Having recently attended FUTURE: PropTech in London, it struck me just how far the integration of property and technology has progressed in a relatively short period. The event itself is huge - it now welcomes over 1,200 delegates and is thought to be the largest PropTech event in the world.
This suggests a level of growth and interest in this field that can only get bigger, as all aspects of our lives become increasingly intertwined with technology.
Understandably, PropTech has had its detractors. Some have questioned its importance and authenticity, going so far as calling it a flash in the pan.
But good PropTech remains true to the fundamentals of the industry. The success of estate and letting agencies still depends on good customer service and personal relations. However, it’s the ability of PropTech to enhance these core services that is helping many agents to be more efficient and profitable than ever before.
This message came through loud and clear in discussions at the London event, and I feel we’re now at a point where PropTech has become more than just a buzzword for our industry.
Here are three reasons why…
Collaboration keeps growing
One of the key things I noticed at FUTURE: PropTech was the increased collaboration between startups and existing PropTech providers. This is a step forward from the past few years, in which there have been many single product releases that don't necessarily fit into the wider business processes of agencies and instead solve a single, niche problem.
But as PropTech has grown, so has collaboration between providers which is clearly what agents have wanted to see for some time now. It was interesting to hear a number of agents at the event - including Jonathan Werth, joint founder and managing director of LiFE Residential - make reference to the importance of software providers accommodating and integrating with other PropTech products.
The more this synergy continues to take place, the more the true worth of PropTech will become apparent.
That leads me to another criticism levelled at providers and products – the suggestion that some products create solutions for problems that don’t exist. Increasingly, this statement is becoming invalid. As collaboration grows, it will increase the prevalence of PropTech that genuinely improves processes for agents as well as consumers.
An evolving property market
There’s no getting away from the fact that the property market is changing rapidly. The landscape now is completely different to even two years ago, and that’s why PropTech has needed to graduate from buzzword with potential to influential movement.
The case for technology in the home moving sector, for example, is clear – the process between completion and exchange needs revamping and the whole conveyancing process could be improved for consumers. No one has cracked it yet, but there are plenty of people out there trying.
In the lettings sector, the need for technology has largely centred around readying the industry for increased government scrutiny and regulation.
Increased regulation such as the Right to Rent scheme and the requirement for carbon monoxide alarms and smoke detectors in rental properties has encouraged developers to find technology solutions to new problems.
The impending introduction of mandatory Client Money Protection and ban on letting agent fees, are other challenges that could be resolved with the help of technology.
Compliance has become king in lettings, and agents will need to adopt water-tight technology solutions that save time, increase accuracy and are completely transparent in documenting all evidence.
We're all living differently
As much as the property market has changed, so have the ways in which we live our lives. For many of us, a large part of our daily activities now requires or benefits from technology in some way – including searching for property, accessing credit etc.
So, it’s no surprise that technology is making a significant impact on the way the property market works, affecting everyone involved in a property transaction.
Consumers want services that are available outside working hours. They want smart, slick systems that allow them to carry out the majority of their activity online.
Your clients – be it landlords or vendors – want their information to be presented digitally. They want services that are straightforward, modern and easy to understand.
Agents – your colleagues and staff – want technology to provide solutions to long-standing problems. They want streamlined processes that reduce administration and give them more time to focus on customer service.
That is why PropTech has become far more than just a buzzword. It’s becoming an integral part of our industry.
*Neil Cobbold is Chief Operating Officer of PayProp in the UK