From Property to PropTech
Until now I have been classed within the ‘typical real estate professional’ bracket – Caucasian, male, publicly schooled and well spoken. It is true that my father was a surveyor and my education helped me get into the industry, but honestly I never felt ‘at home’. My previous employer affectionately referred to me as ‘the square peg’ within an industry of round holes, and I would agree.
Don’t get me wrong, the real estate profession has countless merits, and many things I am proud to say I have been a part of. I have been at the same firm for 10 years, the first 7 I spent working in various areas of Avison Young (prev. GVA) and gaining a rounded grasp of the multi-disciplinary services that the company provides for clients, as well as the specific intricacies of the industry. It only became clear to me when, three years ago, I was given the freedom to explore innovative technology at Avison Young (an opportunity for which I am extremely grateful) that there is a lot more on the horizon than the market appreciates, and elements of it will become fundamental pillars to the industry in the future.
What property professionals typically lose through the course of their career is a holistic appreciation of the world. Due to the complexities of professional services, there is a tendency for specialisation leading to a blinkered paradigm. And where there are specialisations, there are processes. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my focus on innovation, it’s that technology is extremely good at carrying out processes.
This is of course a threat and an opportunity to the industry. As awful as the effects of COVID-19 are on all industries (other than med-tech, online retail, video call tech, food delivery operations etc), dependent upon which side of the technology fence you sit, the repercussions for the property industry could well prove positive.
In order to continue business there has been a forced reliance on technology - something that the typical property professional is not comfortable with. But we’ve discovered over the last few weeks that business can continue and this is breeding a trust in technology which will prove beneficial in the future.
PropTech has been developing quietly in the background for years like fresh snow falling silently overnight. Just like an all-mountain skier unwittingly setting off an avalanche, COVID-19 could be the trigger for an avalanche of technology adoption in the real estate industry.
Most real estate firms have been looking for more efficient ways to carry out their day-to-day operations, provide their services and source and carry out instructions for many years, but implementation has been slow. Business has been good, and the old ‘rinse and repeat’ model has worked. But - let’s face it - money talks. With the UK economy currently looking down the barrel of a £30-40bn cost for furloughing workers for three months, we are all going to be suffering well into the future as the economy rebalances. These financial pressures are going to force existing businesses to reassess how they provide their services and how to limit costs in doing so.
Where PropTech is going to weather the storm better than traditional real estate is in its adaptability and scalability. In times like these, it’s not good to have a significant workforce of highly paid specialists. Nor is it good to be one! Entrepreneurs in the PropTech space understand what it means to be flexible and to pivot as necessary to stay afloat – it’s a challenge faced everyday. Traditional real estate companies on the other hand have not been truly tested since the last recession and may have forgotten the key to survival – adaptability.
I’m known for my cautious optimism, but seriously… (if you can find capital) what better time to start a PropTech business?