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Tech of a Life Edition One: Facing Forward Together
Let’s discuss: Balancing tech and collaboration in the property industry
This special launch edition leads with a ‘Meet our Founders’ piece interviewing Ben Ridgway and Jamie Cooke, as well as a fantastic roundtable discussion featuring industry heavyweights Joe Pepper of tmgroup, Beth Rudolph of The Conveyancing Association, Gareth Samples of TPFG and David Beaumont of Compliance Matters, discussing topical industry trends, focusing on how collaboration and technology can help Estate Agents face their key challenges
Facing Forward Together
How collaboration is both the solution and the biggest challenge for the property market
The last two years have been transformative for the UK property market, with a wealth of both challenges and opportunities presented to Estate Agents, driven by market conditions and consumer demands. The impact of COVID, fee pressures, ongoing stock issues, process delays and eye-watering completion timescales has seen the ‘blame game’ more vocal than ever, with property professionals, buyers and sellers pointing the finger.
As we head into 2022, the challenges of the last 18 months are still facing agents and professionals across the industry. Amplified by upcoming regulatory changes, pressures around compliance and recruitment and retention issues, so many moving parts need to be considered. There must be more discussion around the longer-term solutions for the sector and how we end the ‘blame game’ for good, with the right collaboration between technology, processes and people. In our first roundtable of 2022, we brought together industry leaders to give their insight on the challenges facing the sector, and how collaboration and technology can be harnessed to modernise the industry.
Industry challenges: We need to deliver for our clients
“It’s a challenging time to be an Estate Agent,” Jamie admits, “there’s an awful lot on the horizon. Out of the many challenges facing the property sector, I struggle to pick just one. We work with thousands of agents across the UK and it’s clear to see the daily battle of taking on the opportunities of a very buoyant market, and balancing that with the ongoing issues within the process.”
For Ben, the ongoing challenge is a simple but significant one, “The biggest challenge for me is the industry continuing to fail to deliver what the client wants.”
He explained, “When you look at the data we are getting from consumers via our movebutler platform, over 40% of clients want to be completed within 90 days – they demand it in fact – and another 40% would quite like it, with only 20% indifferent about it. That’s 80% of the market that want to be in their new home within 90 days – and the current average completion timeframe is 125 days!
“Even more interesting than that, when you ask them how important financial commitment from the buyer is, 80% of them either say it’s extremely important or nice to have – yet the UK industry isn’t able to deliver any of it!”
“We’ve all got stories about the processes that consumers have to go through when they move house.” Self-described ‘technology evangelist’ Joe adds, “I’ve lost track of the number of people who have told me their woeful stories about how bad it’s been – and they’ve all blamed somebody which is a big part of the issue.”
Self-confessed ‘protagonist for change’ Beth explains, “The challenge in the sector is that we all have to do our jobs. Estate Agents are supposedly demanding, but that’s their job – they’re there to sell property. Conveyancers are accused of nit-picking and always asking questions but that’s their job, they’ve got to find out if it’s the right property for their client’s planned use! “We need to understand each other and how those processes can actually work better, then keep doing something about that. We need to create efficiencies, more information upfront and that one source of the truth, in order to create a real step change. We’re all so fed up with hearing the blame game and that everybody is doing things wrong, but proactivity is stuffed by the wholesale adoption of “buyer beware”. Recognising that regulations mean the Estate Agent should be providing material information upfront and, therefore the seller’s Conveyancer should recommend solutions to issues which would impact the average buyer’s decision – that would make a huge difference.”
If tech is the answer, what’s stopping mass adoption in the sector?
Despite the challenges for the sector, incredible progress was made over the past year, with the rise in adoption of new technologies propelled by new necessity and a shift to a digital approach.
2021 saw a £1.6 billion of investment into the sector – up by 360% in 2020. But, if technology is the solution, what’s stopping a quicker adoption rate?
As a leading voice for Estate Agents in this discussion, Gareth Samples explains, “There are so many options out there for PropTech solutions, with most trying to solve different parts of the transaction. It’s less about Estate Agents not wanting to adopt technology, but more often them not knowing which problem to solve first or being presented with something compelling enough to solve all of their problems at once. If agents had to go out there and review every solution to pick the right one for them, they wouldn’t be able to sell any houses!”
He continued, “Most PropTech businesses get to about 2,000 branches – 10-12% of the industry – so it’s difficult to see that mass scale solution in play. For change to really happen industry-wide, there needs to be more collaboration to join the dots and all parts of the transaction in order to present something back to agents that’s simple, impactful for their business and which solves as many parts of the problem as possible. The answers aren’t easy, but we have to believe it’s achievable.”
Echoing this industry-wide disparity is Joe; “There are so many different competing factions within the market, that actually making change happen is really difficult.”
For Joe, the dissatisfaction felt by the consumer is “symptomatic of the fact that we’ve got different processes that are all siloed, rather than proactively sharing information and data.”
“What consumers want is something that’s simple where they can see what’s going on and be kept informed throughout the process. What I don’t think the consumer wants is 12 different apps on their phone telling them all sorts of information.”
There is also the issue with technology not being adopted by reluctant industry professionals. David explains: “I don’t see agents being keen to change. I’ve been trying to get agents to migrate to online training since 2007 and I still meet resistance to this day.”
