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By James Dearsley

Co-Founder, Unissu


PropTech Today: industry chiefs helping agents through tough times

For complete transparency, I write this column first thing on a Tuesday morning and have done for a couple of years now. This morning, the birds are tweeting away, my recently brewed coffee is cooling down next to me and the sun has just risen.

It is a new day but a day like no other has ever started for me or entire generations.

What this means, genuinely, is that what I am writing now could be completely irrelevant in just a few hours when I have submitted this opinion piece into Graham and the team at EAT.


This seems to have been the undoing of Rightmove this week. Even I was incensed (never happens, as most will tell you) at their actions of simply pushing the problem down the road for agents with their deferred scheme. It showed a complete lack of compassion and understanding of the industry at hand.

However, I will also be the first to applaud the honesty of Peter, the CEO, when he held his hands up and apologised. It is rare for any CEO to do that, let alone from a listed company. It was the right thing to do and, thought too little too late, showed they were beginning to listen.

This single event, seemingly innocuous to begin with, was the protagonist for this week's column. The perception of help that was needed universally by traditional agency seemed so palpable in the 48 hours after that announcement. The frustration, the vitriol for the firm so strong, that it begged the question of what others were doing.

My simple musings this last week have been around leadership.

At Unissu, my co-founder and I have talked of almost nothing else all week. Taking a stance. Being clear in what we are doing. Informing our staff of actions we are taking to ensure complete transparency and understanding of the situation we all face.

Being in this sh*t together. Being as one. Ensuring all our suppliers knew what was expected of them (and us). Ultimately being decisive and proactive in the most difficult of times.

In reality, it was giving as much certainty when around us there was very little.

Therefore, I want to share with you stories of help and support from others. Firms that, in times of difficulty and turmoil themselves have looked to support.

In some cases, it has been as simple as offering services for free. In other cases, entire business model pivots have been in existence.

In almost all situations, it is on the understanding that things will not ever be the same. The property industry (and indeed wider society) needs help and perhaps they can help.

One LinkedIn post has prompted all of this. Just the one. I hope you find some of these case studies interesting but first, as this will be a ridiculously long post, I want to thank those that contributed and so I have contributed all of them at the end of this post with links to their firms so you can investigate if it is of any interest.

You will note I have listed the country the firms are in too. I feel this is important simply because it shows the global nature of PropTech but also the global nature of this challenge.

I asked each of these respondents their thoughts in three key areas:

• What issues are your clients having?

• How is their company helping?

• What will be the new normal when/if this settles down?

I will not list every answer but a selection of two or three in each which I feel are most interesting. I am deliberately mixing them up a bit, as well, so you get a broader understanding from the wider property market and not all just in our area.

This way you are more informed, I hope.

What issues are your clients having?

Rachel Lightfoot, Co-Founder at TouchRight Software - UK

We are hearing mixed responses from our customers across the UK, depending on the size of the business and the sector they operate in.

Some of the London-based PRS agents have had quite vocal tenants on the phone saying they are not going to pay their rent and naturally this has worried landlords who then in turn don't want to pay agents’ fees.

Also, tenants are refusing access to properties which means that property inspections can't be carried out, so some agents are simply sending their property managers home. Hopefully, with the government announcements [on Monday]] evening they will not need to lay them off.

However, we have heard reports of some agencies shutting the doors for a few months and only responding to emergencies and legal requirements e.g. gas safety certificates. The knock-on effect could be that some agents request payment holidays, or worst case scenario simply cancel their direct debit without an email or phone call.

On the other hand, some of our inventory clerk customers are flat out and extremely busy, as they are filling in staffing gaps at agencies, where inventory and check-out reports need to be done as tenants are still moving. Corporate and public sector customers seem to be weathering the storm for now.

Riccardo Iannucci-Dawson, CEO of YourKeys - UK

Although they are still seeing demand to reserve homes, housebuilders are struggling with no face-to-face reservations being able to proceed due to social distancing.

Sally Holdway, Director of Teal Legal - UK

Shifting entire estate agent offices to home working means that for a period of probably three months or more, all the ‘high street’ agents, have become ‘hybrids’ overnight. This in itself is a huge thing to get your head around, not just logistically, but from a business planning and strategy perspective too.

This new breed of ‘hybrid hybrids’ will bring with them some massive advantages. They will have all the local goodwill and experience they have built up over many years, and the teams ready to mobilise and deliver the personal touch which the large hybrids have always struggled with. But they are going to have to work out, really quickly, how to operate in this new environment.

