The last decade has seen an explosion in the proptech industry – with the start-ups emerging at the turn of the decade now, in some cases, being global listed companies.
This is an exciting time in real estate, an industry long overdue for a shake-up. However, we real estate professionals must understand proptech as a highly nuanced and broad term. Proptech is both everything and nothing. It relates to both single homes and also huge cities; both residential and commercial; to buying, selling and property management. As such a broad descriptor, it becomes meaningless unless we get more specific. Successful agents must consider how Proptech can support all parts of their business, rather than take on one element as a totem of innovation, whilst otherwise seeking to counter change.
In the industry of buying and selling homes, ‘tech’ can be perceived as intimidating – a potential replacement for the human service currently provided by estate agents.
In the industry of buying and selling homes, technology can be perceived as intimidating – a potential replacement for the human service currently provided by estate agents. I must start by saying that I believe there will always be the need for human interaction in the real estate industry – computers can never replace the nuanced advice and personal reassurance offered by an experienced agent. However, agents must embrace technology in order to innovate and improve their offering.
Look east for innovation
I love to tell our European and US members about new ideas coming out of Asia, a region leading the way in terms of innovation. Companies like Property Guru are paving the way for very exciting new ways of working. Already massively successful in South Asia, Property Guru is a multi-platform service which offers, amongst other things, a one-stop mortgage shop, including credit checks and loan pre-approvals and a ‘Lens’ service, which uses mobile cameras as a form of augmented reality allowing potential buyers and tenants to view available properties as they travel through a city.
Companies like this are relevant to real estate professionals globally, because they beg the question: “What could I be doing differently?” Western residential estate agents, for example, can look to companies that are revolutionising client communication methods and transactional services, in order to improve their own offering.
In terms of communication, every region has its own nuances. In China, almost no one uses email on a regular basis, and the entire country is plugged into a massive app called WeChat. More than just a messaging/chatting platform, WeChat has a tremendous array of features that effectively replace not only email but also payments, listings, translation services, and many more.
Similarly, in Japan the preferred medium is Line, and for South Korea it is Kakao. When doing business with countries such as these, real estate professionals should communication platforms and revise their modus operandi accordingly. Agents should never fall back on the excuse of “but I couldn’t get through to them on the phone.”
The evolution of fintech
In terms of transactions, the evolution of fintech platforms will continue reduce the time and effort involved in making payments. Peer-to-peer payment solutions such as eWallets (available from multiple providers such as Apple, Samsung, Paypal, PayTM, etc) are available 365 x 24/7 so holidays and weekends no longer hold up settlements. Other upcoming platforms utilising crypto currencies and the blockchain also promise seamless cross-border payment features which are still only used by a niche audiences, but have the potential to grow very rapidly in the future.
Customers appreciate agents who offer an agile transactional service, and those who fail to do so will lose out.
In the same way in which streaming services have revolutionised how we listen to music, and Uber models the way we travel, technology is going to dramatically change the ways we buy and sell homes. Proptech will become ubiquitous, encompassing the industry. Agents, absorb these innovations into your business models, or you will become the cassette tape seller, in a world where everyone is plugged into Spotify.