For Gareth though, the issue lies with a lack of compelling solutions, not a lack of willingness to embrace new technology; “We look at the agent and blame them for not embracing technology, but I’d throw it back to everybody else in the industry and say that the technology available has not been good enough up until now. Over the last 2 years I think we’re starting to see better solutions entering the market that join more of the pieces together than ever before, like the iamproperty movebutler platform.”
Compliance as a catalyst for change
Despite hundreds of millions being
laundered each year through the
property market, more than a
quarter of UK Estate Agents have
failed to register for money
laundering supervision with HRMC.
“If Joe is a ‘technology evangelist, I suppose I would be a ‘compliance evangelist’,” says David, whose experience includes over two decades working with Trading Standards. “Compliance wasn’t historically an issue for agents, but it has moved further and further up the priority list, it’s now a significant issue and they need to consider how to tackle this.
“From my perspective, the level of enforcement needs to increase because that’s the only way to drive real change. Things like ROPA won’t solve the problem unless they are proposed in a different way and with real enforcement.”
Gareth explained ROPA is a big concern for agents. “Where does ROPA go and what will it look like in two years’ time, twelve months’ time? The need for degree level 4 qualification for Business Owners may be the distraction that stalls everything, the level they need to get to may be a level too far.”
Jamie agrees, “The impact that it could have on the industry’s recruitment and retention is also a big consideration for the path forward for ROPA.”
Ben adds, “Technology has to be the solution, not just so that we can get to an outcome that everyone in the industry trusts, but to improve the experience for the consumers who have to answer the same questions and provide the same information over and over again. It has to simplify and speed up the transaction to get everyone’s buy-in, it has to be a commercial decision to keep work moving and it requires a bit of a culture change.”
Joe agrees that technology offers the solution to the growing compliance requirements faced by the industry, “It’s about implementing change, and compliance and technology can go hand in hand, so we have to move away from the antiquated processes.”
Citing examples of identification verification technology already in widespread use, Beth explains, “Consumers are used to using digital verification checks now, there are other online identity-checking solutions that allow consumers to verify who they are that work really well and are already trusted in other industries. Take Airbnb as an example. Tech used in this way will be better and safer and will give agents approval and trust that they can share with stakeholders throughout the process.”
Meeting consumer demand
“What we really need is that upfront information,” says Beth, “We’ve got two and a half million people in the UK who are in economic limbo every year, they can’t book their holidays, they can’t buy sofas, they can’t get their kids into school – because they’re waiting to move house. We’ve got to do something about that.”
For Beth, the answer to adopting upfront information in the UK may lie in following the lead of other countries. “When you look at Australia, Norway and Denmark, they’ve all delivered vendor disclosure and upfront information.
“We only need to look as far as Scotland to see that even small changes to mandatory upfront information makes a real difference, with their fall-through rate at around 11% compared to 34% in England.”
Despite the success stories, bringing upfront information into the mainstream of the property industry is still a significant challenge says Ben: “There is an apathy with a fairly decent proportion of the industry about upfront legal information. I think everybody thinks it’s a good idea, but the practicalities of putting that in place… they’d rather not think about that.
“The upfront information will always be done by good agents even if it’s not mandatory, but unless it is mandated by government, I just don’t see everybody doing it. And, unless everybody does it, it’s not going to make a difference for most consumers or to speed up transactions.
“We need to get to a stage where information is made available instantaneously, passed to the relevant parties and used to drive transparency and communication. It’s about creating the digital and transparent experience that consumers expect.”
Moving forward with more collaboration
Given challenges across the board, how can the PropTech industry move forward?
For Gareth, the uncertainty of the last several years represent a major opportunity for the PropTech sector. “It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster over the last three years.
“If you look at the landscape and how it has changed, we’re now at a point in the market that offers huge opportunities for Estate Agents to redefine themselves and take back that market share. 2021 was a really good year for the industry, and the next two or three years offer an opportunity to build on that success with technology and service delivery.”
In order to understand and cater to the wide-ranging needs of each part of the property process, the roundtable agreed that collaboration holds the key to true progress. As Gareth warns, “If people don’t work together, we’ll never get there. We need to give agents technology that makes things easy, that works for them, and which helps them to drive revenue and grow their business and impress their clients.”
As well as working with other property professionals, reframing the relationship between agent and technology as a well-planned collaboration could be the answer. Joe explains, “Estate Agency has always been a ‘people’ industry by its very nature, to some extent I don’t think that has changed and I don’t think it should.
“It’s been shown that the value in Estate Agency is in its humanity. The most successful agents are those who can effectively harness technology to offer something exciting to the consumer.”
Jamie adds, “The consumer journeys that we all have are all getting better, faster, slicker and more informed. The PropTech sector is in a far better place than it has been, we’ve just got to keep consistently striving for improvement. We’ve got to hold the line, we’ve got to have that drive and desire for constant progress.” Ben concludes that for him, “it’s about having the commitment to keep moving forward in the right direction.” “The iamproperty ethos is around open APIs and sharing data, not commercialising it. Our hope is that we can keep banging that drum and through collaboration other people will slowly start to transact with data in the same way.”
2022 Should be another transformative year for
the sector. The recent announcement from
Trading Standards regarding the compulsory
information which must appear on all property
listings represents an important milestone
to improve material information on property
listings. We hope to see some real shifts in tech
adoption, collaboration and a continued drive
to improve the home moving experience for
– Ben Ridgway