From a tactical perspective, that is going to mean searching out new tech tools to help them deliver their service in a new way.

How is their company helping?

On remote viewings being an issue - Andrew Nichols, CEO of Eyespy360 - UK

We are now offering our unique and premium feature EyeSpyLIVE unlimited across all of our subscription plans, even on our free subscription plan for a minimum of three months.

We are also working with a number of global property portals and CRMs, fast-tracking integrations to allow them to offer a remote viewing solutions to their client base ASAP.

On payment issues from tenants and then resulting pain for agents - Neil Cobbold, Sales Director of PayProp - UK

This is a tough time for lettings agencies and at PayProp, we want to provide all the help we can. We’re concerned above all about the well-being of our staff and clients, and by extension also their clients, and so we’re making some changes to our platform to provide greater support to all parties.

For example, what if a tenant cannot pay? Our automated arrears reminders are being adapted to allow tenants in trouble to approach their agent, to discuss special circumstances and make alternative payment arrangements.

As for agents, PayProp’s fee is based on transaction volumes, not number of properties or users – so if agents process less this month than last month, they pay less.

On issues around inspections and inventories - Richard Abbots, CEO of Inventory Hive - UK

In response to what is happening, we sat down as a team and considered what we can bring to the table quickly, in order letting agents, BTR providers and property managers can continue delivering great service to tenants/residents and landlords.

The status quo in terms of advice has been to cancel management visits altogether, which of course was wise in the very short-term. However, the current pandemic is clearly not going away soon, so our option of ‘Remote Virtual Visits’ will allow tenancy compliance standards to be maintained, documented and communicated remotely.

This can happen by way of an initial phone call, followed by triggering our templated report electronically with an audit-trailed responsive webpage between all parties with photo upload tools. As a further measure, we’ve also doubled our free trial period from 30 to 60 days. We just want to show some love back to the industry during unprecedented times.

What will be the new normal when this all settles down?

Matt Carson, Sales Manager at GoSpaces - CANADA

Education will be of high priority, employees will be demanding a new standard of cleanliness, space utilization and perhaps recognize teleworking as a valid option to run businesses.

Neska Husar, Marketing Director at SharpLaunch - USA

The real estate industry will rely on digital channels more than we have ever seen before. Companies will be forced to innovate, find new ways of interacting with their customers, and explore new digital channels to expand their footprint and access new audiences.

The silver lining of the coronavirus crisis is that it will accelerate PropTech adoption and forever change how real estate companies operate their business.

Sahar Abdulrasoul, Growth Manager at Ajar Software - KUWAIT

The real estate sector will adopt a tech backbone that cuts costs and allows landlords to manage their properties remotely will become the competitive edge for many real estate companies.

Kirstie Lane, Marketing Director at Spike Global - UK

When the world goes through something like this, society will naturally emerge changed. I think there’s something about this that will take us back to the realisation that digital connectivity is a very human thing.

As we continue to work, collaborate, socialise and even educate our children through this crisis, people will realise that digital connectivity in the thing holding us all together.

Even when our cities reopen, remote working will become the norm and all companies will need systems that support this. In everyday life the importance of communication and community will not be forgotten, people will appreciate knowing their neighbours and want to support their local shops and businesses etc. Communities will need systems that underpin all these things.

If you are still going, congratulations!

There was so much input from people all around the world, I simply couldn’t bring in thoughts from everyone but, it is worth checking out these firms as they are all trying to do their bit to help us get through this challenging time. 

