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In a recent speech, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said that the world is “in the midst of a technological revolution”, one that will put 15 million British jobs at risk of automation. Indeed, research by Citi and Oxford University has estimated that 57% of jobs across the OECD — which consists of 35 countries — could be replaced by robotics or artificial intelligence over the course of, what the World Economic Forum has dubbed, the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’.

 

The property industry is often seen as archaic and resistant to change; however, most agents today recognise the importance of a user-friendly website or app, and an active social media presence. It would seem that new technologies have been allowed to trickle in but, as advancements march on, should they be resisted or embraced?

 

Taking a new view of property
Technology is undoubtedly changing the way people live their lives and savvy tech entrepreneurs are tapping into this shift. There is now a smart phone app for just about everything, from everyday errands like grocery shopping to life-changing milestones such as buying a house. Like the dating app Tinder, which allows you to swipe through potential suitors, Knocker is a new property matchmaking app that enables house hunters – or nosey neighbours – to swipe through properties on the market as you walk down the street.

Virtual reality is an area of technology that has lots of potential for the property sector as it enables people to view properties from the comfort of their home or office. Companies such as Property Scape and Google Cardboard have invested significantly in the creation of immersive virtual experiences; however, when it comes to selling property, the personal touch is still as important as convenience.
Another new proptech company is Industry Hub, a digital platform that allows you to hold your phone up to a building and source information on who the relevant consultants are (architects, developers, lighting consultants etc.) Think of it as real estate’s answer to Shazam, which is used by more than 100 million people each month to identify music playing.

Whilst technology can make some aspects of an agent’s job more efficient, there is still no substitute for the personal touch – an agent’s USP

The rise of proptech
For some, the recent rise of property technology – or proptech – spells trouble. However, recent proptech pioneers reflect evolving digital trends and changing client demands and, with significant new players disrupting the market, we have now reached a tipping point where technology cannot be ignored.

For example, companies such as WiredScore are changing the outlook of the property industry. Think of a WiredScore rating as a ‘connectivity EPC’ that grades commercial buildings on the quality of internet connectivity and telecom infrastructure. WiredScore ratings allow developers, landlords and agents to articulate the level of connectivity in office buildings – something of momentous value to businesses in today’s digital world. First developed in New York in 2013, the platform only launched last year in London, indicating that the UK has some catching up to do with the US.

Another one to watch is VTS. Last year US tech rivals VTS and Hightower merged to form a new proptech company that is said to be valued at about €300 million. Keeping the VTS name, the business provides a valuable asset management tool for owners and landlords and a leasing platform and customer management tool for agents. Based in New York, VTS is expanding its team in London and has its sights firmly set on the market in the UK. With Brookfield, Hines and Blackstone having already adopted the platform, it won’t be long before others follow suit.

Technology to help, not hinder
The team at WiredScore describe themselves as enablers, not disruptors and other proptech companies have also set out to help the industry, like Shared Property Data (SPD), which also launched in 2016. Founded by former Allsop surveyor Michael Marciano, SPD helps commercial agents list and share property information quickly and accurately. Tech platforms such as this can be used to smooth out complicated or time-consuming processes, enhancing the property agent’s number one selling point: the ‘personal touch’.

The personal touch
Whilst technology can make some aspects of an agent’s job more efficient, there is still no substitute or the personal touch – an agent’s USP. Tech may have revolutionised the way many take taxis with apps like Uber, but when it comes to property, ‘The Knowledge’ is absolutely vital as every property and deal is different. Armed with a combination of experience, negotiating skills and detailed local and building knowledge, agents specialise in taking the pain out of the complex business of property transactions, something for which there is unlikely to be a robot substitute.

Embracing technology
There are a growing number of successful proptech start-ups; this highlights the opportunities open to those that embrace technology, proving that new technologies may be used to improve property agents’ offering and service, rather than replace it.