By Carol Tallon, Head of PropertyDistrict.ie – Originally published in the Irish Examiner newspaper
“The Irish new homes market is a sleeping giant that is only now waking up”
There is a relatively new sector within the property industry globally referred to as ‘proptech’. This term is used to describe a whole host of new technologies that are specifically designed or adapted and then applied to address issues affecting the buying, selling, renting and maintaining of property. Greater efficiencies for professionals was certainly an early driver, however, in recent years we have seen smart homes evolve into smart cities, robotics being used on construction sites and buildings being manufactured offsite. Virtual reality and augmented reality 3D tours have allowed buyers of new homes the experience of walking through their fully decorated new house or apartment before it is even built. It is fair to say that property marketing will never be the same again. While it is not widespread, a small number of homes have now been transferred via blockchain technology and, in the UK, cryptocurrencies have been accepted in discharge of the contract price for a new home. The sheer pace of the innovation in this area is unprecedented.
In the Irish marketplace, online bidding platforms have become the norm for property auctions in recent years, however, the industry has been slow to transform the traditional process for private treaty sales, despites its obvious shortcomings. Where change is happening, it appears to be consumer-driven. Property consumers are changing how they search for properties, apply for mortgages, book viewings and make bids – do traditional estate agents have the capacity, or the will, to meet and get out ahead of these changes?
Healy Hynes, founder of Beagel.io, is one of the few proptech innovators to bring more than two decades of industry experience to the disruption table, having managed the family property business for 20 years. His interest in technology for the property market is not a new one, having built websites for estate agents in the late 1990s and established a new homes digital marketing division within the business back in the early 2000’s. “New homes is a fascinating market, it operates in a very different dynamic to the second-hand marketplace. It’s drivers are different, it’s buyers are different, it’s decision-makers are different. The Irish new homes market is a sleeping giant that is only now waking up” he prophesises.
And he would know, his company provides white label solutions to many well-known estate agencies and developers around the country. Beagel.io operates through the three main sales channels – online auctions (BeagelSold), private treaty sales (BeagelBid) and new homes (BeagelNew). “One of the major benefits of these platforms for buyers is transparency throughout the bidding process; they can log into the system anytime, see any competing bids and when they came in. They know where they stand at every stage rather than waiting or chasing the agent. This is not just a benefit for buyers, sellers can also log in at any time and check what the current bids are in real time. Really, Beagel.io puts control back into the hands of the stakeholders in the transaction.”
Hynes has an innate understanding on the purpose of proptech, that is, to remove the pain points that users are actually having. It is not just about achieving greater efficiencies – although this is a huge part – it is about improving the experience for buyers, sellers, tenants, landlords and property professionals. When asked about the industry’s comparatively slow take-up of emerging technologies, Hynes points out that “Estate agency in Ireland is a very mature marketplace, many of the people involved have been around for a very long time. They are recovering from a large shock to their industry and a lot of them are in catch-up mode; they are trying to get back to where they were 10-15 years ago. The difficulty is that that marketplace doesn’t exist anymore – instead of trying to get back to 2008, they should be trying to move forward towards 2020 and pay attention to where their industry is headed. They need to be able to offer a better service to their vendors and buyers, in a more efficient way.”
Another of the sector’s early innovators, co-founder and CEO of Property Button Jim Urell, has recently launched the company’s ‘Moving’ platform, which helps property agents to identify the right tenants and move them into suitable properties quickly and efficiently. This is particularly relevant given the rental crisis in most urban centres in Ireland right now and the difficulties experienced by would-be tenants . Significantly, access to ‘Moving’ is free for tenants; they can sign up and create their GDPR-compliant Tenant Profile, which gives them the opportunity to demonstrate why they would be the right choice for a property. There is also a facility to set up notifications of other suitable properties locally and within budget. The greatest benefit for tenants however, is that this profile moves with them from one rental property to the next, until they are ready to buy a home of their own. At that stage, the platform can be used to support a mortgage application, showing a credible rental history and establishing affordability. It is akin to a social networking site like LinkedIn that can be used at every stage of the property journey.
One of the estate agents successfully championing proptech is Owen Reilly. Having tried other solutions from the UK, Reilly and his team developed their own on-line bidding platform, designed around the needs of their vendors and the demands of buyers. Interestingly, they have identified peak bidding times as lunchtime or in the evening, from 7pm to 9pm, outside of traditional office hours. Recent buyer, Rob Nangle, completed his purchase and had this to say about using Owen Reilly’s in-house bidding platform “I thought it was great compared to the emailing and calling we experienced previously. With the transparency it is still impossible for the bidder to know of all bids are genuine and this way at least feels more transparent. Being asked to provide ‘Approval in Principle’ and proof of funds removes the potential time wasters which is also a marked improvement. Overall it is a much better way of doing things.”
Owen Reilly become the first Irish estate agent to open a VR marketing suite in the heart of Dublin’s Docklands in late 2017. This allows busy potential buyers to take a fully-immersive walk-through of a property during their lunch break if necessary. The company has recently invested in world-class technology to enhance the VR tours of yet-to-be-built homes. For home buyers or investors buying off-plan, for the first time they can virtually walk through the unit, check the views from each window and even step out onto the balcony.
This is unquestionably where the industry is heading simply because this is how property stakeholders want to engage with the market. Àine Myler, SCSI Director General explains that “Capacity to change is probably the biggest barrier for real estate professionals. After the economic collapse, many just focussed on just staying in business. So while the property & construction sectors are growing , not all businesses have the capacity in people and skills to take advantage of new technology. We caution members against a ‘wait-and-see’ approach, as there are changes they can make straight away. Even simple changes can get a property business prepared for the new Proptech world by changing the mindset from challenge to opportunity. By using technology to help run your business and focus on how you create value for your clients, there is a long future for real estate professionals who embrace change.”
For further information, contact News@Prop-Tech.ie