Here in the UK, I’ve not really seen that many similar examples from major real estate firms. As in the firms themselves driving the innovation. Is it an America-specific thing? Are the US doing a better job at this than we are? Or are they just more likely to promote their efforts in this area?  I don’t know, but one thing is for sure:

In America, it’s the leading traditional real estate firms themselves who are driving innovation, evolving at speed and supporting their staff throughout the journey. Here in the UK, however, the largest real estate firms are not the ones driving innovation; instead, they rely on service providers and suppliers to do that job. 

A recent example of this is Reapit and their new platform-as-a-service offering (PaaS). Reapit make software for agents and other professionals, and this new PaaS will enable PropTech companies and agencies the chance to “integrate and extend the functionality of Reapit’s cloud offerings”.

Not only is this more proof of how real estate business innovation is moving away from transactions towards retaining and servicing smaller but longer-term contracts with customers, it is also one more example of how, in the UK, service providers are driving innovation and real estate firms are failing to match it.

And so the question has to be asked: who should take responsibility for driving innovation in real estate, the agents or their suppliers? At the moment, it seems like agents are being led by tech-creators when surely it should be the other way around? The agents are the ones who have the best knowledge about their customers’ needs, wants and pain points. They are B2C. Why then are they allowing B2B tech companies to tell them what they and the market need?

I am writing these thoughts here because I want you, dear readers, to inform me of how wrong I am. Show me some UK real estate firms who are truly driving innovation themselves rather than expecting third-party technologists to do it for them. 

Because, if UK firms/agencies are taking responsibility, I am concerned the UK might lose its grip on the global real estate ecosystem. Are we letting the US drive the innovation agenda? Are the likes of Keller Williams or REMAX going to be the UK agencies of the future with their lean, innovative methods that squeeze out our general agency model? Are we letting suppliers tell us what we need when it should clearly be the other way around? Are we going to continue letting others to tell us what to do in our own back yard?

At the moment, I think we are, but only because I haven’t come across any significant case studies which can persuade me otherwise. In fact, to the contrary. Look at Countrywide for one minute. They were starting to try and evolve. Starting to try and do things differently. Despite the fact it wasn’t being done brilliantly (as I have said and justified many times), at least they were showing signs of changing the status quo. Trying different methods and techniques but and this is a huge BUT, they then go and go “back to basics” and stop all their trialling, testing and changing. I certainly haven’t seen the great recovery since they did this. Have you? 

Are we sleepwalking into our future, or do you think I’ve got this whole thing wrong? This is not a rhetorical question, I am genuinely concerned and want to know your thoughts.

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

  • adrian black

    YOUhome are - Will Darbyshire visited and Chris Watkins rates the tech as awesome, James, you are welcome to visit anytime and we will buy you lunch !!!

    James Dearsley

    I remember it well Adrian when I saw it. To be clear you are an innovator, not a traditional that is driving a change as in how the American's are doing it. Traditionals recognising change is afoot and doing something about it.

    Driving the change. Not being driven.

  • Phil Priest

    James you are correct from what we have seen. There has been a surge of PropTech written by people who have never worked in the industry, bought or sold a house or own an investment or two and tried managing them.

    Any tech company with an inch of credibility will be working with several agents along the process of bringing new tech to the market. Their feedback and critique is key.

  • Kristjan Byfield

    The products that work well early on are either being created by agents themselves OR are engaging with agents early on and deeply involving them in the ongoing development of their product/platform, features and enhancements. Whilst there may not be major innovation being visually driven by the larger operations, they are increasingly open to innovation and are keen to invest into companies and be part of their ongoing journey and development. I think a huge challenge is finding the right people to head up digital innovation within the major rsei operators. There are not a lot of people out there who have a rich understanding of UK agency operations, deep tech knowledge as well as a clear cut vision of a big vision to execute.

    James Dearsley

    Agreed Kristjan but I want examples of this change. Being open to innovation and actually doing something about it are two very different things.

    I am open to playing golf but I am not yet doing anything about it.

  • Rob Brady

    Hi James. Working for as an Innovationist at a PropTech marketing company, having just left estate agency of 10 years, we're spearheading Innovation at Iceberg Digital. I now work with Mark Burgess, our CEO, a former estate agent, who has worked with agents for many years and author of Best Selling book 'Where Did My Industry Go?' which talks about modernising the industry. We have been working with some fantastic estate agents across the country regularly to create an awesome marketing eco-system especially in the new era of Big Data. Our estate agents and clients have told us their problems which we have helped solve on top of giving them things other suppliers are unable to acheive.


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