It has been hard to ignore the emergence of ‘Prop tech’, and indeed hard not to be impressed by some of the innovative ideas coming through. There is no doubt that our industry is changing because of it, and changing for the better.
What is difficult to stomach however is some prop tech developers who appear to be shouting loudly about (and I quote): ‘disrupting the shady role of office agents’. This is a punchy statement from the co-founder of Hubble; Rohan Silva. He continues.. ‘We are the future of the property industry as we can automate so much of the agent’s role; which is fast becoming obsolete.’… Whilst it’s a headline grabbing statement, is there any truth in it?
Hubble are a new online platform which matches people looking for office space with those who have it. So a variation on the theme of co-working operations. They undoubtedly have a point with regard to the automation. The basic function of searching for offices needs to become automated and rightly so. The process of walking the streets and phoning agents has become the archaic way of looking for vacant offices, much like looking in yellow pages for an electrician. However, and this is where Mr Silva is wrong – our role is significantly more diverse than just searching and introducing office buildings to occupiers. The search and selection of potential offices is just 10% of the commercial agent’s day job.
Once an occupier has chosen their preferred floor (or building) then the process of negotiation must take place. If every Landlord had the same aspirations and criterias then the negotiation process can also become automated. But Landlords all have totally different positions when it comes to managing their assets. A fund manager for example will have vastly different criteria than a private short term investor. Rent free periods, service charge caps, rent deposits, alienation provisions, alterations…: all these points make up a large part of what we do. We negotiate these topics to suit the client, and each and every transaction differs entirely from the last. Can this be automated?
Furthermore once the financial terms are agreed there is a whole lease document which needs to be negotiated and settled over. And again, many leases content vary significantly, subject to both the Landlord and tenants criteria. This is one area I feel is crying out for advances in tech. Most leases negotiations are long and cumbersome. Is there a future for a ‘1 size fits all’ lease?
All this absolutely does not mean the Hubble’s of this world do not make valid points and are disrupting for the right reasons. We are in total agreement that AI and online platforms will help streamline our business model and unquestionably take out the outdated aspects of our role. We welcome this, and with the imminent intro of VTS into this office; we are already seeing the benefits of using such platforms for our data management.
What will be pertinent in the coming months and years is for the Prop tech disruptors to work jointly with agents and Landlords alike, to see how everyone can work together for the better of our industry. I’ll finish with a quote from industry heavy weight Nick Leslau who sums up the tech advance perfectly:
‘’As a property investor it has become abundantly clear to me after too long of ignoring the changing winds just how radically technology will change and inform our decision-making in the future and how better information more speedily accessed, will result in significant competitive advantage. There is no a part of our industry prop tech will not touch.
It is up to us now as Landlords & Agents, jointly with the Tech developers to all work towards an improved, streamlined and more efficient way of doing our day job.