Home and technology in the lettings market

From banking to entertainment, almost every aspect of our day-to-day lives finds itself influenced by technology. As we strive for simple solutions, brands across all sectors look to appease our desires, whether it’s ordering a five-star meal to your home or sending money to someone in seconds. 

These industries have bridged the gap between digital and physical interactions, offering a hybrid approach where technology enhances the human element. But one industry finds itself lagging when it comes to tech-led initiatives. 

The UK property market – more explicitly, the lettings sector – is no stranger to technology. But tech is yet to find itself fully embraced by the industry in a way that enhances the human service side . In a world where transparency and simplicity take precedence, why has it taken so long for the lettings market to get on board the technology train? 

Examples of technology in other sectors

In other industries, technology is welcomed with open arms. Tech has revolutionised the banking sector, providing customers with easy access to their finance while still placing emphasis on providing personalised services. Seven out of 10 people in the UK now use digital banking, and it’s the fastest-growing reason why people use the internet. 

Ride-hailing has also transformed through technology, with the introduction of Uber making taxi requests via an app the new normal. It works through a combination of technology and service. The tech comes in the form of the app, which allows customers to book a ride with a few clicks. Then there are the drivers – the service aspect which aligns with the digital side. 

While you may argue that ride-hailing and lettings are two vastly different industries, perhaps it’s worth looking a little closer to home. Stocks and bonds, an investment process with similarities to buy-to-let, has also benefited from a combination of technology and service. Companies like Hargreaves Lansdown helps investors access their investments with the click of a button and caters to the 100 million people who trade online. 

These industries have solved modern-day consumer problems by using technology to empower their employees while providing a seamless experience for their customers. Now it’s time for the lettings market to catch up. 

The absence of a tech-led lettings market

There are several factors as to why the lettings industry has shied away from the use of technology. The online-only model, for example, was designed with the idea of cutting down fees for consumers by removing the need for a physical agent – ultimately removing a fundamental part of the service. 

This model is ideal for landlords with a hands-on approach, who are happy to take care of aspects like property viewings themselves. But landlords that still require the service-side of the industry, the online-only model is perhaps a stretch too far. 

This is reflected in the fact that online agents only have around 7% market share in the industry. Still, the idea of an online letting agent was enough to put traditional high-street agents on the defensive, as they took exception to the idea of being replaced by tech. 

The result was a push back and even more reliance on the human aspect. However, any negativity towards technology slowed down its use for enhancing the service side of things. What’s left is two extremes: an online, digital-led approach and a high-street brick and mortar physical approach.

Yet, the battle between online and high-street is positioned as tech v humans, with humans coming out on top while consigning technology to the scrap heap. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. 

Getting wires crossed

There is more nuance involved than suggesting the industry’s tech problems are merely a case of online versus the high street. An online letting agent is one component of the market, but there are still many ways in which technology is seen to cause more problems than it solves.

Currently, third parties provide tech solutions to the lettings industry. However, these options often lead to fragmented processes where many parts become more complicated because they aren’t fully integrated into current systems. 

Third-party integration has played a significant role in the proptech landscape so far. Yet, results are a mixed bag. Services feel convoluted as new processes combine with old ones. The result often sees agents and property managers going back to tried-and-trusted activities that put tech on the backburner. 

Embracing technology 

The segmentation of property in the lettings market has proved troublesome. And a lack of holistic options means that some aspects of property models include tech while others don’t. There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. 

In order to solve the problem, the industry should look towards end-to-end solutions where everything takes place under one roof and seamlessly combines technology with human service. Landlords and tenants then benefit from access to better processes for managing and living in the property, while enjoying more peace of mind and less hassle. 

One of those benefits is added transparency. For landlords, more oversight means having easy access to their portfolio, be it the financials, documents, or working out void periods. For tenants, their in-life tenancy is easier to manage with a solution that combines tech and service. 

The lettings market needs to find ways to offer a service that is transparent and easy to use. But first, it’s the property professionals who need to feel comfortable using the tech – and that’s something that hasn’t always been the case. Once 

A tech-led future

In light of Covid-19, the need for technology has only increased. But it’s vital that the service side remains as prominent. Tech should be there to augment human service, providing more peace of mind for landlords and tenants while empowering property professionals to perform their role even better. 

It needs to become the new normal in the lettings market with an all-in-one solution for everyone involved. When such processes are preferred over outdated methods, the lettings market can take its place alongside the banking, entertainment, food, and ride-hailing industry as a tech-led platform with an emphasis on humans.