Proptech disruption trends: innovation in the real estate space

Property technology, otherwise known as Proptech, has brought a wave of disruptive innovation into the real estate space, enabling companies to increase visibility, transparency and speed. Having traditionally struggled with bottlenecks and complexity, proptech is now allowing estate agents and property owners to drive value from digital technologies. This article will explore the biggest disruption trends in Proptech today, that look to continue through 2021.

1. Automation and machine learning

One technology that’s been notable for driving value and innovation within proptech is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Users have found that RPA can learn how to complete administrative tasks, leaving more time to spend on duties that require a more human touch, such as customer service.

Tom Reiss, CEO of Roby AI, explained: “By learning how a user carries out a task, RPA can then be custom built and combined with tasks which require an element of human touch. This approach means that companies can become hugely efficient, and staff are no longer weighed down with laborious tasks.

“Whilst some companies have traditionally feared proptech, this kind of clever technology can be implemented easily alongside existing structures. In turn, creating minimal disruption to the business and maximum output when it comes to efficiency, cost saving and employee satisfaction.”

Machine learning has also been useful within Proptech, capable of “streamlining previously clunky processes” in order to deliver value to property managers and residents, according to Kenny Alegbe, CEO of HomeHero.

“2021 is the year that we’ll really start to see a meaningful and useful application of machine learning models in the Proptech space, which is really exciting,” said Alegbe.

“Specifically, we’ll see automation and machine learning playing a really important role in reducing costs and unlocking new opportunities.”

2. Data-driven decision making

It’s generally important for decision making in today’s ever-changing business world to be driven by real-time data. This is no different within Proptech, where it pays to keep an eye on pricing and residency patterns.

“One of the core benefits of Proptech is that it allows us to obtain an understanding of our real estate without being physically present,” said Thomas Kessler, CEO of Locatee.

“Corporate real estate managers need to be cognisant of usage and occupancy patterns on a global scale, and with analytics software we’re able to continuously collect and share data on everything from space utilisation and desk occupancy to utility costs and overheads.

“Once these insights are viewable through a central platform, the data helps to build an overall picture of the health of the portfolio and can be used to determine where resources are best used with high levels of accuracy.”

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3. Access and safety control

Another major part of property sector operations is ensuring the safety of tenants. Safety checks on buildings have been digitised using cameras and sensors to generate real-time data, which eradicates the need for in-person presence, and accelerates the process.

“You could argue that surveillance cameras are the oldest form of Proptech,” said Rishi Lodhia, managing director EMEA at Eagle Eye Networks. “After all, it’s not just a video device – it’s a sensor. This ‘sensor’ enables the monitoring of activity, behavioural patterns, or any other change in environmental conditions.

“Video surveillance can be performed in real time, or data can be collected and stored for the purpose of evaluation when required.”

Lodhia went on to explain how the cloud has further facilitated safety measures, which have benefitted from remote monitoring and management, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The impact of cloud technology has had a dramatic impact on proptech, and there are two main benefits,” Lodhia said.

“First, remote management delivers the ability to modify, adjust and fine tune the system even when you’re not there. And second, remote monitoring alerts you to ‘out of the ordinary’ incidents such as an equipment malfunction or breakage.

“Within the Proptech environment, we’ll see most of the systems managed and monitored from the cloud.”

4. Search engines

One prominent challenge that’s been overcome by proptech capabilities on behalf of property seekers has been finding all available properties within certain criteria with the click of a button. Search engines on websites have increased visibility and reduced time spent looking for the right house or flat.

“Search engines – which allow customers to source proptech companies – have been very important,” said Nick Riesel, managing director of FreeOfficeFinder. “The creation/implementation of databases which can be built from many different forms of technologies these days has also been important in allowing companies to create software that performs the functions. Salesforce has been a big player in providing ready and customisable software for Proptech companies.

“An auto search/find feature has been adapted by many Proptech companies that firstly allows them to market many properties over a wide geographical area. This wide area is possible due to the coverage of the internet. This then enables them to find the solution for tenants at the touch of a button after putting the requirements into a database.”

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5. Tackling bottlenecks

As previously mentioned, the property sector has long suffered with bottlenecks in processes, which have held up progress for agents and prospective tenants alike. However, Roger Tyrzyk, director of global gaming and sales for UK/I at IDnow, believes that tracking software has been able to mitigate this pitfall.

“There is no denying the UK’s house buying process is antiquated, time consuming and overly complicated,” said Tyrzyk. “This has been really brought to the fore following the mini housing boom instigated by the stamp duty holiday announced in 2020. However, we’re now seeing a huge bottleneck, with thousands of buyers stuck in the buying process with little hope of completing before the end of the stamp duty holiday.

“Tracking software enables progress to be tracked, in real-time, and flag up where a document is pending an action. All parties can have instant access to their digital files, with complete transparency over where documents are in the process.”

6. Predictive maintenance

One challenge that Proptech has managed to help property managers overcome is operation breakdown within homes and offices. Augustin Celier, CEO of Uptime, explained how predictive maintenance capabilities have made data more transparent and easier to use, and in turn solve these problems quicker.

“In most buildings, tenants endure several breakdowns every year,” said Celier. “Information is technical, opaque, and poorly accessible — even professional property managers systematically complain about having a hard time getting precise KPI reporting or a digital dashboard.

“However, predictive maintenance, which combines precise, real-time IoT data with field information to determine the best time to perform specific maintenance operations, improves quality while controlling the cost, ultimately resulting in less maintenance visits, increased uptime and happier building occupants.

“Lifts which work properly and smoothly can add value to any property – residential or commercial.”

Analyst view

Bringing a perspective on Proptech disruption from a venture capital firm that invests in the sector, Alex Stroud, analyst at Concentric, said: “Consumers are now no longer reliant on their local estate agent, benefiting from greater transparency and choice.

“This has never more apparent than during Covid, when you could look at a host of rural cottages from your sofa, book in, pay and gain access, without ever interacting with a human being. The rental market has also seen large-scale change, where platforms have streamlined the entire process for landlords and tenants from viewings through to references, contracts and managing inventories.

“Proptech 2.0 then used software to automate and standardise processes, reducing transaction fees and increasing market efficiency. We have seen interesting solutions in the conveyancing and property law spaces.

“One critical point to note is that whilst we have come a long way, data is still a bottleneck for efficiency gains. In particular, government institutions holding data offline introduces friction and man-hours to the process. So, a challenge is initially to digitise legacy datasets, then to standardise the quality and format of these datasets across the industry, and finally, to democratise access via APIs.”

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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.

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