• Neera Inamdar, Co-Founder of RealX - INDIA

• Matt Standish, Director at Envio Systems - GERMANY

• Matt Carson, Sales Manager at GoSpaces - CANADA

• Neska Husar, Marketing Director at SharpLaunch - USA

• David Wong, Co-Founder at Booqed - HONG KONG

• Cem Savas, Co-Founder at Plentific - UK

• Rachel Lightfoot, Co-Founder at TouchRight Software - UK

• Sahar Abdulrasoul, Growth Manager at Ajar Software - KUWAIT

• Kirstie Lane, Marketing Director at Spike Global - UK

• Riccardo Iannucci-Dawson, CEO of YourKeys - UK

• Tommy Hagenes, Business Development Manager at Airthings - NORWAY

• Sandra Panara, Director of Workspaces at Relogix - CANADA

• Roberto Anrique, CEO of Breal Estate - CHILE

• Fabio De Gaspari, Advisor of RE Mallorca - SPAIN

• Sally Holdway, Director of Teal Legal - UK

• Richard Abbots, CEO of Inventory Hive - UK

• Andrew Nichols, CEO of Eyespy360 - UK

• Rob Wellstead, Innovation Director of Callwell - UK

• Neil Cobbold, Sales Director of PayProp - UK

• Steve Radd, Managing Director of Inventory Base - UK

• Bronny Wilson, Regional Head UK and Ireland of Equiem - UK

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

  • Andrew Stanton PROPTECH-PR A Consultancy for Proptech Founders

    I must disclose my connection with James Dearsley in the sense I am an unpaid Proptech Influencer for Unissu, choosing to champion James and Eddie Holmes and the work they do to get the core message about the benefits of modern agency, including digital transformation of archaic and legacy driven real estate protocols.

    I have already written an article that says this terrible situation, is giving agents a chance to re-group, sit and think about how they run their businesses, how tech allows communication, and how consumers are using tech to transact property transactions. Now I am hopeful that agents will grasp the chance to 'explore' proptech, and see that just as many had never used video conferencing, often adoption of processes is all about necessity and repetition. And the payback is instant, so new efficient ways of doing things.

    Just think what some of the businesses that James listed in his article or indeed are on the Unissu site, can do for your business. All businesses to stay profitable have to evolve and adapt, my plea is that agents use their forced incarceration wisely, business is definitely not ever going to be the same again, but as agents have shown always - they can and will adapt and find winning strategies to make better businesses.

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    No virus or any piece of proptech will EVER remove the person-to-person element of this industry; it's a people business. Always has been, always will be.

    One poster above writes; 'The real estate industry will rely on digital channels more than we have ever seen before. Companies will be forced to innovate, find new ways of interacting with their customers, and explore new digital channels to expand their footprint and access new audiences.' Where is the evidence to support this comment at all? The process of buying/selling, renting/letting has principally remained unchanged for eons. Proptech has allowed some efficiencies and improvements and will continue to do so but the idea that transactions will become AI/algorithm/distance controlled is just pie in the sky.

  • Andrew Stanton PROPTECH-PR A Consultancy for Proptech Founders

    Yourkeys - reservation of a new home to exchange in 168 hours, standard time-frame for a sale in 2019, 19 weeks, that is some pretty good solid documented proof with numerous case studies. Imagine what that does for a new home builder/estate agent cash flow and what it does for the customer journey of buyers.

    Purplebricks an agency with no offices, listing 60,000 properties in a year, that is 60,000 vendors liking the idea of paying upfront, not a no-sale no fee model, that is pretty revolutionary. Very much a people-lite estate agency model, for sure not my favourite - but then I am not 60,000 consumers lining up with my wallet open.

    HB Reavis - smart buildings being constructed around the world, with use of AI and dital tech to make the 'work environment' a better place to be.

    Fixflo - changing the way thousands of renters and landlords connect and deal with properties, Digital street - HMLR digitising the data that it has held since 1862.

    The whole point is and this is from having dealt with nearly 16,000 residential sales over 3-decades - agency is a people business for sure - but people are transacting that business from the mobile in their hand, the days of buyers hopping into a negotiators car to view a dream home - belong to the 1980's, the Gen-Z and millennials use modern tech to transact everything as indeed so do you?

    Do I think arranging a mortgage will involve a buyer sitting in an office doing the paperwork in five years? No. Will automated feeds of the latest mortgage deals be available to every buyer, either on a property portal or similar yes.

    Will agents become depleted in number, just like the workers on the car production lines were replaced by robots yes, will paper be replaced by AI reading that paper and making the legal sector run 20 times faster - it is already happening, adoption of new practices is sometimes slow, but as Covid-19 shows, overnight all of the UK agents have become online agents - communicating using video calling and laptops from their homes.

    A month ago if Property Pundit you could have walked into any Bookies - well in fact with new tech - you could have logged into any bookmaker in 30 seconds, and I bet you would have got odds of 50,000 to one that the UK real estate market would not all go online with no offices, in the next five years - but here we are it happened overnight.

    And those who are going to trade well with tech savvy customers who by 2028 will be 90% of your client base will be reaping the rewards, pen and paper anyone, pick and mix at Woolworth's counter anyone? No seamless omni-channel service - that is what the consumer wants - and that is what good proptech will provide.

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    You've been reading too much Sci-Fi mate.


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