What’s Holding Back PropTech?

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While PropTech has seen some growth in recent years, more so before the COVID-19 pandemic, we still haven’t seen the manifestation of the scale of technological revolution in the property industry we were once promised. The vast majority of buildings we come across in our daily lives are still operating in traditional ways, using outdated but proven equipment. Let’s dive into why we are yet to see the kind of transformative innovation we were expecting on a broader scale.

Real estate is widely recognized as the world’s largest financial asset class. However, in today’s world, we often see companies rise to prominence before crashing and burning in a matter of a few short years. Most of the biggest corporations in the world today didn’t have a trace of existence 30 years ago. The real estate asset class could not be categorized more differently. It’s not only the largest asset class (by far), it’s also the oldest asset class (Hagerty, Propmodo). Historically, the property industry is a very slow, cautious sector. Unlike an App, such as Uber for example, buildings and other construction projects take many years from the design process to the completion of the physical structure. This is attributed partially to the reality that protecting buildings and the occupants inside them is paramount. In both the residential and commercial real estate sub-sectors, moving too fast and making a mistake that may lead to a potential building collapse is simply out of the question. Due to real estate’s conservative business model, even the most sophisticated PropTech products are having a difficult time gaining broad, large-scale traction (Hagerty, Propmodo).

Ernst & Young’s Comprehensive PropTech Study

An Ernst & Young (E&Y) survey recently found that 43% of those who provide PropTech products are majorly struggling with widespread adoption across a given client’s business. Additionally, the same research discovered that 35% of PropTech providers are seeing a very sizable lack of scaling, as a direct result of their application being adopted. Perhaps the biggest shock from this study is 39% of respondents are yet to adopt even a single PropTech tool.

In addition to safety concerns, the attitude of business managers has been noted as a key opponent to PropTech’s success. Value in real estate is most frequently determined by three factors: 1) location, 2) size, and 3) finishes [amenities]. Reducing costs and increasing efficiency plays a major role in the construction industry, but we don’t typically see those same levels of concern in asset management. PropTech is actually attempting to change that. With the right technology, savings from efficiency, integration, and automation can start to pile up (Hagerty, Propmodo). Having the ability to tap into data generated by buildings is providing actionable insights that are too big of a potential game-changer to ignore. For individuals or companies that already have a real estate strategy in place, implementing innovative PropTech is only putting them further ahead of the pack. Executives, board members, and direct real estate investors alike clearly understand the need for PropTech. The biggest challenge remains in implementation.

Conclusions Drawn From Ernst & Young’s Study

We can conclude from the E&Y study that the remedy starts with ensuring the right people are in place. E&Y found 53 percent of real estate owners don’t feel they have the in-house talent to successfully adopt new technology. It’s worth taking a moment to let that sink in. More than half of executives, or very senior personnel in a position to make these decisions, are not confident in their own teams’ implementation ability. Without technology-minded talent and leadership, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Traditional real estate leadership has often been hesitant – or perhaps more precisely, even negligent – in scrapping outdated systems and processes they’ve relied on for decades. Again, PropTech aims to alter that mindset entirely. Leveraging technology is about focusing on future potential, rather than cost. There are undoubtedly sizable upfront costs associated with widespread PropTech adoption across a portfolio. What makes executives and board members in particular hesitant with implementing PropTech is the mindset about their obligation to stakeholders being centered around cost cutting. Why bother spending money “fixing something” that isn’t broken? Buildings are operating just fine without the need for any sweeping, technological overhaul. That’s the position traditional real estate leadership has taken; they are extremely hesitant to tolerate large capital expenditures on risky, bold technologies that don’t have a clear trajectory of return on investment. Succinctly, from the E&Y analysis we can clearly deduce that executives and board members need to ensure there are enough personnel focused on technology to help senior management understand there in fact is a return on investment from implementing various PropTech products. It’s not as clear-cut, but the long-term financial benefits are there.

Again, referring back to the same E&Y data, almost 60% of real estate companies surveyed responded that they find new systems difficult to integrate with existing platforms. This is viewed as a further hinderance for executives because this translates to times and resources in order to get things set up, further disincentivizing them by piling on additional costs and additionally clouding the potential return on investment. The rapid pace of development and deployment is leading to piecemeal technology strategies instead of full end-to-end solutions, which is easier for leadership to recognize. As the PropTech industry matures, consolidations, acquisitions, and a wider array of products to service every aspect of portfolios could help solve some of those problems (Hagerty, Propmodo).

“As investors begin to see the benefit of companies adopting technology, we believe they will help drive the industry forward more rapidly in the same way that investor pressure has encouraged companies to do more and report more on ESG related issues”.

Mark Grinis, Ernst & Young Global Real Estate, Hospitality, & Construction Leader

Perhaps an unpopular opinion, but some have compelling arguments that growing pains in PropTech industry is actually a good thing. The real estate industry was stagnating for decades, perhaps centuries. In a few short years, technology has worked its way into practically every executive conversation or board member meeting. With that being said, retrofitting existing buildings will not be a viable solution for every – or most – property owners.  Building technology into the bedrock of the property industry is a ground-up exercise, literally, which makes taking stock of progress that’s been made that much more important. That’s where PropTech comes in. There’s plenty of obstacles in the industry slowing down PropTech at the moment, but there’s no stopping it, especially it in the long-term as we’ve seen companies rapidly expand cloud and digital transformation technologies.