As agents, we’ve finally got used to the word PropTech - some of us even like it! What’s more, PropTech has, by and large, stopped trying to ‘disrupt’ our industry and is, instead, working with us for the benefit of business and consumer alike.
As a letting agent of nearly 20 years, I have always personally felt that letting agents succeed or fail based on one main criterion - operations. Lettings is an incredibly process-driven industry, part operations, part regulatory compliance. For that reason, lettings is the most obvious target and beneficiary of quality PropTech.
Despite this, many PropTech companies targeting this space have struggled with a handful of products sitting heads and shoulders above the competition...but why? Despite what many struggling PropTechs think, it’s not that agents are Luddites refusing to evolve and modernise.
Processes make an agent
HOW an agent decides to undertake each process is part of that agency’s core values and identity. This is something that too many PropTechs simply can’t understand.
They identify an issue, establish (what they believe) to be the most efficient/effective/logical way to complete a process and deliver a product that facilitates that. They are then dumbfounded when an agent won’t adopt this new process.
Selling a product into an agency is hard enough - trying to simultaneously convince an agent to transform their process too? Good luck!
What’s more, if most agents did adopt products like this - ultimately the only difference from one agent to another would be the branding.
There’s more to lettings than enquiries, deals and contracts
There have been a lot of PropTech products targeted at lettings over the past decade launched by consumers. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a consumer having a bad experience and saying: ‘I’m going to fix this’ - but if you’re going to attempt to disrupt or (especially) sell into an industry, then you’d better make damn sure you understand that profession first.
We’ve all seen them - cosmetically beautiful products with stunning websites and bold claims - but when you start digging into the intricacies of the work we do and the regulatory compliance far too many have been left woefully and inexcusably wanting.
PropTech solutions, whether building a singular element solution or an entire eco-system, have a duty and responsibility to understand this and build their product with this critical framework at its core. Ultimately this requires substantial research, collaborating with those with deep technical knowledge or having that knowledge in the first place.
Partnerships and integrations
It is rare for a new product to launch with these in place. However, with agents using 15-20 suppliers, this has to be part of a PropTech products roadmap. This can be complementary products/services or the core CRM that so many agents rely on to run their business day-to-day.
This is a somewhat delicate balance - agents need to understand that this is a journey for a product. Expecting this at launch or a relatively early stage will usually be met with disappointment. If agents refuse to adopt products that aren’t integrated, the products might never get the traction or revenue needed to reach that stage.
So, agents should expect this but, for the right products, be willing to join a PropTech's journey in the hope they achieve the relevant integration in the not-too-distant future. Likewise, however, PropTechs also need to understand that agents will expect this (if not now, in the future) - and that's ok.
An integrated, streamlined eco-system is the gold standard agents and PropTechs alike should be striving for, for the benefit of all. In today’s landscape, this is also far more readily available than just two-three years ago, so this is far more achievable far more quickly.
Innovation is a marathon, not a sprint
Innovation is a constant state of evolution in my eyes. But guess what!? An agent doesn’t wake up one morning and suddenly decide to simultaneously transform every element of their business. This is a step-by-step process lead by that business’s chosen priorities.
To adopt products successfully takes time and commitment - ensuring the product has been successfully embedded, not just from an operational perspective, but also within the culture of the company and its staff.
As such, PropTechs need to understand that, even if an agent ‘loves’ what their product does, this might not be the right time to adopt. As an agent, I have lost count of the products I like the look of that are still chasing me six months later about adopting them.
Why? Ultimately, because running my business on a day-to-day basis comes first and then I have the array of other products I have been pitched to choose from, negotiate terms and then I need to plan and implement a roll-out strategy. PropTechs need to be patient and just keep checking in with agents. If your product is really that good, you’ll get there eventually.
Top tips for agents
Know what problems or inefficiencies you want to solve. Don’t get distracted.
Plan and implement a strategy every time you adopt a new product or service - there are no silver bullets.
Be willing to go on a journey with exciting new products. This will often give you a strong voice in its ongoing development and refinement.
Deep dive on the product before you make a decision. A quality product built by knowledgeable people should be able to answer almost any enquiry you have.
Never be afraid to ask for help and advice, be that from agents you know or respect or PropTech products you have already successfully adopted.
Top tips for PropTechs
Ensure you understand the operational and regulatory requirements/challenges as early in your journey as possible, ideally before you write a single line of code.
Don’t assume/expect an agent to completely change their operational processes in order to adopt your product.
Understand your marketplace so you can identify the products with the greatest synergy and the CRMs with the most suitable client demographic.
Be patient. Whilst your product is your world, it is only a piece of an agents’ whole puzzle. Try to understand the agent’s business cycle, be patient and stay in touch.
*Kristjan Byfield is company director and co-founder of base property specialists and co-founder of PropTech compliance startup The Depositary.