Broken robot representing problems with proptech

Digital transformation is happening everywhere. From the banking sector to the entertainment industry, the segue into digital processes has had a profound effect on our lives. But the technology component alone isn’t enough to power the transformation to digital.

Take the UK rental market, an industry that has seen an increase in proptech companies and becomes more reliant on tech, yet still relies on human interaction. Lettings is primarily a people business, and a few snazzy tech features won’t change that. 

Proptech, digital transformations and the tech evolution all have a role to play in the rental market. But they aren’t the primary drivers, nor do they solve all the problems faced by landlords, tenants and property professionals. 

So if technology isn’t the only answer, what is? And are we even asking the right questions about how to advance the UK rental market? 

What technology does well in the rental market

There’s no doubt that technology has improved many aspects of the rental market, for both tenants and landlords. 

Tenants

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for tenants to read and sign tenancy agreements online with esign, while reference checks are carried out digitally in a matter of minutes. Then there’s the increase in the number of video viewings and virtual technology, which has come in handy during the lockdowns that are resultant of the Covid pandemic

Landlords

Aspects like esign for rental contracts also benefit landlords, who no longer need to rely on printing documents, physically signing, then scanning them and sending back via email. Despite the general consensus that processes in the rental market are outdated, many aspects have moved to a digital approach. 

Property management

Some property management has also digitised parts of its process, including making it easier for landlords and tenants to manage their experience. For tenants, this means a more fluid way to report maintenance issues that include real-time updates. While landlords benefit from more transparency over their property, with easy access to documents and financial information. 

Where technology falls short

It’s clear to see that technology and proptech have many positive effects on the rental market. But it’s only supercharged by other elements, such as the humans who operate in the industry. The role of humans helps tech have the desired impact. Without them, the technology wouldn’t thrive. 

Lettings is a people business, and landlords and tenants still rely on communication with property professionals. That won’t change anytime soon, and nor should it. Technology can’t replicate the relationships a landlord or tenant has with a communicative property manager. 

There is a stigma in the industry that property professionals have pushed back against technology, seeing it as something to replace their skill set. The concerns aren’t entirely unfounded, either. Online estate and letting agents are one aspect of proptech who have allocated plenty of power to buyers, sellers, landlords and tenants by giving them access to the entire process online. 

And yet, with just seven per cent of the market made up by online agents, it’s clear that a do-it-yourself service without agent help only appeals to a small percentage of landlords. The numbers are a resounding endorsement for the professionals that make up the UK property market. 

Focusing on service

Service is the foundation of the industry. Yet, there have been previous gripes over how it’s delivered. One of the primary reasons for the creation of online agents was due to the lack of service provided by property professionals. 

The online model arguably took it too far, believing that the best method was to remove the need for an agent and property manager. And it’s the property managers, in particular, who have come under fire for lack of service – whether it’s taking too long to arrange maintenance for tenants or having an archaic way of relaying important information. 

This is where the prospect of marrying technology with service can improve the industry, providing more transparency for everyone involved and power the digital transformation. If landlords have readily available access to information (through the use of tech), then property managers can spend more time concentrating on the day-to-day running of the property. 

And if tenants can manage their in-life tenancy and have a real-time overview of maintenance updates – as well as access to safety certificates and their contracts – then property managers can again focus on the actual service.

Currently, too many property managers spend time emailing monthly reports to landlords, chasing up maintenance requests for tenants without anyone having clarity over processes. Technology can solve those issues, at the same time helping to improve processes. 

Planning for the future 

The result is a well-oiled machine where landlords and tenants are always up to date with every aspect related to the property, and property managers can re-focus their efforts on providing a five-star service. 

The digital transformation is happening, but it’s not taking on the guise that everyone expected. Technology can improve processes. However, it’s humans who have a key role to play – especially in the UK rental market, where people are still the main currency.