The UK lettings market is no stranger to technology. But only a few of the early initiatives have remained, and landlords are faced with a mishmash of old, archaic manual processes and technology performing at only half of its capacity.
Digital tenant referencing and contracts sit uncomfortably alongside long, complicated email chains to property managers.
At the same time, some online letting agents have perhaps taken tech too far, removing the vital human touch. Resistance to this model means online agents only have around 7% market share in the industry.
Is there a middle ground? Can the lettings industry learn from sectors that have balanced technology and humans well? And how can landlords reap the benefits?
The birth of online banking
Modern banking is a perfect blend of technology and people. Branch numbers have reduced, becoming places for appointments with low wait times. It leaves the most basic requirements in the digital world - such as opening a kid’s account or checking your balance - and brings in humans for more bespoke needs.
The sector took time to get it right, and many initially resisted the disruption it brought. You have to go back to 1997 to find the first UK online bank (Nationwide and RBS launched weeks apart). But it took the convenience of mobile technology - and apps - for us to get properly hooked.
It’s a revolution founded on accessibility. People signed up because online banking gave them instant - and transparent - access to their accounts.
Yet, banking professionals still play a huge role. The accessibility of online banking enhances their position, allowing them to focus on the important aspects of their job.
Essentially, it’s a win-win for tech and humans, and an overall victory for consumers. They have an easier way of navigating their finances while maintaining full human support.
Get me home!
Banking and driving couldn’t be further apart in terms of their core purposes, yet they’re tied together by technology. Before 2013, getting a taxi meant hailing one in a city or phoning for one in the countryside.
Uber revolutionised the way people travel. It created a new market, marrying technology (the app) with people (the drivers).
The food and beverage industry has got in on the act too, adding a third element: restaurants. Nowadays, ordering your favourite dish from a Michelin star restaurant is a reality that relies on the Uber business model, to the extent that Uber even has its own food-delivery service.
Like banking, Uber and other ride-hailing companies made their product accessible and convenient. They found something that many of us relied on and turned it into a modern business model meeting its clients’ needs.
There’s plenty that the lettings and property management market can learn here.
Treating the management of a property like a banking app can help evolve the industry.
Landlords should have instant access to their portfolio without the need to rely on a monthly statement or phone call from the property manager.
Material things like contract length, incoming rent, maintenance costs, compliance documents and void periods should all be accessible with the click of a button. Landlords should have complete oversight of their investment.
The use of technology, combined with savvy human service, can also facilitate tenant-finding – from online viewings to the renter getting their door keys.
Tenants can benefit too. From using an app to arrange maintenance repairs to seeing compliance docs and the length of a tenancy, the digital transformation of the tenant lifecycle should appeal to the growing number of tech-savvy renters.
Happier tenants can also mean fewer voids - and better yields.
There also won’t be any issues for letting agents and property managers who previously found that most of their time was taken up by procedures that landlords and tenants should be able to take of themselves.
Instead, the technification of the industry will allow them to provide a more bespoke service to their clients.
The UK lettings market 2.0
Sometimes technology takes off instantly, revolutionising an industry overnight. That was seemingly the case for Uber, which enjoyed an extraordinary rise. Other times it’s a slow burn – like banking.
The lettings market is ready for a technology overhaul while still relying on the human aspect of providing great service provided by property professionals.
It’s been a long time in the making, but it feels like there’s finally a sea change that will see smarter and more transparent processes when it comes to lettings and property management.
*Corey Cummins is CEO of Herddle