Change is coming. From ordering shopping online to Ubering a ride, downloading a book or tapping out your takeaway order, technology has transformed the way we transact in every other sector, leaving the property sector with no choice but to catch up.
Unfortunately the squeeze on the market (made worse by the imminent lettings fee ban) means that this progress is likely to be slow. When we spoke to five of the industry’s leading professionals during a round table discussion as part of our What is The Future of the Lettings Industry? eBook, each one confirmed that, amongst the smaller agencies that make up the rental market, they sensed a uniform fear of embracing change.
For instance, Ed Mead, co-founder of Viewber, said: “80% of agents are small one-office businesses because the costs of risking a new concept are massive. This conservatism will mean the chains will benefit and also that the rollout of new tech will be slow.”
But all five were in agreement that, although it might be slow, the technology to change the industry is on the way and those who don’t embrace it may be swept away. Nik Madan, Group Lettings Development Director at Connells Group and former president of ARLA Propertymark, said: “The impact on the sector will be profound and deeply felt. Many smaller agents, especially those in low-rent areas where add-on fees make their businesses viable, will go out of business.”
What kind of technology will bring about change?
An increase in self-service and the ability to outsource, with apps and portals to allow both tenants and landlords to do things in their own time at their own pace seemed to be the main technologies that could make the difference.
James Dearsley, Partner of PropTech Consult, predicts that the “obvious mentality shift amongst consumers to a more self service-type model” is a definite “signal that choice is what is needed.”
40% of landlords don’t use an agent, and the increase in their ability to secure tenants, engage and invoice contractors and implement repairs solutions all online without the face-to-face element, means this percentage is likely to increase.
But technology doesn’t have to be an agent’s worst enemy; in these time-pressed times, it can actually be an agent’s best friend. Services like Viewber, which allow agencies to outsource tasks like conducting viewings that really eat into staff time are one way that technology can add value. While traditionally the more junior members of an agency team are sent to show prospective tenants around the property (as more senior staff are too busy), Viewber allows an agency to outsource the viewing process to an independent professional trained specifically for the task. With agencies also looking into the increased implementation of virtual reality headsets to show tenants who can’t be there in person around a property, the traditional viewing process is likely to be revamped.
Technology is also redefining the amount of staff time that has to be spent on admin. Fixflo already takes care of all the regulatory stuff, ensuring that properties are kept up to date with changes to Section 21 and other compliance issues without cutting drastically into staff time, while other portals allow credit checks and cash transactions to take place online and automatically, allowing staff more time to dedicate to winning new business.
Because finding a supply of decent new landlords to enter the market is the only area tech hasn’t conquered, some government assistance in terms of reduced legislation or tax breaks might be required to revolutionise that side of the lettings process – but don’t count tech out just yet.