It seems that almost anything is available to us now at the click of a mouse – or more often a tap on the screen of our phone. What is the population of Botswana? How do I get to my next meeting? Does the restaurant that I want to go to take bookings? Does it have good reviews? And where is best for a drink afterwards?
It has become commonplace now to have all these questions answered almost instantly via mobile technology to the extent we now take it for granted. I may be showing my age, but I can remember a time when I used a physical map to find my way around; my daughter has never used one and wouldn’t know what to do with it. That makes me feel very old, but we must remember that this generation – which has grown up in a world that is conRichard Gerritsentantly connected, where everything, it sometimes seems, has an app – is the one that is about to take over.
Is the business world in general – and the property sector in particular – ready for this sea change? I’m not sure it is. Yes, there is innovation and a burgeoning proptech sector, but overwhelmingly the world of property remains firmly rooted in the old ways of doing things. If I want to buy a book or tickets to the theatre, all the information I need is just a few clicks away.
But if I’m an investor and I want to buy a £100m building, it is hard to get the information I need to inform my decision. When renting an apartment, so much is still done on paper – forms are filled out; copies are made and sent back. But my daughter wouldn’t know what to do. For her, everything is done online – you upload, click a button and away you go. If the process takes more than 15 minutes, she loses interest.
On the whole, property data is still gathered manually – and investors, to take just one example, accept that the data they need is stored somewhere else by a property manager, and once a month they will receive an Excel spreadsheet giving them the information they need.
Why do we accept in the business world what we wouldn’t accept in our personal lives? It seems that we are currently in an age of transition, where this new-found level of instant gratification has yet to fully transfer to our working lives. While in our personal lives – as consumers we have a heightened level of expectation, not just desire, to gain instantaneous access to a vast range of information, in our business lives the expectation is not quite the same.
But that is changing rapidly, and increasingly as the younger generation comes into the workplace there will be an expectation that they can quickly access the data that enables us to change the way we work, do our jobs better and provide better services for our customers.
So can the property sector rise to the challenge? What is interesting about technology today is that, whereas in the past innovation was driven by the military and business, it is now being driven by the consumer, and the business world seems to follow, rather than lead. More than ever, the business world needs to catch up. Take property valuation: in a world where data is abundant and machines can make complex calculations in an instant, you could argue that the property valuation, in its current form, is an old ‘technology’. I’m not saying that the property valuer is ‘dead’, but the role will evolve.
Sense of reputation
Look also at the marketing of properties; if I want to rent a unit, then in this new world the property will not only need to be on the internet – and on social channels, such as Facebook – but it will also need to be on an app. I will want to be able to read reviews of the property and of its neighbourhood – I will want a sense of its reputation. So not only will agents have to make sure the property is well presented, they will have to actively manage its online reputation.
Is property ready for this revolution? I would say no. Does it want to be ready? Possibly, but that’s an irrelevant question because it is going to happen whether businesses want it or not. And if businesses don’t get ready, they could end up a mere industry memory. This is a development that is bigger than property; the way you embrace emerging technology will fundamentally define future success if you are not to be left behind.