Tenant enquiries and property viewings unsurprisingly slowed this spring, due to the necessary government restrictions brought in to manage the pandemic. But the lettings market didn’t stop during that period – far from it, in fact.
Many letting agencies used the opportunity to develop innovative solutions that would help the sector keep growing and make the rental process as easy as possible, for both landlords and tenants.
The rise of virtual viewings is one of the most visible examples of this in action, with technology and innovation working together to help tenants view properties without leaving their home. Despite trepidation about how tenants would respond to virtual viewings, demand isn’t going away.
Now, we’re in the middle of a lettings market boom, with Rightmove reporting record rental demand in July, and enquiries up 40% year-on-year.
With more tenants entering the market, or contemplating a move, now is the time for letting agencies to embrace more forms of PropTech to make the buy-to-let market more efficient and easier for all.
Virtual viewings aren’t completely new, but they saw a huge uplift during the pandemic, with Zoopla reporting a 215% increase in video tour listings on their site.
Video tours help tenants who are unable to see a house physically still view their future home, while landlords can be assured of less wasteful viewings.
Some commercial property developers employ 360° walkthroughs, but such advanced technology isn’t essential to make a good property tour. In fact, for much of the lettings market, a simpler approach is better.
With rental demand so high, some properties can be let within a day. Therefore, it’s essential that virtual viewing videos are turned around quickly and letting agencies provide their team with the right technology to shoot and edit a high-quality video themselves.
We have found the best way to do this is supply all our agents with hand-held smartphone gimbles or stabilisers so they can film a steady and professional tour video.
We also recommend an easy-to-use video editing app and on brand graphics, so that creating a professional and consistent virtual viewing video can be done in less than an hour.
When the lockdown was first announced, agencies transitioned to working remotely overnight. Thanks to softphone technology – VOIP software that redirects branch calls to a computer – letting agents can maintain customer contact just as if they were in the office.
This proves branches can operate remotely without a bricks-and-mortar office and the industry is now seeing a number of virtual letting branches open across the UK.
With a virtual branch, agencies are able to make the most of local expertise, deliver the personal touch and be that all important reassuring presence through the whole process in a growing number of areas, even without a high street presence.
Property management portals
PropTech innovations don’t only benefit the lettings industry; they can also make the lives of landlords and tenants easier. An online portal gives landlords instant access to accounts, reports and surveys, as well as maintenance and future plans for their properties – helping them to keep on top of their investments without a lot of paperwork.
The software can also issue rent and tenancy review reminders, putting the landlord in control and saving agencies hundreds of admin hours.
Meanwhile, block management teams can automate maintenance and admin by running metre readings, managing door access codes and electronic car park entry at the click of a button.
In the future, smart building technology could make the maintenance process even more efficient with touchless access and automated monitoring for thermostats, appliances, lights and leaks.
Smart technology is already common in new commercial developments, so we will likely see it soon used in residential lettings and new build developments, reimagining the lettings experience.
Online tenant onboarding
Online portals are also an efficient and stress-free way for agents to screen tenants, help them move in and ensure all documentation is up-to-date. While this tech still isn’t that common in the industry, widespread adoption would see far less documents to track and greater onboarding efficiency.
On the financial side, Open Banking is set to transform tenant reference checks and payments. It makes the reference process instant, providing a real-time view of a tenant’s bank account, income and previous rent payments.
This will allow landlords and agents to turn around affordability checks in minutes, instead of days, and will arguably paint a more accurate picture of tenant affordability.
Maintenance management apps
Maintenance apps enable tenants to determine and report property issues, while also being able to self-diagnose small issues on the spot.
At LRG, our portal has already shown a 16% reduction in reported maintenance issues in our managed properties. Tenants can get advice and track support queries, while landlords can get the reassurance that repair teams are only being called out when an issue really warrants it.
With large gatherings still restricted under the pandemic guidelines, it looks unlikely that in-person auctions will return in 2020. Therefore dedicated online auction technology is vital to offer opportunity for property investors.
Online auctions allow landlords and investors to log on from wherever they are in the country, or the world, and make bids on a property through the website. The process combines the auction bidding experience with a secure, digital sales process – all in real time.
With the level of UK properties sold at online auction up by almost 13%, it’s clear there is strong demand for a fast, easy and efficient tool for all landlords and investors to buy and sell property at auction. Now it’s up to more agencies to provide the technology to support their customers.
Embracing the future of the lettings industry
As a service industry, our customers will always have the biggest role to play in shaping the lettings sector, but it’s clear that PropTech is key to help it transform for the future.
Attitudes to technology in the property sector have warmed significantly since the onset of the pandemic: 87% of property professionals now say that technology is a force for good compared to 71% at the beginning of the year.
While the property market has traditionally been relatively slow to respond to technological changes, Covid-19 has only accelerated the role of technology in the industry.
Now letting agencies must embrace these PropTech solutions to ensure they are not left behind as the industry rapidly modernises.
*Michael Cook is National MD Lettings at LRG