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By James Dearsley

Co-Founder, Unissu


PropTech Today: Trends to watch for in 2021

It is the end of my column for another year, my 4th if I am not mistaken. 

This year has seen a curious narrative in the world of innovation culture. Covid has forced many of us to a form of technological evolution not seen before. It hasn’t been because of a want to change it has been because of a need; a desperate requirement to adapt and keep businesses going. 

Keeping businesses going has meant a forced move to adopt technology. 


It isn’t the same everywhere however. Larger companies have drastically slashed “non core” competencies. Essentially meaning anything that isn’t revenue generating has been neglected or completely cast adrift. 

I have seen huge divisions of people let go. Huge talent pools are out there because they are “non core”. 

There is a deep irony in all of that in reality. 

But then we come to the difficult transition to 2021. What are we about to face as we move into a new year. Personally, I don’t expect much to change. Vaccine or not. I feel there will be a huge period of adjustment back to ‘normal’. 

A meme I saw recently stated “I have only just got used to the new normal. How on earth am I going to adjust to the old normal now??”. 

And that is the point. It has been tricky to get to this point. It is going to be even more difficult and will need strong leadership adjusting back to some form of normality. It will take a long, long time. 

Here are some thoughts for me for 2021: 

Virtual Viewings are here to stay

I have long been an advocate of these. The inefficiencies on both sides of the market are huge and Covid has helped here I feel. Why physically view 15-20 properties when you can virtually view many more and get a much better perspective of market value and ultimately the ones you actually want to see?

View those outside of your area, outside of your budget or are just weird to look at. Rule them in or out virtually and then hyper focus on your top two or three to spend real physical time viewing.

Property passports will increase in importance

I have been watching from the sidelines a bit but expect to see more on property passports. Digital log books of properties for sales or lettings. Ways that owners or landlords can prepare their property for transactions and making a easy process of it all. 

Not particularly sexy but very functional and will ease frictions in the tricky transaction process. One to watch I feel.

People will still be arguing about Portals

Even I have been dragged in this year to the portal discussions; if only to say to people that they need to wake up. They need to take ownership of their instructions because they are all sleep walking into oblivion. Portals are not going away, whether you like it or not. There are new challengers portals that we are beginning to see operate; “we are a friend to the agent” they say. 

They may be more or less friendly than the competition but ultimately they are all businesses and they all see the prize of keeping agents on the sidelines.

Self-employed agents will increase 

Obviously this isn’t right for everyone but given what I mentioned in point 3 above, anyone can become an agent in reality. Yes, it is a risk but the upsides are clear. Take ownership of your operation. Run it how you would like to run it. You don’t need the office anymore. It is there for the taking. 

Anyone who is any good should be considering this in my view. 

FinTech and PropTech will come together in the lettings space

There is no question there is a huge affordability issue in the property market. This isn’t unique to us here in the UK and there is a constant pressure for global banks to support people moving from the rental market to the sales market - it is simple economics. House sales fuel economies. 

Generation Rent is a situation we find ourselves in and yes, I do believe we will ultimately become more transient as a race in coming decades but, right now, I also feel there will be many helping renters get onto the housing market. Expect to see many more “Tenant Passports” and Credit Checking evolutions into next year. This will hopefully result in better credit opportunities for renters to own eventually (if they want to)

Venture Capital spend will steady up 

Not really relevant to you here but there was a drop this year in overall spend (as you might expect) but actually the median investment per round increased nearly 35% year on year. A sign perhaps that the PropTech sector is really maturing. 

However, whilst I expect investment to steady up, and perhaps increase next year, I do expect more deals and particularly at an earlier stage. Covid, if nothing else has created opportunities for new business models to become relevant. 

If there was a time to start a business I would say it was now. 

Head of Innovation roles will increase

I mentioned earlier that larger companies have cut innovation budgets. I think this is the wrong thing to do and more than ever, firms should be looking forward and trying to work out what the future looks like. 

There is enough talent now out there for either full time positions or non executive director positions all about innovation and testing the current business models to consider the future. As I have mentioned previously, if you just wait for everyone else to make the first move, you will be left behind and your competitors will outpace you - in mentality if nothing else. 

So there you have it. Some thoughts about 2021 and how you can adjust. I don’t think it will be a straight forward year. I think it will again be challenging. It will again require strong leadership and communication to navigate some tricky situations. 

I wish you all well. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

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

  • icon

    Yes maybe
    Heads of innovation are usually hires internaly that are not competent and sidewaysed .
    People like you have raised the profile of proptech to dizzying hEights.
    However we still have a vision and competency issue at board or CEO level.

    James Dearsley

    and sadly Angus that is part of the challenge. There are many who will be hired internally and isn't a bad thing but unlikely to be a full time focus and a bit part. True innovation Heads will be full term appointments and likely to come from outside of industry.

  • Dharmesh Mistry

    FinTech is going to be embedded in most industries, I've said/written about this for over 5years.
    Digital passports/logbooks, certainly an interesting space, I predict something VERY interesting in the space will emerge that combines Proptech and FinTech ;o)

  • icon

    No we have been hearing this for ever. Vendors are not going to pay for searches etc to m,aje a deal move faster they will expect a buyer to pay for it.

    Head of innovation? Just pick up a phone and ring the database how simple can it be.

    Daniel Hamilton-Charlton

    I think you are falling behind the times. That is what we do as a business and many vendors are coming to us direct or via their agents to get better prepared for the sale, reduce fall through rates and have answers to questions raised by buyers earlier in the transaction.
    You can continue to bury your head because you are convinced that change is not coming, but you may be left behind still screaming at conveyancers to hurry up, when you are the one in the chain that didn't help out.
    The current system is broken. 11% fall through rate in Scotland and over 35% in England says it all.
    If all vendors paid for Searches it would become the norm and expected..and be for the better.

    James Dearsley

    You maybe surprised Jan BUT there is room for everyone. As industries evolve, not everyone does so at the same rate. Some are early adopters, others not so. Either way change is what occurs.

    I am not saying I am right by any means but I am suggesting that you need to look forward and should never be comfortable with the status quo.


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