What is ‘PropTech’ and how can it help me?

PropTech is a hot topic in the property sector these days and rightly so. But it comes in many forms and guises.

So if you’re not familiar with the term, you may be thinking – what exactly is it? And what can it do for me?

We can reasonably assume that in simple terms, it relates to any technology used in the property sector. Or can we? Let’s look at residential property marketing as an example…

The so-called traditional high street estate agents – who only charge a fee once they have sold a property –  are often maligned for not embracing enough PropTech in their business models. This is despite their abundant use of email, websites and online portals such as Rightmove & Zoopla, plus CRM software, digital marketing and that trusty old tech tool – the telephone – which is now both digital & mobile.

Compare this to the ‘online agents’ – which include major UK brands such as Purple Bricks – who are all regarded as ‘PropTech companies’ simply because their business models are more ‘digital’, involve less human interaction and they charge lower ‘fixed fee’s which you usually pay upfront– but is this really a fair classification?

After all, isn’t the online agent’s main contribution to home buying & selling so far the fact that they have driven down fees – along with customer perceptions of the value of dealing with professional estate agents – rather than any awe inspiring tech they have created?

By using business models that usually charge a marketing fee, whether or not they end up selling your property, the ‘onliners’ are arguably little more than property advertising agencies.

Remember this – the agent you choose to sell your property not only affects the service that you get – but more importantly perhaps – it determines the service your potential buyers will receive too.

If they manage to sell your property, that’s great – you may have saved a lot of money – although traditional agents would dispute this and claim that by charging you commission, only they are truly incentivised to negotiate the highest selling price for your home.

But if your online agent fails to achieve a sale – then tough luck – you could be hundreds of pounds out of pocket and still living in the same home months after you first put it up for sale.

Remember this – the agent you choose to sell your property not only affects the service that you get – but more importantly perhaps – it determines the service your potential buyers will receive too.

You could risk losing buyers if they don’t get the attention they demand from your chosen selling agent.

Achieving residential property sales isn’t just about listing homes on the major portals – it’s more about investing time with multiple potential buyers by carefully handling their enquiries, informing them about the local area, schools &  amenities, engaging with them personally and encouraging them to book viewings and ultimately to make the highest possible offers.

The inescapable truth is that online agents are generally paid to list property while traditional agents get paid to sell it.

The traditional high street agent is well equipped to provide this end-to-end service but because ‘online only’ agents usually get paid up-front, long before this process is started… let alone completed –  you may reasonably ask yourself – what is their incentive to see it through to the end?

The inescapable truth is that online agents are generally paid to list property while traditional agents get paid to sell it – and the question of how big a saving you really achieve with an online agent is highly contentious – as demonstrated by the fact that despite their undoubted success, Purple Bricks have been forced by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) on more than one occasion to withdraw claims they have made about how much money they can save home sellers, following complaints made by other estate agents that ASA upheld.

Consumer confidence in the UK property industry was already tarnished long before the profession began turning in on itself with tit-for-tat insults about opposing business models and implied claims of ‘rip-offs’ or so-called ‘com-misery’.

So it seems that aside from whatever it actually ‘is’ – PropTech has so far failed to clean up the industry’s PR image.

In my own opinion, PropTech should be defined as ‘technology that enhances customer experience & satisfaction’ and not just as software that facilitates one estate agency payment model or another.

When you consider that 93% of all property sales are currently achieved by high street agents – it is clear that customers still value and trust the type of personalised service they provide.

Furthermore, by undergoing more digital transformation, the traditional estate agent could and should be regarded as on an equal footing with online agents in terms of PropTech adoption.

So the message so far is that all estate agents can be PropTech companies if they adopt useful technology to interact & transact more efficiently with their customers.

Yet as consumers we know that mobile offers us far more features in terms of smart tech capability, including Instant Messaging (IM), document sharing & editing, mobile payments plus Augmented & Virtual Reality to name a few

But when you look at some of the other major companies classified as PropTech such as Rightmove, Zoopla & OnTheMarket – the ‘big three’ UK portals – in reality they are not offering much in terms of innovation anymore either.  All three are predominantly web based portals – a technology that has been around for over 20 years. They each offer mobile apps that let you do little more than search for property.

Yet as consumers we know that mobile offers us far more features in terms of smart tech capability, including Instant Messaging (IM), document sharing & editing, mobile payments plus Augmented & Virtual Reality to name a few.

Most of us are familiar with social media platforms where we can engage in multiple conversations at once in an informal and enjoyable way.

So why haven’t property companies latched on to this concept? Why can’t you find a property on a portal and instantly message the agent direct, receive a brochure in-app and book a viewing or make an offer without having to call or walk in to an agent’s office?

Automation should not be used as a mechanism for replacing the need for local staff and high street premises, but as a way to achieve higher productivity by releasing skilled professionals to advise customers on a more personalised level

Mark Zukerberg, famed founder of Facebook says:

 “Instant Messaging (IM) is going to be the next big platform for helping you connect with services…”

Well he should know – and I completely agree.

Good PropTech should always find ways to save time & expense for agents & home movers alike, so as to improve the quality of important human interactions between the parties.

Automation should not be used as a mechanism for replacing the need for local staff and high street premises, but as a way to achieve higher productivity by releasing skilled professionals to advise customers on a more personalised level.

As an example, imagine automating the administrative side of a local GP’s job so that they had more quality time to spend with their patients… we can all see the benefits of this and we wouldn’t use such tech to advocate having less GP’s!

The same applies to any professional sales environment including property marketing.

Instant messaging, document sharing & approving and mobile payments should all be part of every estate agents digital armoury, irrespective of how they charge for their services. And I don’t count text messaging as IM – home movers don’t want their personal text messages mixed up with multiple agents marketing messages.

All of a home movers related messages, documents and supplier interactions should be recorded in one easy to access and audit digital folder within a property app – a kind of Supplier Relationship Management app equivalent to the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software that most agents and other businesses use to organise their marketing contact with their customers.

For this to happen I believe the industry will migrate towards the ‘hybrid’ agency model where the exceptional service levels & cultures of the best high street agents are preserved and integrated with the best of the online agent’s tech offerings.

Customers should be given the choice of all payment models by their local high street agent – not by some faceless enterprise in a far off location.

Like local estate agents, property portals should be completely interactive and AI should learn user’s preferences to curate & distribute content and tools based on their individual requirements – rather than a ‘one size fits all’ model which currently prevails and results in us all being bombarded with irrelevant and annoying marketing blurb.

Finally, rather than have to hunt around multiple apps & portals for services that are clearly related to our overall goal – and as a home mover that could mean property listings, mortgage advice, home surveys, conveyancers and removal companies, to name a few – we should be able to find all these services and more, easily accessible from within one mobile-centric property platform.

If such a platform were to exist it should use the latest advances in smart tech to make the whole experience enjoyable, intuitive and stress-free, empowering the user to become an instant ‘virtual property expert’ by providing easy access to any relevant information they require.

The good news is this type of fully integrated digital solution is here now – or at least it’s first iteration is – welcome to Moovshack, the first mobile-first property platform for agents and consumers alike to meet, message, interact & transact in-app.

Now that’s what I call PropTech!

(an original version of this article first appeared in ‘The Future Of Property’ e-book by Property Moose – November 2017)